Skip to main content

Opinion: Personal or political, it's time Hollande got his affairs in order

By Nina dos Santos, CNN Anchor
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 1041 GMT (1841 HKT)
  • Francois Hollande was nick-named "Flanby" before taking office, Nina dos Santos writes
  • The French president has now become engulfed in a scandal surrounding his love life
  • But if there's one thing Hollande's soft side is not welcome on it's the economy, dos Santos says
  • Hollande needs to get to grips with the expectations of him and his responsibilities, she says

Editor's note: Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International's twice-daily global business show World Business Today. Follow her on Twitter.

(CNN) -- "Flanby," or "milk pudding," is what the French used to call Francois Hollande before electing him president.

Hardly the nickname of a great seducer is it?

Then again, power has always been the ultimate aphrodisiac. Especially in France.

After Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French president to divorce and remarry while in office, Hollande has become engulfed in a scandal surrounding his own love life, amid allegations of secret trysts with an actress in an apartment a stone's throw away from the Elysee Palace -- the official residence he shares with partner Valerie Trierweiler.

Commentator: Scandal is a distraction

Considering speculation about the president's private life will only heat up ahead of his state visit to Washington next month, it's worth exploring what the furore will mean for Hollande's image at home and abroad.

France's first lady hospitalized

Studies carried out by the Pew Research Centre show that just 47% of French polled thought having an affair was "morally unacceptable" versus 76% in the UK, meaning France's leader might not be judged too harshly back home. Indeed, some surveys have shown his popularity has actually increased -- particularly among married French women.

But if there's one thing Hollande's soft side is not welcome on it's the economy.

Why? Because a weak domestic market doesn't just bode ill for France, as the second largest market in the region, it would be a disaster for Europe.

Rising to power on a mandate to curb austerity in favor of growth, he has achieved little of what he originally promised in 2012.

At a time when Frenchmen and women are uncertain about their country's future, the last thing anyone needs is a head of state who appears more interested in romance than reform.
Nina Dos Santos

After flat-lining in 2013, France's GDP is likely to be anaemic this year at best.

Unemployment, which Hollande promised to lower, has climbed steadily to just under 11%, a 16-year high, meaning more than three million French are now jobless, according to official figures.

Sky-high taxes, of up to 75% for top earners, threaten to prompt a brain drain and have deterred companies from investing and hiring in what is increasingly perceived as an anti-capitalist country.

The consequence? Both the manufacturing and service sectors have been contracting in France, despite the green shoots of recovery elsewhere -- including in the eurozone's cash-strapped periphery which has but a fraction of the French industrial base.

Meanwhile, attempts to shrink the size of the state, which accounts for more than half of the nation's output and is still the largest and in some cases most prestigious employer, have been timid.

And, despite Hollande's bluster and bark, it seems the deficit won't get cut to 3% this year, as required by EU rules, after all.

In his third New Year news conference, Hollande vowed to shave more off state spending. But at 50 billion euros spread over two years, the extra cuts are unlikely to go far enough.

Hollande threatens action against tabloid
Report: French president in affair claim

In a word, what President Hollande arguably lacks is credibility.

The bleak prognosis and lack of bold fiscal vision stripped France of its AAA crown. Explaining the move, ratings agency Standards & Poor's said it didn't believe the policy mix in place today would help substantially raise the nation's medium-term growth prospects.

Which is why it would be surprising to see a president jeopardize his personal profile too.

At a time when Frenchmen and women are uncertain about their country's future, the last thing anyone needs is a head of state who appears more interested in romance than reform.

And while France may be famous for the former, its economy is crying out for the latter.

Hollande should know full well the disdain which greeted Sarkozy's whirlwind marriage while he was still in office as the eurozone crisis raged.

Rising to power on a mandate to curb austerity in favor of growth, he has achieved little of what he originally promised in 2012.
Nina Dos Santos

He's already the most unpopular president in recent French history -- quite an achievement for a solid socialist who always seemed the antithesis of his flash and brash predecessor.

Then again, Hollande has always been a child of '68, harking back to the nation's glorious student uprisings almost half a century ago -- an era immortalized by slogans like "the more I make love, the more I want to make a revolution ... the more revolution I make, the more I want to make love."

Some say, the writing may already be on the wall for Hollande.

Sophie Pedder, Paris bureau chief of the Economist magazine, says it's hard to see the president recovering his authority, even if he reshuffles his cabinet and sweeps through bold measures.

Then again, with record low support in the polls, she reckons it's just as difficult to see what he has to lose.

Either way, with Europe heading towards the bloc's parliamentary elections this year and the far right snapping at his heels, Francois Hollande needs to get to grips with the expectations and responsibilities resting on his shoulders.

Otherwise? Flanby may well get his just desserts.

READ: French president ducks questions over affair allegations

READ: Alleged Hollande affair shows 'old rules no longer apply'

READ: Report: French president mulls legal action over claim of affair with actress

Part of complete coverage on
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The tragic killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a bitter public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1207 GMT (2007 HKT)
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
More than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation, Unicef has warned.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
Boko Haram's latest abductions may meet a weary global reaction, Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi says.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
Drops, smudges, pools of blood are everywhere -- but in the computer room CNN's Nic Robertson reels from the true horror of the Peshawar school attack.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.