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France’s Faltering Changement

French President Hollande is having a rough first year. He entered office during a grave crisis, and now he is under siege from all sides: his own party is chastising him for abiding by European deficit rules; the opposition has attacked him for raising taxes during a downturn; big business resents his support for government-mandated welfare payments; and he has drawn the wrath of “les pigeons“, small business owners who are facing a large tax hike on capital gains under his regime.

The New York Times profiles the widespread discontent and economic malaise surrounding Hollande:

Opinion polls show high dissatisfaction with Mr. Hollande. About 64 percent of the French are unhappy with his government, and only 10 percent think the situation in France has improved since he took office, according to an OpinionWay poll last week for Le Figaro.

Sixty-nine percent of those polled said they were unhappy with the failure to reduce unemployment, at a 13-year high, and 66 percent were unhappy with fiscal policy. Sixty-eight percent said they thought Mr. Hollande did not know how to show authority, and 63 percent said he could not make difficult decisions.

Most telling is Hollande’s fatalistic excuse for his plunge in popularity “Exercising power today, is very hard. . . . There’s no longer any indulgence, any respect. But I knew that.”

Hollande may even be right, but now is not the time for excuses. France needs good leadership, and soon. Hollande’s deputy, Prime Minister Ayrault, showed signs that he recognized the seriousness of the problem during recent discussions about ending the sacrosanct 35-hour work week. But the current political climate leaves little room for such deviations from dogma, and he quickly fell back in line following an avalanche of left-wing criticism.

France will need more far-reaching changes than an extra few hours in the work week. That broaching this relatively small-bore idea is so difficult does not bode well for the future.

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