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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

François Hollande named “Statesman of the year”


Say what?

That’s surely the only way to react to the news that the French president, François Hollande, has been honoured as International Statesman of the Year.

The prize, which is awarded by the New York-based interfaith Appeal of Conscience foundation recognises “individuals who support peace, prosperity, liberty and promote tolerance, human dignity and human rights, both in their own countries and internationally through cooperation with other leaders”.

François Hollande (screenshot from Le Monde/Reuters video of acceptance speech)

Right, that’s the news angle, and maybe the international community knows something the French don’t. But does Hollande really merit the award?

After all poll after (endless) poll in this country only emphasises Hollande’s unpopularity with the electorate at home and the frustration there has been with his seemingly trademark “waffling” approach to governing.

As Hollande’s five years near their end, what have been the highlights of his term in office?

In no particular order:

Julie Gayet and the scooter.
The ceremonious (and acrimonious) dumping of not-quite first lady Valérie Trierweiler
Ace government appointments such as Jérôme Cahuzac (the minister of economy, charged with fighting tax fraud who…well, you can probably guess the rest) and Thomas Thévenoud (the trade minister who “forgot” to pay his tax bill…for three years)
Electorally courting the Greens, including them in government and then seeing the “principled” Cécile Duflot flounce out of office.
Facing the wrath of so-called Frondeurs of his own party, abandoning Socialist party principles but refusing to endorse completely those of Social democracy.
Being (and this takes some doing) abandoned by government ministers on the left of his party - Arnaud Montebourg, Benoît Hamon and Aurélie Filippetti and those on the right - Emmanuel Macron (all right, so Manuel Valls has stuck the course, but most political commentators would argue that he has his own agenda).
Telling the French endlessly that unemployment would drop and staking his future on it.
Making administration easier (huh?), reducing the number of regions (at what price?), shifting a dollop of the state’s tax burden to those very same regions.
Oh yes - same sex marriage.

On the whole, a pretty grim and disappointing track record - domestically speaking.

So, to abroad - foreign policy; an area in which every French president stamps his authority.

Just a sampling.

French intervention in Mali and Syria, the battle against Daesch, the handling of refugees in Europe…the list could go on…have, and let’s be brutally honest about it, hardly been resounding triumphs in French foreign policy and ergo for Hollande.

And that term “Statesmanship”.

Take a look around the Net and you’ll come up with several key elements (and, as in all matters of this nature, there is no one clear definition, so the meaning of the term is open to some degree of interpretation) that are embodied in being a statesman.

Having a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision. And an ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision.”

Hollande? Really?

Or how about this?

"A person who is skilled in the management of public or national affairs." or, in determining the difference between a politician and a statesman, “A politician works with details. A statesman works with ideas.”


And this?

“A person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs” and “A person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.”

Double ditto.

Now, while Hollande might score (just) on some of these points, he clearly misses big time on many.

Certainly he has had to deal with the terrorist attacks in France during his time in office. And few could argue that he has led the nation’s mourning with exceptional dignity.

But that in itself cannot warrant the award of International statesman of the year.

And maybe Hollande recognised that fact in his acceptance speech on Monday, realising that the award was not for just one man, but for a nation.

“It honours France,” he said. An inspiring France which defends  liberty, democracy and human rights everywhere.”

And referring to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,  he continued, “ On that day we were all American. Today we are all French.”

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