Honeymoon over, outlook worse for France's President Normal

Honeymoon over, outlook worse for France's President Normal

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Paris:  Francois Hollande will celebrate 100 days since his election as French president on Tuesday knowing his honeymoon with the electorate is over and that life is not going to get easier any time soon.

Record unemployment and an economy headed back into recession provide a sombre backdrop to an event Mr Hollande will mark by interrupting his summer break to visit police officers in a village where two of their female colleagues died in a shootout in June.

The village, Pierrefeu-du-Var, is located close to the Fort de Bregancon presidential retreat where Mr Hollande has been on holiday with his glamorous journalist girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiller, since the beginning of August.

Political observers say the choice of location is no accident as Mr Hollande attempts to portray himself as a president who shares voters' concerns over insecurity and is willing to take tough measures to fight crime.

On Saturday, after attending a memorial service for the 88th French soldier to die in Afghanistan, Mr Hollande made an unannounced detour to Grenoble to visit victims of a recent violent hold-up, promising that the city would be added to a list of priority areas for tougher action on crime.

Polls suggest that law and order is an area where Mr Hollande's Socialists are vulnerable to attack but it is on foreign affairs that the right-wing opposition has focused its criticism in recent weeks.

Accusing him of standing by passively in the face of carnage in Syria, the main opposition UMP party has portrayed Mr Hollande as a hopeless ditherer, incapable of the kind of bold action which saw his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, lead Western intervention in Libya last year.

It is a caricature that, worryingly for the Socialists, appears to be sticking and the combination with a deteriorating economic outlook has not helped Mr Hollande's standing with an electorate that handed him a convincing victory over Mr Sarkozy in May.

"After 100 days, Mr Hollande has still to assert his leadership," said a headline in the influential Le Monde while its rival Liberation suggested that voters are sceptical about the new administration's capacity to address the myriad problems facing the country.

"The French are still struggling to understand where Francois Hollande and his team are really leading them," the left-wing daily commented.

The results of an opinion poll carried out for Le Figaro newspaper at the weekend will have made grim reading for Mr Hollande and Ms Trierweiller as they celebrated his 58th birthday in their Riviera retreat on Sunday.

A majority (54 per cent) of the electorate declared themselves unhappy with the president's performance to date and a slightly smaller majority (51 per cent) said things had changed for the worse since he took office.

Of recent French presidents, only Jacques Chirac has fared worse in the polls at such an early stage of his administration.

Paradoxically, big majorities of voters say Mr Hollande has so far stuck to his electoral promises, most notably reinstating retirement at 60 for long-serving workers, and certain policies such as the accelerated withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan are very popular.

The mood among many French people seems to be one of resignation. The problems Mr Hollande is facing, particularly on the economic front, appear simply too big for him to do much about them.

The polls have not all been bad for Mr Hollande. One carried out for the Journal de Dimanche last week saw him placed 15th on a list of the most popular personalities in France.

That still left him trailing the likes of former tennis star Yannick Noah and football legend Zinedine Zidane but Mr Holland could take comfort from the fact that he was the only politician to make the top 50.

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