François Hollande has recently faced immense pressure, showing characteristics not easily found in world leaders. On Friday November 13 Paris suffered its worst attack since World War II, and as the dust settles the French people as well as the global community are looking to him for leadership. Yet who is Hollande? He’s a life long socialist, regarded for his intelligence, and yet is most well known for his tabloid exploits with his mistress, but now he must become known for something else entirely.
Leading France out of one of its darkest hours.
Early life and career
François was born in 1954 to a physician and a social worker, and from there he attended the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, France’s top business school. Despite his business education, Hollande became a member of the socialist party in 1979 and from there he volunteered for the Mitterand campaign the second and third times, becoming a junior economic advisor for Mitterand.
After this, Hollande began a long political career serving in the Corrèze region of France as well as in the Socialist party, where he served as leader from 1997-2008. Hollande was a relatively self effacing politician, preferring to operate in the backseat and one of the main criticisms he faced in his run for president in 2011 was his lack of holding top government office during his career.
— François Hollande (@fhollande) April 29, 2012
As party leader Hollande was often overshadowed by his flashier colleagues Dominique Strauss Kahn, or his domestic partner and 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal. This gave him the name “Monsieur Normal,” but because of his laid back leadership style Hollande was forced to resign in 2008 after the Socialists were trounced in elections for the second time in a row.
To make things worse, mother of his children and 30 year partner, Ségolène Royal, ended their partnership and wrote a scathing book about Hollande describing how he was having an affair with political journalist Valerie Trierweiler.
This might have finished a normal politician, multiple electoral defeats and a scandal, but Hollande was not done yet.
In 2011 Hollande began to run for president with little expectation to win as the current director of the IMF and leading French socialist Dominique Strauss Kahn was expected to gain the nomination. However, when Strauss Kahn was accused of rape in a New York hotel it derailed his campaign and forced him out of the race as well as the IMF. This gave Hollande an important boost, which would double when former French president Chirac gave an endorsement of his campaign.
Hollande would win the party nomination on the platform of ending austerity, increasing taxes on corporations, lowering the retirement age, and giving adoption rights to same sex couples. Though Sarkozy was highly critical of these reforms, claiming that they would sink the economy, they resonated with French voters and Hollande won a landmark victory, making Sarkozy the first French president not to win re-electino in 31 years.
Time in office
Attempting to follow through on his pledge to end austerity, Hollande flew to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the eurozone debt crisis, and attempt to end the austerity that Merkel and Sarkozy had devised. In another curious move, Hollande put his former partner Royal on his cabinet as the minister for environment and sustainable energy.
Hollande, often described as being a tireless worker, has not been able to follow through on invigorating the French economy, facing approval rates as low as 17% and have left many wondering whether he will be able to secure second term in office.
Hollande has also been an outspoken critic of Bashar al-Assad, as well as Daesh, against whom he commenced a series of aggressive air strikes in August and September of 2015. Hollande, in something of a break from his socialist counterparts has also pushed for sweeping security powers, which would give him the ability to tap phones and analyze citizens lives with little to no judicial oversight.
Now, in the aftermath of terror attacks in Paris, Hollande has been swift in his retribution, ordering air strikes against Daesh’s pseudo-capital city, Raqqa. Hollande declared the Paris attacks, an act of war, and has promised to hunt down all those responsible.
Now, Hollande seeks to build a coalition with the express goal not of containing Daesh, but of destroying it. However, military officials have indicated that this goal is not likely to be realized simply with air strikes, leaving both Hollande and other European leaders to weigh whether or not boots on the ground will be a viable strategy.
François Hollande ran on an economic agenda that has not come to fruition, and now he finds himself leading and reacting to Europe’s fight against terrorism. Whatever mistakes Hollande has made or has not made, history will judge him for his actions now.
For François Hollande, history is now.