Hollande Won’t Run Again Unless Unemployment Rate Falls

French President Francois Hollande, confronting a record-low approval rating, said he won’t run again unless the jobless rate declines in the remaining 2 1/2 years of his term.

“The goal was to reduce unemployment, and I’ve said to myself: if I have not managed by the end of my mandate, do you think I will put myself before the French people?” Hollande said in a TF1 television interview. “They will be merciless.”

While Hollande has said before that seeking a second mandate hinges on his success on the jobs front, the remarks highlight the depth of the crisis France faces at the halfway point of his first term. Pressed later in the interview about whether he’ll run again in 2017, he responded “it’s in 2 1/2 years; be patient.”

If he doesn’t stand in 2017, Hollande would be the first president in France’s Fifth Republic to decide not to run for re-election. Since 1958, one president died in office, one resigned, two lost their re-election bids, and two -- Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac -- were re-elected.

Hollande appeared in the 90-minute interview last night to mark the mid-point of his five-year term, taking questions from journalists and members of the public.

Jobless claims have risen in all but three months since Hollande took office in May 2012, with the total rising by 508,600 to a record 3.4 million. Unemployment stands at 10.2 percent, and the French economy is in its third year with almost no growth.

Right Call

Since Hollande’s election, the Paris stock market’s CAC40 Index has risen 32 percent, and the yield on 10-year government bonds has fallen to 1.2 percent from 2.8 percent.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, using a gauge that harmonizes rates across its members, forecasts unemployment will decline to 9.8 percent in 2015 from 9.9 percent this year.

Stephane Le Foll, the government’s spokesman, said in an interview on France Info radio today that Hollande was right to be vague about whether he’ll run again, and to link his decision to results on the jobs front.

“The worst would be if he said mid-term that he won’t run again,” Le Foll said. “What he said is that right to the end ‘I will try, I will work for the French, and then I will decide.’”

Hollande defeated his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy largely on the back of criticisms of Sarkozy’s handling of the economy. His popularity remains stuck at 13 percent, a record low for a French president.

Approval Rating

Hollande’s approval rating halfway through his term compares with 38 percent for Sarkozy at the same point in his presidency, according to a BVA opinion poll for L’Obs magazine released this week.

That poll said that 10 percent of the French want Hollande to run again, and 57 percent said they didn’t think he would. Prime Minister Manuel Valls was prefered by 46 percent to represent Hollande’s Socialist Party, ahead of Lille Mayor Martine Aubry at 25 percent.

The poll questioned 1,335 people on Nov. 3 to 4, and no margin of error was given.

Hollande last night also said there will be no new taxes “beyond what’s been announced,” promised further measures to help young people find jobs or training, and announced plans to introduce more computers in the country’s schools.

He said he made mistakes in his private life and in promising that the unemployment rate would decline starting in 2013. “We expected an economic pick-up,” Hollande said. “It was mistake. Everyone was wrong.”

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