Large street protests across France in the past week against proposed labor reforms are the latest sign of the trouble President Francois Hollande finds himself in at home. The demonstrations came on the heels of Hollande’s retreat from another controversial and unpopular measure, pushed after the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, to strip dual nationals convicted of terrorism of their French citizenship.
As he enters the final year of his term, Hollande is in the weakest position by far of any president in the history of France’s Fifth Republic. His poll numbers for job approval have been negative since September 2012, four months after his victory over Nicolas Sarkozy. Despite short-lived spikes following the terrorist attacks of January and November 2015, his popularity has not exceeded 30 percent since April 2013. The latest IPSOS-Le Point poll has Hollande’s job approval rating at 15 percent, with a disapproval rating of 80 percent. Worse, a recent survey revealed a mass rejection of Hollande even by voters of his own Socialist Party, projecting his certain elimination on the first ballot in next year’s election, regardless of the Republicans’ candidate.
How did this happen? The immediate explanation is naturally the state of the French economy. Hollande, as befitting a presidential candidate of the left, was elected on a platform to promote economic growth and reduce unemployment, France’s decades-long scourge; the last year French unemployment dropped below 7 percent was 1983. To say that Hollande has failed in his objective would be an understatement. Unemployment is currently at 10.3 percent—one point higher than when he took office—and rising. The unemployment rate in Germany and the United Kingdom is half that, and it is dropping in Italy and Spain. As for economic growth, annual GDP increases have ranged from 0.2 to 1.2 percent over the past four years, which is par for the course in the eurozone but not enough to appreciably reduce the numbers of those registered with the state unemployment agency.