Hollande DePledges Clarity on First Lady After Affair by

President Francois Hollande rebuffed questions about a gossip magazine report he’s having an affair with a French actress, saying at a press conference yesterday that he’ll provide clarity on his personal life within a month.

The conference aimed at presenting Hollande’s plan for rekindling France’s sluggish economy and capping unemployment that’s at a 16-year high was overshadowed by a Jan. 10 photo expose by Closer magazine on his liaison with actress Julie Gayet. Hollande, asked if his partner Valerie Trierweiler was still France’s first lady, said it was not the proper place or time for discussing it.

“Everyone goes through testing moments in their personal life,” Hollande said. “They are painful, but private matters need to be dealt with privately.”

The personal struggle threatened to hijack the Socialist president’s efforts to woo business leaders with a promise to slash payroll charges by 30 billion euros ($40 billion) and trim another 50 billion euros from government spending by 2017. An economy that has barely grown in the past two years has contributed to Hollande’s popularity sliding to record lows.

By appealing to the business community, Hollande said he’s “taking a risk” with his Socialist base, adding, however, that France’s readiness for change is “crystalizing.” For Hollande, whose five-year mandate ends in 2017, reviving the economy is both a matter of political survival and national prestige.

“The time has come to resolve the main problem of France, it’s production,” Hollande said. France needs to “have a strong economy -- otherwise no diplomacy, no international influence will be possible.”

Gallic Shrug

While the 2 1/2-hour conference was aimed at burnishing Hollande’s “social democrat” colors, it’s his affair with Gayet that has dominated coverage in the French media since the Closer report.

Hollande yesterday said he was outraged by the expose, saying he will address questions on his personal life ahead of his official visit to the U.S. on Feb. 11.

“My indignation is total,” he said. “This is a country of great liberty. At the same time we need to have this principle of respect for private life and personal dignity.”

Polls showed that most French people are shrugging off the question. His approval rating jumped 2 points to 26 percent, according to an LH2 poll for Le Nouvel Observateur magazine published yesterday. LH2 interviewed 1,018 adults on Jan. 10 and 11. No margin of error was given.

Seventy-seven percent of the population considers the affair a private matter, according to an Ifop survey of 1,025 adults taken on the same days.

Private, Public

Hollande, 59, isn’t married, although he has been in a long-term relationship with Trierweiler, 48. Before that, he was with former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, with whom he has four children. The two were not married.

Trierweiler was admitted to hospital after the seven-page Closer expose was published.

The magazine’s report showed how private lives of the country’s politicians have become increasingly public in recent years. The affairs of past French leaders rarely provided fodder for the media, which made a clear distinction between the private and the public.

In contrast with Hollande, Francois Mitterrand was able to keep both his battle with cancer and the existence of a daughter he had with a mistress out of the press during his 14-year presidency that ended in 1995.

Former President Jacques Chirac’s extra-marital adventures, although widely known, were rarely ever reported.

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