France profile - Leaders

  • 12 May 2016
  • From the section Europe

President: Francois Hollande

French President Francois Hollande Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Hollande's tax rises have met with fierce resistance

Francois Hollande beat the conservative incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, in May 2012 to become France's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand held the post from 1981 to 1995.

Despite coming from his party's moderate win, Mr Hollande campaigned on strongly left-wing proposals, including a 75% top income tax rate, 60,000 new teachers, and the renegotiation of the European Union fiscal growth pact.

His Socialists went on to win a comfortable majority in the June 2012 parliamentary elections.

But by the end of 2012, Mr Hollande's economic plans were in trouble, with growth stagnant and the continuing woes of the eurozone promising no relief.

France continued to dip in and out of recession throughout the next year, and Mr Hollande's failure to make good on his promise to reduce unemployment by the end of 2013 left him with one of the lowest approval ratings of any post-war French president.

In November 2014, he said that would not seek a second term in office if he failed to deliver on his pledge to bring down joblessness.

Austerity measures

Mr Hollande has also come under pressure from Brussels, with the European Commission urging France to reduce its budget deficit and bring down public spending - the highest per capita in Europe.

But his policy of raising taxes rather than cutting spending to bring down France's big deficit - while popular with his own supporters - was increasingly resented by the wider public.

In August 2014 he ordered his prime minister to form a new cabinet after three ministers publicly criticised his austerity strategy.

Widespread discontent over the Socialist government's failure to turn around the French economy has translated into several election breakthroughs for the far-right National Front - in 2014's municipal, European and senate elections.

On the international stage, Mr Hollande has taken a strong lead in pushing for a more interventionist approach towards shoring up states threatened with destabilisation.

In January 2013, he sent troops to Mali to help government regain control over the north of the country from Islamist militants, and in December he deployed additional peacekeepers to the Central African Republic to help restore order after a rebel takeover.

In September 2015 President Hollande extended French air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq to Syria, citing determination to act against any threat to national security.

Born in 1954 in Rouen, Normandy, and a product of the "grandes ecoles" elite education system, Mr Hollande was an economic advisor to President Mitterrand, and became an MP in 1988.

He rose to lead the Socialist party in the long years of opposition in 1997-2008, then resigned as first secretary in the wake of a row over the failed 2007 presidential campaign of his long-standing partner, Segolene Royal.

Mr Hollande and Ms Royal later split up over his affair with journalist Valerie Trierweiler, who moved into the Elysee Palace with him after his victory in the 2012 presidential election. Less than two years later, Ms Trierweiler moved out of the presidential residence after it emerged that Mr Hollande had been having an affair with an actress, Julie Gayet.

Prime minister: Manuel Valls

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Valls has a reputation for dynamism

Manuel Valls was appointed as prime minister by President Hollande in March 2014. He replaced Jean-Marc Ayrault, who resigned after the governing Socialist party suffered heavy losses in municipal elections.

The 51-year-old Mr Valls had served as interior minister since 2012 and opinion polls long suggested that he would be a popular choice for prime minister, though he leans to the right of most of his colleagues.

He has a reputation for dynamism and as a tough talker who has taken a firm stance on law and order. President Hollande said Mr Valls would lead a "fighting government" and that it was "time for a new direction".

The Socialists' poll drubbing was put down to growing discontent over the economy after the government failed to keep unemployment figures down and boost economic growth.

In a bid to reinvigorate the economy, in 2016 Mr Valls pushed through highly controversial labour reforms aimed at watering down France's protective labour laws, invoking a rarely used article in the French constitution that allows the government to bypass parliament.

The proposed reforms had sparked weeks of sometimes violent protests across the country, and met with fierce opposition from both the far left and the conservative opposition in the National Assembly.

Mr Valls, who is twice married with four children, is the son of a Catalan artist who left Spain during the dictatorship of General Franco.