Hollande's popularity on the slide again

PARIS • French President Francois Hollande has dug himself into a hole over plans to strip dual nationals of their French passports if they are convicted of terrorism, and a looming government reshuffle is unlikely to help him regain lost popularity.

Long France's most unpopular President on record, Mr Hollande saw his ratings almost double when he brought in tough security measures after Islamist militants killed 130 people across Paris last Nov 13.

Twelve weeks later, the boost has entirely evaporated, lost in endless debates and government flip-flops over the dual nationality plan, which has deeply divided Mr Hollande's Socialist party and threatens to hurt his already faltering chances of winning re-election next year.

"We let gold turn into lead," said one minister who asked not to be named, adding: "We've given the French people the feeling that was all we were doing... Hollande's post-attack political successes are backfiring."

The government has acknowledged that the passport-stripping plan is a largely symbolic move that would probably not deter a potential attacker. Proposing it seemed a good move at the time for Mr Hollande: Just three days after the wave of shootings and bombings, he appeared both resolute and consensual when he put forward the measure to a rare joint meeting of both Houses of Parliament. Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation.

Now it has turned into a major headache, drawing heavy criticism from his own camp. The question of nationality is a sensitive one for the left, which has traditionally been generous in offering migrants the right to become French.

In a country where about 5 per cent of people aged between 18 and 50 hold two passports, many of them of north African origin, critics are concerned that the measure would discriminate against one group of citizens.

Meanwhile, Parliament yesterday started debating a constitutional reform Bill that addresses the nationality question. But frequent re-draftings of the text have left many - both on the left and the right - unhappy. The two camps want opposite things and Mr Hollande needs them to agree, as a constitutional reform requires a three-fifths majority.

If there is no deal, "it will be a defeat for Francois Hollande, he will have failed to reach unity on such a crucial issue", said another government minister. Mr Hollande's popularity now stands at 26 per cent - two points below where it was before the terrorist attacks.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Hollande's popularity on the slide again'. Print Edition | Subscribe