Hollande's frank opinions in book offend both friend and foe

Mr Hollande speaking in Paris on Saturday. The new book by two journalists is based on 100 hours of interviews.
Mr Hollande speaking in Paris on Saturday. The new book by two journalists is based on 100 hours of interviews.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

French leader takes aim at judges, footballers and politicians

PARIS • France's Socialist President Francois Hollande has managed to unite his fractious country with a tell-all book that has led even some of his closest allies to question his judgment.

The book, whose French title translates as A President Shouldn't Say That..., was written by two Le Monde journalists and is based on about 100 hours of interviews with Mr Hollande.

In the book, the President takes swipes at judges, football players, a former girlfriend, and both fellow Socialists and opposition politicians.

The book comes weeks before he must decide whether to run for a second term in next year's presidential election. Not a single poll has shown he would win enough votes in the April 23 first round to qualify for the May 7 run-off.

PROBLEM WITH ISLAM

It's not that Islam poses a problem in the sense that it is a dangerous religion, but in as far as it wants to affirm itself as a religion of the republic.

FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, on Muslims in the country.

TOO MANY MIGRANTS

I think there are too many migrants, too much immigration that shouldn't be there.

MR HOLLANDE, on immigration.

ON SARKOZY

He is a Duracell bunny, who is always fussing.

MR HOLLANDE, describing Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running again for the French presidency.

FOOTBALLERS' SHORTCOMINGS

They went from badly educated kids to wealthy stars, with no preparation.

MR HOLLANDE, on the French football team.

According to an Ifop poll for Journal Du Dimanche published on Sunday, only 14 per cent of the French want Mr Hollande to seek another term. Opinion polls consistently show him as the least popular president since direct presidential elections were introduced in the 1960s.

"I wonder just how far this talkative president will go to destroy the institution of the presidency," former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running again, said in an interview on C8 television on Sunday.

"We see now what he is, a man who likes only himself."

Ms Marine Le Pen, the National Front's anti-European Union candidate, mocked Mr Hollande on BFM Television on Sunday for spending so much time talking to journalists and not running the country.

"A president shouldn't make so many confessions," Mr Claude Bartolone, the Socialist president of the National Assembly, said in an interview last Friday with newspaper La Provence. "The position requires a certain discretion."

Prime Minister Manuel Valls did not directly criticise Mr Hollande but said last Friday during a visit to Canada that "all these discussions, all these debates, are not good for our democracy or political life".

The French media has been full of Socialist Members of Parliament, named and unnamed, criticising Mr Hollande for his confessions.

France's top magistrate took the unusual step last week of publicly berating the President after disparaging comments about the judiciary.

"The President of the republic has let comments be published, without denying them, in which he calls the judiciary a 'cowardly institution' where some 'hide away', 'play the virtuous' and 'dislike politics'," leading magistrate Bertrand Louvel said.

Mr Hollande last Friday wrote a letter to France's national union of magistrates to say that he "deeply regretted" any offence.

Also in the book, he said France's young footballers need to "exercise their brains", that France has too much immigration and that "there is a problem with Islam", which has not been the public position of his government. "It's true that there's a problem with Islam. No one doubts it," he is quoted as saying. "It's not that Islam poses a problem in the sense that it is a dangerous religion, but in as far as it wants to affirm itself as a religion of the republic."

The comments echo similar statements by conservative politicians following a wave of militant attacks this European summer.

He said Mr Sarkozy is "cynical" and "obsessed with money", also describing him as a "Duracell bunny" who is "always fussing".

The book made waves as far away as Greece. Mr Hollande told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had asked if Russia could print drachmas, indicating that Mr Tsipras was prepared to take Greece out of the euro zone. The Greek media has reported that officials close to Mr Tsipras denied he ever made the request.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'Hollande's frank opinions in book offend both friend and foe'. Print Edition | Subscribe