Profile: Francois Hollande

Francois Hollande, on a visit to Sainte-Fortunade, south-western France, 15 October Francois Hollande has been active in socialist politics for more than 30 years

Record unemployment, low consumer confidence and a new recession - Francois Hollande's first year as French president has been marred by economic turmoil.

He has been unable to follow up on a campaign promise to pursue growth and jobs, and many of his supporters have become disillusioned as big companies continue to shed labour.

Mr Hollande's influence in Europe has begun to wane as a result of the downturn and his souring relationship with Germany over its European austerity measures.

At the 2012 elections, voters embraced the affable moderate as a welcome alternative to the intensity and glamour of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. Many had grown weary of the conservative leader's flashy style and were ready for a change.

An experienced political organiser, Mr Hollande won the party ticket despite never having held national government office.

There was a sense that his quiet - some might say dull - manner concealed a steely determination to lead his country.

But twelve months on, observers say it is unclear whether he can still emerge as a reforming president, or if he lacks the decision-making and willpower to make France competitive again.

Party career

Mr Hollande was born the son of a doctor on 12 August 1954 in the north-western city of Rouen.

He attended Sciences Po and another elite institution, ENA, where he met Segolene Royal - his estranged partner of nearly three decades and mother of his four children.

Having been active in student politics, he joined the Socialist party in 1979 and played a junior role as an economic adviser in the presidency of Francois Mitterrand.

A member of parliament since 1988, he represents a constituency in the south-central region of Correze.

Francois Hollande rides on the back of a scooter while campaigning in Paris, 11 October 2011 Francois Hollande campaigned by scooter during the primaries contest

He succeeded Lionel Jospin as party leader in 1997, a post he retained for more than a decade.

In 2008, amid acrimony over the defeat of Ms Royal by Mr Sarkozy at the previous year's presidential election, he stood down.

It later emerged he had been having an affair with Valerie Trierweiler, a political reporter with current affairs magazine Paris Match. The couple have now been in an official relationship for more than five years .

The friction between Mr Hollande and Ms Royal long embarrassed the party, but in May 2011 a scandal of a different magnitude threatened to engulf it, when new favourite Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York on attempted rape charges - later dropped.

In the ensuing months, many began to see Mr Hollande as the best available bet for 2012.

But to take the party ticket, he had to prevail in a gruelling primary election that put both his political and private life to the test.

One of the more dramatic moments of that contest came when Ms Royal - a fellow contender - publicly endorsed his bid.

'Solid left'

Some proof of his wider appeal is that he enjoys the unlikely honour of having been praised by former conservative President Jacques Chirac.

Mr Chirac described him in his memoirs as a "true statesman" capable of crossing party lines.

A file picture taken on 21 May, 2012 shows French President Francois Hollande (left) speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting with partner nations in Chicago Francois Hollande's relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become strained

The remark was perceived by some as a slight on Mr Sarkozy, whom Mr Chirac openly mocked in his book.

However, Mr Hollande describes himself as a moderate.

"I don't want a hard left," he said last year during a debate with Martine Aubry, his main rival for the socialist presidential nomination.

"We're just coming out of five years of a brutal presidency. Should we have a divisive candidacy? I don't want that. We need a solid left."

In a biography called Francois Hollande: The Strength of Mister Nice, political journalist Marie-Eve Malouines paints a picture of a man with a strong ambition for the top job and yet at the same time one who shies away from conflict.

Nevertheless, Mr Hollande chose to fight his campaign on some hard-hitting economic policies, with proposals for a 75% top rate of tax and the recruitment of 60,000 new teachers.

He also vowed to renegotiate the EU's fiscal growth pact, signed by President Sarkozy.

The idea of a 75% income tax rate for earnings above 1m euros (£820,000; $1.3m) took his colleagues by surprise and was widely condemned by his rivals.

It also led to a very public row with French film star Gerard Depardieu, who accused the government of penalising success and announced that he would move to Belgium.

On a European level, relations with Germany have become increasingly strained after Mr Hollande openly challenged Chancellor Angela Merkel's austerity policies.

Analysts say Berlin increasingly sees France as edging into the southern European camp of countries in difficulty.

All this and the occasional scandal within his own government ranks have left Mr Hollande struggling to boost his popularity and push forward with reform.

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