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French Pres. Faces Press After Scandal
03:27 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International’s twice-daily global business show World Business Today. Follow her on Twitter.

Story highlights

Francois Hollande was nick-named "Flanby" before taking office, Nina dos Santos writes

The French president has now become engulfed in a scandal surrounding his love life

But if there's one thing Hollande's soft side is not welcome on it's the economy, dos Santos says

Hollande needs to get to grips with the expectations of him and his responsibilities, she says

CNN  — 

“Flanby,” or “milk pudding,” is what the French used to call Francois Hollande before electing him president.

Hardly the nickname of a great seducer is it?

Then again, power has always been the ultimate aphrodisiac. Especially in France.

After Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French president to divorce and remarry while in office, Hollande has become engulfed in a scandal surrounding his own love life, amid allegations of secret trysts with an actress in an apartment a stone’s throw away from the Elysee Palace – the official residence he shares with partner Valerie Trierweiler.

Considering speculation about the president’s private life will only heat up ahead of his state visit to Washington next month, it’s worth exploring what the furore will mean for Hollande’s image at home and abroad.

Studies carried out by the Pew Research Centre show that just 47% of French polled thought having an affair was “morally unacceptable” versus 76% in the UK, meaning France’s leader might not be judged too harshly back home. Indeed, some surveys have shown his popularity has actually increased – particularly among married French women.

But if there’s one thing Hollande’s soft side is not welcome on it’s the economy.

Why? Because a weak domestic market doesn’t just bode ill for France, as the second largest market in the region, it would be a disaster for Europe.

Rising to power on a mandate to curb austerity in favor of growth, he has achieved little of what he originally promised in 2012.

After flat-lining in 2013, France’s GDP is likely to be anaemic this year at best.

Unemployment, which Hollande promised to lower, has climbed steadily to just under 11%, a 16-year high, meaning more than three million French are now jobless, according to official figures.

Sky-high taxes, of up to 75% for top earners, threaten to prompt a brain drain and have deterred companies from investing and hiring in what is increasingly perceived as an anti-capitalist country.

The consequence? Both the manufacturing and service sectors have been contracting in France, despite the green shoots of recovery elsewhere – including in the eurozone’s cash-strapped periphery which has but a fraction of the French industrial base.

Meanwhile, attempts to shrink the size of the state, which accounts for more than half of the nation’s output and is still the largest and in some cases most prestigious employer, have been timid.

And, despite Hollande’s bluster and bark, it seems the deficit won’t get cut to 3% this year, as required by EU rules, after all.

In his third New Year news conference, Hollande vowed to shave more off state spending. But at 50 billion euros spread over two years, the extra cuts are unlikely to go far enough.