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François Hollande, still no doubt rueing his gibe about Britain rolling out the red carpet for France to take home Olympic medals, celebrated his 100th day as president yesterday at his official holiday residence, Brégançon Fort on the French Riviera.The milestone was marked rather more violently in Amiens with overnight riots which left 16 police officers injured. With record unemployment, particularly among the young, a torpid economy and a level of public debt that ministers describe as “crushing”, such upheavals may become more frequent.
Against this backdrop, how does Mr Hollande make good his campaign promise to be Europe’s anti-austerity flag-waver. The answer is that he doesn’t. Next month, reality kicks in when he has to assemble the kind of austerity package he campaigned so hard against. The Cour des Comptes, France’s independent national auditor, has set out the scale of the task. The government must find up to 12 billion euros in cuts this year and a further 33 billion next to meet the deficit reduction targets Mr Hollande has signed up to.
Yet France’s first socialist president in 17 years also intends to create 60,000 teaching jobs and has cut the retirement age from 62 years to 60 for those who started work young. He has imposed higher taxes on the wealthy – this is the man who once said “I don’t like the rich” – but this has more to do with crowd-pleasing than revenue-raising.
So far we have heard nothing about where the axe will fall in an economy where public spending already devours a crippling 56 per cent of GDP – but fall it surely must. With his poll ratings already on the slide, Mr Hollande is quickly learning the price of making reckless campaign promises that he knew could not be delivered.
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