Mixed reaction to Hollande speech

Two-and-a-half hour speech and Q&A session improves media image but fails to convince on policy

PRESIDENT Hollande's two-and-a-half hour speech and press conference has reinforced his image of a statesman but failed to address key voter concerns, critics said.

During his first press conference, billed as an opportunity to educate the public on issues, Hollande laid out his stance on several issues and defended his record after six months in power.

In front of 400 journalists at the Elysée Palace, Hollande sought to clarify areas of policy such as VAT rises and budget caps.

Referring to the planned VAT rise, he said: “I cancelled what seemed to me unfair [Nicolas Sarkozy’s ‘social VAT’] to put off until 2014 an overhaul of the VAT rates; but I take responsibility for it.”

Policy highlights

On shale gas drilling, he said: “Research is possible with techniques other than hydraulic fracking. For the moment this research has not been successful, but I cannot ban it, it is not banned by law.” This position has already been criticised as “unclear” by green MP Eva Joly.

He announced that France would recognised the Syrian anti-Assad coalition as representatives of Syria, becoming the first Western leader to do so.

He attacked plans by the opposition to overturn a planned law legalising gay marriage should they return to power.

Hollande also appeared to climb down on his position on voting rights for foreigners, saying there would be no national referendum on the issue if it failed to pass through parliamentary channels.

Press reaction

Libération described the president as “at ease, with authority and solemnity”.

La Croix said that the press conference had “reinforced the image of François Hollande, showing him more involved, less distant, and more visionary in the face of challenges, primarily economic, that confront France.”

Les Echos and Le Figaro were less convinced, the former commenting that Hollande was “less clear in matters economic” and the latter asking: “If the president was true to his candidacy, why has he lost 20 points in popularity in 200 days?”

L'Humanité said that it was disappointed, decribing Hollande as living “in fear of the markets”.

Political reaction:

François Bayrou of the centre party MoDem said Hollande was “at the top of his game” and “convincing”.

“He was was clear and controlled in his speech and demonstrated his knowledge of the subjects of which he speaks.”

Jean-Louis Borloo, leader of the union of democrats and independents said: “What struck me was the President of the Republic telling the French that unemployment will rise for the next year. I was shocked. The total acceptance of the degradation of unemployment is a first.”

Former prime minister François Fillon said he saw “a president sticking his head further into the sand in confirming that he will not change his position.

“We can summarise it saying: with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French would have had a rise in VAT and a drop in social charges, with François Hollande they will have a rise in VAT but no drop in social charges,” he added.

Front National leader Marine Le Pen said Hollande represented the continuity of Nicolas Sarkozy's politics. “His politics is limited to the servile application of demands from Germany and Europe.

He had “abandoned the eminent mission to turn this country around conferred on him by the French, to take on the role of little governor of the province of France on the orders of abroad, the technocrats and the banks.”

The former secretary of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, said Hollande had shown France the country's new direction - “that of reorientation towards Europe, towards growth and that of improvement through the competition associated with serious budgeting.”

Photo:Screenshot from LCP