A year of living indecisively for Francois Hollande

Supporters of President Francois Hollande celebrate his victory Credit: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

What joy it was to be young and radical in Paris a year ago today, waking up to the first socialist president in 18 years.

All night they had partied in the Place de la Bastille, tens of thousands hanging from monuments and lampposts, waving an ironic farewell to the ‘bling’ years of Sarkozy and the right.

Most had stayed so late there was no option but to walk home, but they didn't care; President ‘normal’ was going to soak the rich, stand up to the Germans and tell the bosses that laying off workers was no longer the French way.

Suffice to say, this morning they are feeling a little disappointed. The 75 percent tax rate is a shambles, the Germans are almost ready to cut France loose, and far from ending lay-offs, French unemployment has just hit a 16-year high of 3.2 million, rising faster even than in Italy.

Supporters celebrate Hollande's election as the first socialist president for 18 years. Credit: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

And as for President ‘normal’, well it turns out that normality is not all it was cracked up to be. A headline in one paper last week even asked “Is Pépère (Grandpa) up to it?”

The general conclusion seems to be that he isn’t. No president in the history of the Fifth Republic has fallen so far, so fast in public esteem, from 60 percent approval a year ago to just 24% now.

Even a promise to run a clean government has fallen foul of a corruption scandal in which Jérôme Cahuzac, the minister responsible for preventing tax avoidance, was caught with his very own Swiss bank account.

President Hollande speaks to journalists in London Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis/PA Wire

It has all left the French feeling very gloomy. There have been certain ‘constants’ in French political life over the last few decades, central among them that France and Germany basically run the European Union.

Not any more. There has been a spectacular falling out between Paris and Berlin that is descending into a slanging match across the Rhine.

“You are selfish and intransigent,” yell the French.

“Well you are Europe’s problem child,” shout back the Germans, as the rest of the EU looks on and wonders whether this marks the moment France is relegated to Europe’s southern/second division.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel with President Hollande Credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Certainly an effort to lead the Mediterranean states in the battle against ‘northern austerity’ is doing Hollande’s international standing no good at all.

It is true that Brussels has relaxed the budgetary requirements on France and Spain to give them both more time to get their books in order, but this is little more than an acceptance of reality.

Imposing massive fines on a country as punishment for excessive spending would be beyond futile. But this is an indication of French weakness, not strength.

When Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici boasts of "winning the battle against austerity" he in convincing no one, least of all Berlin.

Far right protesters protest against plans to legalise gay marriage. Credit: Boe Romain/ABACA/Press Association Images

Meanwhile, the streets of Paris echo almost every week to the sound of demonstrators. Not exactly a return to 1968, but there are fears we could be heading that way.

The ‘Front National’ have been back on the streets, and their leader Marine Le Pen would currently beat Hollande in a head-to-head contest.

His former partners on the far left are deserting him and marching in protest at job losses, as are hundreds of thousands more opposed to the gay marriage legislation that has just gone through Parliament.

Soldiers greet Holland during a visit to Mali Credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Hollande’s one decisive act in his first year was the military intervention in Mali, widely praised both at home and abroad. But even that is running into trouble as the troops show no sign of coming home and the intervention expands into the Central African Republic.

There is talk of a cabinet reshuffle over the summer and a new emphasis on reform, but it is difficult to see how Hollande can get his administration back on track.

If unemployment continues to rise, and French industry to flounder, the second year in office may prove even harder than the first.