Hollande Dismisses Reshuffle as Crisis Hits Popularity

French President Francois Hollande, in the midst of the worst political crisis since entering office in May, dismissed speculation of a cabinet reshuffle after a minister he’d charged with fighting tax evasion admitted to a secret overseas bank account.

“It’s not the government that failed, but a man,” Hollande said yesterday at a press conference in Rabat during a state visit to Morocco. “There’s no decision on the government to be taken.”

Jerome Cahuzac, who resigned as Hollande’s budget minister two weeks ago, said on April 2 that he was caught in a “spiral of lies” about the 600,000 euros ($770,000) he held in an offshore account for years. Hollande said this week that Cahuzac had lied to him, the French parliament and the French people.

Cahuzac’s downfall came as the Socialist president plumbed new lows in opinion polls. Less than 11 months into his five-year mandate, Hollande is struggling to revive an economy that has barely grown in two years and joblessness that has jumped to 3.196 million, just shy of a record set in 1997.

A CSA poll for Les Echos newspaper, the first to be conducted after Cahuzac’s confession, showed the Socialist president, already the least popular leader in France since 1981, slipped 4 points with only 29 percent of the respondents now supporting him. About 27 percent of voters have confidence in Hollande, down 3 points since last month, according to a TNS Sofres poll for Le Figaro Magazine published yesterday.

“This is an unprecedented level for a president at this stage in his mandate,” said Emmanuel Riviere at TNS Sofres.

Belt Tightening

Both polls included the impact of the 73-minute interview Hollande gave on national television on March 27. TNS Sofres surveyed 1,000 voters between March 27 and 30. The CSA poll of 993 voters was taken April 2 and 3.

Hollande used his television interview to warn the French last week of smaller pension and welfare benefits, reforms he wants to show the European Commission when he presents his economic plans by April 15.

The risk is that the Cahuzac scandal impairs his ability to overhaul Europe’s second-largest economy. France’s budget deficit amounted to 4.8 percent of gross domestic product last year, wider than the 4.5 percent target the government had committed itself to. His government is currently on track to record a deficit of 3.7 percent this year, instead of the 3 percent sought by the commission.

‘Larger Trend’

On the political front, the confidence of the French in their leaders has been declining for a decade and Hollande’s “drop is part of a larger trend,” TNS’s Riviere said.

Hollande sought to reassure the French yesterday.

“I understand that in face of what happened there’s considerable shock with a man who lied like he did to the head of state, to the government and to parliament about an undeclared offshore account,” he said.

France “can’t accept being humiliated by scandals that have multiplied in the past years,” Hollande said today. “We must, once and for all end this. There will always be some people who behave badly, but everything will be done to prevent it.”

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