France's unpopular Hollande leaves power after 5 hard years

AP News
Posted: May 14, 2017 3:24 AM
France's unpopular Hollande leaves power after 5 hard years

PARIS (AP) — As president, Francois Hollande steered France through deadly extremist attacks, poured troops into battle abroad and anchored the boldest-ever world agreement to fight global warming.

But as he hands power Sunday to his former protege Emmanuel Macron, he may be most remembered for his failure to create jobs and his crushing unpopularity.

After a five-year term, Hollande makes way for Macron, his former adviser then economy minister, in a ceremony at the Elysee presidential palace.

The Socialist leader, who described himself as "normal," was able to comfort and unite his nation during its worst terrorist attacks in decades.

Following Jan. 2015 attacks at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, Hollande proved to be a statesman who brought world leaders together to link arms and march through Paris to defy extremism.

The emotional image of him hugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel, eyes shut, close to his cheek, was published around the world.

In November 2015, Hollande faced the deadliest attacks inflicted on France since World War II when 130 people were slain in Paris at restaurants, at a concert venue and outside a stadium.

That night, Hollande vowed to attack the Islamic State group without mercy as the jihadist group claimed responsibility.

"When terrorists can commit such atrocities, they must know that they will face a determined, united France," he declared

France remains under a state of emergency since then. Last year, another tragic attack killed 86 victims in Nice on July 14, France's national Bastille Day holiday.

Over the years, Hollande turned from what some considered flimsy custard to become an active, strong chief of war.

In 2013, he launched a military operation in Mali against al-Qaida-linked Islamist extremists who he believed posed a threat to the African Sahel region. The same year, he also sent troops the Central African Republic in an intervention aimed at disarming ex-rebels and militias that were pushing the country toward anarchy.

Since September 2014, France's jet fighters have been bombing IS targets in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition — and extended that operation to Syria beginning in September 2015.

During Hollande's term, France achieved a seemingly unachievable triumph: uniting the world to seal a global climate pact. The Paris climate agreement, adopted on Dec. 12, 2015, was the culmination of more than a year of intense diplomatic efforts by France.

In a unique gathering, 151 heads of state came to Paris to give the negotiations a political push on the first day of the conference.

Hollande, as host of the U.N. climate change conference, became committed to a cause that he once barely paid attention to. At every meeting with a foreign leader and during every visit abroad prior to the talks, he kept mentioning the climate conference even when it was not front-page news.

Calling the agreement "historic," Hollande urged the United States to respect it as "irreversible" following the election of President Donald Trump, who is firmly against regulations on businesses.

Despite his diplomatic successes, Hollande remained highly unpopular at home, presiding over a jobless rate of around 10 percent, which only starting to slightly decrease last year.

His poll numbers quickly dropped after he came to power.

He promoted a 75 percent tax on income earned above 1 million euros ($1.09 million) that triggered huge protests in the business, sports and artistic worlds. The super tax was never fully applied and ultimately abandoned, but it still damaged France's image in international business circles.

Meanwhile, the government raised taxes on French households.

A pro-business turn in 2014, including policies to encourage job hiring, didn't produce the expected results for France's economy. Some on the French left, including ones within his Socialist party, accused Hollande of helping international businesses instead of French workers.

One year after his election, Hollande was able to legalize gay marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The measure still prompted hundreds of thousands to march for months in protest.

There's no doubt Hollande will remain associated in French minds with one image — that of a man in a motorcycle helmet, reportedly going to a secret rendezvous with his lover, French actress Julie Gayet.

Hollande ended his seven-year relationship with Valerie Trierweiler two weeks after the report. Gayet and Hollande have never appeared together in public.

Last December Hollande look at his poll numbers and announced he was not seeking re-election. Despite the effort to present a fresh leader to the public, his Socialist party was crushed in the latest presidential election, not even making it to the May 7 runoff won by the independent Macron.