Hollande's day of disasters ends with new blow

A file picture taken on 2012 in Paris shows French Socialist Party (PS) MP Thomas Thevenoud. -- PHOTO: AFP
A file picture taken on 2012 in Paris shows French Socialist Party (PS) MP Thomas Thevenoud. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Embattled French President Francois Hollande was hit by a triple whammy of political calamities on Thursday, with a tell-all book by his former lover, record unpopularity and the resignation of one of his ministers over his tax affairs.

Confidence in the socialist leader has plunged to an all-time low of 13 per cent, according to a new poll taken before a staggering memoir by Hollande's former partner Valerie Trierweiler painted him as cold, smug and contemptuous of the poor.

While France was still reeling from the surprise publication of what the press described as a "killer blow" to his presidency, international trade minister Thomas Thevenoud was forced to resign after only nine days because of "problems with a tax declaration".

The Elysee first announced that he was stepping down for "personal reasons", before a government source told AFP that it was because he had "problems with his taxes".

The resignation had uncomfortable echoes of the so-called Cahuzac affair, when Hollande's budget minister Jerome Cahuzac - who had been tasked with cracking down on tax fraud - was sacked in March 2013 for evading taxes through non-declared Swiss bank accounts.

All the more so because Thevenoud, who sat on a committee investigating Cahuzac, had urged the public in October 2013 to make their "fiscal repentance" before a new tough law on tax fraud was passed.

The latest poll, by TNS Sofres for the centre-right Figaro magazine, was carried out after Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls were forced into an emergency reshuffle following a damaging left-wing rebellion within his ruling Socialist Party.

The shock reshuffle in which Thevenoud was made a minister was preceded by a resignation of the government that caught everyone off guard, plunging France into a political crisis as it struggles to overcome its economic woes.

Unemployment is running at above 10 per cent, a record high, and the economy has registered zero growth in the first two quarters of the year.

To counter this stagnation, Hollande and Valls have come up with the so-called Responsibility Pact - a programme of tax breaks for business and deep cuts in public spending - that has sparked an outcry from the more left-wing members of their party.

Trierweiler's memoir, "Thank You For The Moment", also called Hollande's socialist credentials into question.

She claimed that the man who famously said he did "not like the rich" privately referred to the poor as "the toothless".

The phrase may yet prove the most politically damaging element of the affair, with the hashtag #sansdents - "toothless" in French - immediately shooting to the top of the trending topics on French Twitter.

Hollande's previous partner Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children whom he left for Trierweiler as her own presidential ambitions unravelled, told BFMTV that that claim in particular was "rubbish".

In a blistering attack on the book, Valls, once seen as close to Trierweiler, urged respect of France's cherished ideal that even politicians had a right to a private life.

"With these outrageous attacks, by mixing public and private life, we are dragging down the debate," he said.

Despite his disdain for the book, a view largely shared by the country's political elite, it quickly shot to the top of Amazon's bestseller list in France.

Valls, who was a popular choice as prime minister when appointed just five months ago, fell a stunning 14 points in the TNS Sofres poll to an approval rating of 30 per cent.

According to the survey, only one per cent of French people said they had "total confidence" in Hollande "to resolve the problems France is currently facing".

The French press largely came down on the president's side, with business daily Les Echos saying the book had "pushed the boundaries of mixing public and private life to the point of uneasiness".

The front page of the daily Le Parisien simply said "pathetic" under a picture of Hollande and Trierweiler.

But the coldest bath for the president was the news that Prince Albert of Monaco had challenged him Wednesday to do the "Ice Bucket Challenge", the charity stunt to promote awareness of ALS disease which has gone viral globally.