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France To Hollande: Time To Get To Work


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The president of France, Francois Hollande, has just passed 100 days in office. Mr. Hollande swept to victory in a wave of discontent aimed at former President Nicolas Sarkozy. But now, there are concerns that the new president's slow, cautious manner may not be suited to solving some of the challenges facing his country. Eleanor Beardsley sends us this report from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Paris erupted in joy on May 6th the night François Hollande put an end to the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. After five years of a hyperactive leader with a chaotic personal life who was accused of loving the rich, many French were overjoyed to have a down-to-earth even-tempered president who touted himself as Monsieur Normal. Hollande promised to restore justice and equality in France and spend his first weeks reversing many of Sarkozy's initiatives. The moves were small but symbolic. Hollande's first trips abroad got positive media coverage. He came across as competent and calm but then came the tweet.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: What the news media dubbed Twittergate exploded when Hollande's companion, First Lady Valerie Trierweiler, tweeted her support in the parliamentary race for the adversary of an official Socialist candidate who also happened to be Hollande's former partner of 30 years and the mother of his four children. It was very awkward for Hollande, says Fabrice Argelas, editor of Voici, a glossy celebrity magazine.

FABRICE ARGELAS: (Through Translator) Up until the tweet, he had the image of a normal candidate, a normal president and a normal husband. The tweet not only exposed his complicated personal life, but it made it seem as if the first lady was calling the shots, and that certainly wasn't good for his image.

BEARDSLEY: Then France's biggest carmaker, Peugeot, announced it was laying off 8,000 workers. The Hollande camp called the layoff unacceptable but put the issue on the backburner until after the summer vacation. Hollande has promised to bring the French deficit down and balance the country's budget. He's also promised the French there will be no austerity, but people wonder how he will be able to do both, says Christophe Jakubyszyn, director of news talk radio station RMC.

CHRISTOPHE JAKUBYSZYN: French people know things that even if we are not yet in the situation of Greece, Spain, of Italy, we will be the next. French people are very aware of what is the situation for their country. And now they expect from Hollande to lead the way and to find new solution to modernize France.

BEARDSLEY: Jakubyszyn says many who call into his program don't think Hollande should have gone on vacation at all, considering the debt crisis and the country's problems. Hollande has also come under attack for not doing enough about the Syrian crisis. Jean-Francois Cobe, head of the conservative opposition, blasted the new government in a radio interview.

JEAN-FRANCOIS COBE: (Through Translator) Remember what happened when Gadhafi was attacking Benghazi in Libya? France took the initiative with Britain and the Security Council to do something. What a contrast with the deafening silence on the Syrian crisis.

BEARDSLEY: Radio host Jakubyszyn says the French knew Hollande was different from Sarkozy but they're discovering just how different.

JAKUBYSZYN: He's not a fast guy, you know, as Sarkozy was. He's a slow guy. He like agreements. He like to find coalition.

BEARDSLEY: Hollande's approval rating is still above 50 percent but his honeymoon period is clearly over. While the French wait to see what Hollande will do, one critic wondered if a normal president has what it takes to lead France out of crisis. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.