François Hollande: the man behind the calm — and France’s next president?

April 17, 2012 16 Comments
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Some will say, as his leftwing opponent Jean-Luc Mélenchon did in November 2011, that François Hollande reminds them of a ‘pedalo captain in a storm‘.

I’m not so sure. The former longtime First Secretary of the French Socialist Party (PS) and President of the General Council of Corrèze (part of the Limousin region) has had a highly successful political career spanning three decades. Even his defeats turn into victories.

A graduate of the grande école ENA (École National d’Administration, whose alumni are called énarques), he also worked as a campaign volunteer on François Mitterand’s unsuccessful 1974 presidential campaign. The influential globalist economist Jacques Attali noticed Hollande when the young énarque joined the PS in 1979.  Attali was a special adviser to Mitterand at the time. Mitterand, the newly elected president, quickly put Hollande up as a candidate for the 1981 French parliamentary (législative) elections.  Hollande stood as a candidate in Corrèze … against future RPR (conservative) president Jacques Chirac.

And here is the Hollande lesson in calmly failing upward to success:

Although Hollande lost the election in the first round, it seems Chirac has had a grudging fondness for Hollande ever since, and will probably vote for him in the first round on April 22. Post-election 1981, though, and Hollande stood by Mitterand and Corrèze. Mitterand appointed Hollande as a special adviser afterward. Then he went on to serve as a staffer for Max Gallo, who was the government’s spokesman.

In 1983, Hollande was elected a councillor for Ussel  in Corrèze. In 1988, he was elected as MP for Corrèze.  The following year he was elected Deputy Mayor of Tulle, also in Corrèze. (A number of French politicians serve as mayors and MPs. Although I’m no authority, these roles held in tandem often get them central government posts. Christian Estrosi is another example — conservative (UMP) Mayor of Nice, MP and former Minister for Industry in Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration.)

In 1993, when conservatives began to reverse the leftist gains of the Mitterand era, things went quiet for Hollande for a couple of years. He lost his re-election as MP for Corrèze. However, it wasn’t long before things started looking up again. In 1995, when Lionel Jospin became leader of the PS, Hollande became the party’s spokesman after urging PS members to mend their differences. In 1997, Hollande was once again re-elected as MP for Corrèze. That same year, Jospin became Prime Minister and Hollande went on to replace him as the PS’s First Secretary.

As the position of First Secretary was particularly influential during Jospin’s premiership, Hollande became known informally as the Vice Prime Minister. In 2001, he was elected Mayor of Tulle in Corrèze, a post he held for seven years. Hollande had been quietly and carefully consolidating his political position nationally, regionally and locally over the years.

Lionel Jospin’s surprise defeat in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections marked the beginning of a noticeable decline for Hollande’s fortunes at the national level, even though he was the top man in the PS. However, he still had Corrèze as a fallback position.  Hollande is as synonymous with the region as Jacques Chirac — another énarque — is.

Many who are relatively new or occasional students of French politics will connect Hollande with a long period of PS defeats and unpopular positions. The post-2002 period is what they remember or know best. Hollande was criticised for advocating a ‘yes’ to the referendum for the European Constitution. In 2005, although still the PS’s First Secretary, his influence in the party began to decline. Then his partner Ségolène Royal lost the 2007 presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round. He and ‘Ségo’ broke up afterward, after more than 30 years and four children together.  In 2008, Jacques Delors’s daughter Martine Aubry, longtime Mayor of Lille, succeeded Hollande as First Secretary of the PS.

But, every cloud has a silver lining, and soon after Hollande stood down as First Secretary of France’s Socialist Party, he was elected President of the General Council of Corrèze, a position he has held for the past four years — and one which Jacques Chirac had from 1970 to 1979. Hollande also found a new partner around the same time — journalist Valérie Trierweiler.

Now to the present day. With Dominique Strauss-Kahn out of the way as a potential PS presidential candidate, Hollande won the PS and Radical Left Party primary with a little help from his friends, including Martine Aubry and — Ségolène Royal. Of course, it helped that he slimmed down, too. His rapid and fairly sustained weight loss beforehand signalled that he was about to plump for the primary. Marianne, the French newsweekly, credits this weight loss to the Dukan diet (March 31 – April 6, 2012 issue, p. 63), something he has in common with his Front de Gauche rival Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Front National’s Marine Le Pen.

Now leading in the national polls for the second round on May 6, it looks as if François Hollande could well be the next French president.

So, what goes on behind the scenes? How does Hollande manage these remarkable comebacks? A recent article in Marianne let us in on a few secrets. ‘Enquête en Corrèze: Le bilan du président Hollande‘ (March 31 – April 6, 2012, pp 15-17) was revelatory.  Those who have worked with him in Corrèze have nicknamed him ‘Speedy’ (p. 16). He is known to be late for many regional events, yet he wants to be the one cutting ribbons and shaking hands.

That said, there’s a bit more behind the man. I’m not advocating the following, by the way, just telling you what motivates him. First, if Hollande has any sort of word connected with him, it is ‘normal’ (p. 15). Second, if there is anything he rejects, it is authoritarianism (p. 14). He would rather be known for his weaknesses than have someone accuse him of being heavy-handed.  Third, he cultivates a ‘familiarity without the closeness’ (p. 14). Fourth, he brings people together to support his objectives, be they owners of football teams, CEOs of hotel chains or presidents of professional associations (p. 15). Fifth — and this is crucial to the success of the fourth point — someone who worked with him in the PS said, ‘He seems nice but he’s a manipulator’.  If you’re not with him, you’re quietly out of the picture (p. 16). Sixth — he can bridge party boundaries, as Bernard Murat, a conservative ex-mayor of the Correze subprefecture Brive, recalled. They managed to find various areas of agreement over a meal in Paris (p. 16).

Taking the ‘manipulator’ comment into account, here’s more on Hollande’s downside, which is where the voter comes in. Sarkozy’s UMP accuses Hollande of turning Corrèze into ‘France’s Greece’ (p. 16). In 2008, the département was €300m in debt. In 2012, that figure rose to €363m. A courthouse in Corrèze’s capital, Tulle, closed, but Hollande has promised to reopen it if elected president (p. 17). Tulle has also seen a record number of visits to the local Resto du Coeur, a charity restaurant providing food to the needy (p. 17).  Marianne — a left-leaning magazine — says ‘In short, Hollande hasn’t yet turned Corrèze into California’ (p. 17). Actually, he probably has when one considers California’s spiralling debt, but they meant that he’s hardly improved Corrèze’s fortunes.

And this is what French voters will want to bear in mind when they vote in the first round of presidential elections on Sunday, April 22.

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16 Responses to François Hollande: the man behind the calm — and France’s next president?

  1. April 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Le Figaro is convinced Hollande won’t pull it off but then again, they’re pro-Sarko.

    • April 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      I hope they’re right. I can’t see him on the world stage. Plus, I think he wants to raise the upper tax rate to 75%.

      Le Figaro is probably the only conservative (well, centrist, as the Telegraph is now) national newspaper in France. Someone has to come out in support of Sarko! ;)

  2. cuffleyburgers
    April 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I hope they’re wrong and sarko loses, loathsome individual that he is. I don’t want Hollande to win particularly but I definitely don’t want the poison dwarf.

    Hollande is more likely to speed the collapse of the euro and until that happens there can be no recovery in Europe.

  3. April 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    The trouble is that in every major country in the west, there is no choice – look at the US and UK for a start. Ditto in France.

    • April 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Exactly — there is no choice.

      There are ten candidates and around 40% of French people will vote blanc or nul (both counted as non-exprimé).

      This was an RMC topic of discussion today (Eric Brunet show). Brunet said that there shouldn’t even be a non-exprimé count. Almost everyone — experts and callers — disagreed. One said, ‘If the “winning” candidate gets no more than 30% in the second round, politicians really need to question themselves and what they represent’. I fully agree.

  4. April 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    About the euro, Hollande’s ineptitude — ‘speeding up’ the euro’s collapse — would mean that France becomes like Greece.

    That would have broader implications than France’s borders and would probably draw the UK further into the breach. Germany would then demand that we do something to help. We would no doubt also get a further influx of all and sundry from France as it would be a less attractive place to live.

    • cuffleyburgers
      April 18, 2012 at 7:58 am

      That’s where I think you are wrong.

      France will never allow herself to do a Greece, and is influential enough in the EU (ie the EU is run mainly for her benefit and has been since the beginning) that as soon as becomes clear the the Euro straitjacket is the problem they’ll have no qualms about sh!tting on the sausage eaters from a great height and all the Merkozy crap which is exacerbating the crisis will be summarily abandoned.

  5. johnnyrvf
    April 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Until I get my French Nationality I cannot vote. I am now eligeble but it is far to close to the voting dates, Ironically I would vote for La Pen, despite her strong views against dual nationality; I know the Town of Tulle, it is where the das Hitler, part of the 2nd SS division das Reich hung 99 innocent people from lamp posts and balcony railings on their trek to Normandy from Montauban in June 1944. I would prefer Hollande to Sarko any day; as to Hollande being a manipulator no team from footy to F1 is going to allow dissention to interupt the game plan it is just usual human practice.
    P.S. What the hell is the Dukan diet? does it involve certain powders?

    • April 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Politicians and footballers should be two different types of men. Your perspective demonstrates why we are in the state we are today.

      That said, I wish you all the best in getting dual nationality or French nationality.

      The Dukan diet is the French version of a high protein (e.g. meat, fish — no powders), low carb diet which has helped many prominent Europeans lose a lot of weight in a short time. It appears not to be for compulsive eaters, however, some of whom have put on a great amount of weight after resuming a ‘normal’ diet.

      Thank you for the information on Tulle — greatly appreciated. I hadn’t realised that was where the 99 were hanged. (Animals are hung.)

      If I might ask, and there is no obligation on your part to answer, what is the reason for voting Le Pen? And why on earth would you prefer Hollande to Sarkozy? Are you left-leaning? At least with Sarkozy, you know you’re getting five more years of inertia instead of a huge tax increase and a Greek scenario.

  6. johnnyrvf
    April 18, 2012 at 12:53 am

    Thank you for your reply to my comment, I regret that it was made in a moment of flippancy.

    My ‘perspective’ about teams in general was an observation of modern times, in my life I have discovered as a general rule of thumb that more often than not, dissenting views are rarely welcomed by people in the top echelons; I appreciate that this is not a good model for so called democratic politicians but sadly it is a certainty that democracy is being crushed by virtually every govt. in Europe, at the behest of Brussells and I strongly believe in the U.S.A. as well.

    Thank you also for pointing out my ignorance between hanged and hung, despite my parents trying to get me well educated obviously some things did not stay entrenched in my mind; if you are interested Max Hastings wrote a very accurate book, published in 1980 about the 2nd SS division, Das Reich march north in June 1944, from four perspectives, and covers in detail the atrocities inflicted on the towns people of Tulle and Oradour sur Glane and their almost total destruction in the retreat of the German forces as the allied invasion moved into Germany.

    I think the reason for voting La Pen is because ultimately Sarkosy is an American choice for France and I prefer France to be obstinately French; Sarkos grandmother was an aunt in the U.S. Kennedy political dynasty and Christine Lagarde worked as a Lawyer in a well known Chicago law firm for 20 years and soI am led to believe knows Obama personally from when he was involved in the Chicago administration; as for Hollande I am no supporter of socialism indeed as a hint to where my loyalties lie I would say that a Christian socialist is an oxy-moron, having grown up among survivors of the Stalin and later Breshniev regimes, I remember well some of the horrific personal accounts of people who suffered in Russia under both Stalin AND Hitler and who fled to the U.K. because of its once held reputation for tolerance.

    As I am married to a very traditional French lady who is a cuisinierre of the Perigordin region, I’ll stick to the diet she so deliciously prepares rather than a ‘fad’ regime, French or otherwise.

    • April 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Thanks for the clarification — I very much appreciate it.

      I typed a long reply to yours but did not sign in first and it was lost in the mix, so if this appears abrupt, please do not take offence.

      First, I wish you all the very best for the future and, who knows, we might see you and your good lady wife here in the UK in the near future. :)

      Second, I am pleased that you have seen fit to apply for French citizenship now instead of later. I am not sure what Hollande’s take on it would/will be.

      Third, although Obama is notionally American, he is very much in favour of ‘New Americans’, as is the recently-elected Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel, who used to work for him (forget his title — Chief of Staff?). Emmanuel has done much to promote them as small business owners in the Windy City. So, it seems that if Hollande is elected President, he will be borrowing (and currently is) from the French think tank Terra Nova, which advocates wooing women and minority immigrants as the new PS at the expense of white men of European extraction.

      By contrast, if I were running for office, I would develop a platform which would appeal to everyone on some level and not exclude anyone. I would be there to serve everyone, not just special interest ‘communities’.

      I’ve got a post on Melenchon coming up on Friday morning. Would appreciate your comments if you happen to stop by. (Sorry, I am typing on a UK keyboard and am doing this quickly, so do not have the accent aigue and other symbols in place.)

      By the way, Jean-Jacques Bourdin will be interviewing Hollande tomorrow morning on RMC (available on internet) at around 8:20 – 8:30 your time, if I remember rightly. Marine Le Pen will be on Friday morning at the same time. Some of his interviews are on podcast if you are unable to hear them live.

      All the best — keep in touch.

  7. johnnyrvf
    April 18, 2012 at 12:57 am

    @Churchmouse. I have just posted a long reply to your gracious reply to my comment but it appears to have dissapeared into cyberspace. As it is early morning now and a little past my bedtime I will, if I may, answer your questions after I have re-awoken later today, thanks for your patience.

    • April 18, 2012 at 6:40 am

      Johnnyrvf – OoL has a pretty aggressive anti-spam thingy on it at the moment [in the hands of our techie]. Unfortunately, whilst it’s settled down in the past week or so, certain types of comments get picked up – just why yours was I don’t know. Admins usually happen past a few times a day and see comments in the moderation queue, as I did just now. Sorry about the delay.

    • April 18, 2012 at 11:50 pm

      Many thanks, johnnyrvf — I have responded at length above.

      However, I forgot to add that I didn’t know about Sarkozy’s grandmother and the Kennedy family. I shall do some searches to find out more.

      Re the elections I’m sure to have a follow-up post after the first round on Sunday but that won’t be until later in the week after I consider all the analyses. James might be planning on an earlier review of events.

      Therefore — if you are interested in coming back, we would be delighted to read your perspective in comments on this post, my upcoming Melenchon post or James’s and my posts next week. :)

  8. April 18, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Hollande is bad news – he’ll be just as manipulated as Sarko is by his EU masters but in a reddish, unsustainable, hopeless way. Le Pen wouldn’t grab a population who’d fear a female Hitler. Sarko is utterly corrupt. That other one, with his red flags and banners has to be out for a start.

    So France, as with us, has no choice – all the offerings are rubbish. Therefore the search must be on for a man or woman of principle who was not parachuted in by the PTB. Davignon said that the Bilderbergers were good “talent spotters”. Perhaps there needs to be a counter-PTB talent spotting group of successful citizens with a good track record.

    Not easy.

    • April 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Applause, James — and well said. Many thanks.

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