Francoise Hollande defends record as popularity halves in six months


Hollande is under pressure to reshuffle his government.



Francois Hollande has defended his record on economic reform and warned of tough times ahead for the French in a news conference to mark six months in office.

Amid a massive decline in popularity since his election, as unemployment — already above 10 percent — continues to rise and growth remains stalled, the French President said a long-term plan was needed to imrpove the struggling economy.

Hollande told a gathering of around 350 journalists at the Elysee Palace:

"My mission is simple. It is to return to growth and reduce unemployment. And it is on these results and only these results that I ask to be judged by French people. That’s why I wanted, with the government of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to address three major challenges; the reorganisation of Europe, reducing France’s debt and the competitiveness of the economy."

The Socialist leader acknowledged the difficulties facing the French people, as Europe’s debt crisis forces countries to raise taxes and cut back on welfare expenditures.

According to Reuters, he offered no quick fix:

"I understand the worries of the people and the doubts they may express about the ability of politicians to meet the challenge... We are going to have a continuous increase in unemployment for a year. That will be hard on families, on companies... we'll do everything so that at the end of the year 2013 we can turn the unemployment curve around."

Hollande’s approval ratings have dropped by half since he took office and the economy lurches towards a recession.

While he was elected on a leftist tax-and-spend platform, according to DPA he has been forced to take a more pragmatic approach — for example, introducing the "value added tax" he scrapped days after taking office.

There are also doubts over whether he can keep to his promise to grow the French economy while the rest of Europe endures deep austerity.

The Washington Post also cited "communication slip-ups" by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his ministers.

However, Hollande listed the measures he'd taken since assuming office, he said aimed to get the economy moving again and reduce national debt, the Washington Post reported.

He said his performance should be judged at the end of his five-year mandate, not in the first stretch.

“These choices are consistent with my commitments, with my goals and, most important, with the interests of France,” he said.