• France's news in English
 

Mali crisis gives Hollande chance to boost image

Published: 14 Jan 2013 09:11 GMT+01:00

A stagnating economy, a crippling debt crisis and a string of policy U-turns and abandoned promises have all combined to send the 58-year-old Socialist's approval ratings into freefall in the eight months since he was elected as France's head of state and commander-in-chief.

A complicated private life in which his girlfriend has appeared to be influencing appointments because of a feud with the mother of his four children has not helped Hollande establish an air of authority around the Elysee Palace.

The crisis in Mali however has offered him the chance to forge a different image in the eyes of French voters, albeit an opportunity fraught with risk. "With all military action there are risks involved," Hollande's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared bullishly at the weekend.

"But what we have seen with Francois Hollande is that when the time came for a decision to be made, his hand did not tremble."

Intervention wins approval at home and abroad

Arguably Hollande was left with no decision to make after Islamist forces last week advanced into positions in central Mali that left the capital Bamako, home to 6,000 French nationals, vulnerable to attack.

Nevertheless, the unleashing of France's warplanes on Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic groups in the former colony has, so far, won broad approval at home and around the world.

The feeling in Brussels, London and Washington seems to be that France has taken on a task that, while potentially messy, is one that someone had to accept. Dissenting voices have been rare.

Hollande came to power insisting that France's days of meddling in the internal affairs of its former colonies in Africa were over.

He has worked assiduously to build a new relationship with Algeria and there are signs that his efforts to consign decades of mistrust and misunderstanding to the dustbin of history have paid a diplomatic dividend.

In perhaps the most surprising development of the Mali crisis so far, the government in Algiers on Sunday allowed French Rafale fighter jets to fly over the country's airspace on their way to bombing Islamist bases in northern Mali.

Turning point for Hollande

"Mali could be a turning point in his term of office," said political expert Frederic Dabi of the Ifop polling institute.

"Up until now every decision he took was systematically attacked or criticised by the opposition, but that is not an option in this case when national unity is required.”

In the early hours of Monday, it appeared that French airpower had stemmed the Islamists advance in the centre and inflicted significant damage on some of their northern bases.

Those successes offered Hollande and his political lieutenants grounds to defend a course of action that would appear to be at odds with the philosophy that led the president to remove French troops from counter-insurgency, anti-Islamist duties in Afghanistan as soon as he possibly could after being
elected.

But the weekend also offered a reminder of just how easily a resort to military force can go wrong.

In the space of 48 hours, the French military suffered casualties in Mali and Somalia that critics will inevitably put down to naivete on the part of Hollande, his advisors and France's security establishment.

Hollande's own aides have recognised that the Islamist fighters confronted in central Mali were better equipped, armed and trained than they had anticipated.

Such candour is unusual and perhaps admirable but the admission that France had essentially failed to do its homework on the rebels is unlikely to have gone down well with the family of Lieutenant Damien Boiteux, the pilot killed his helicopter was shot down by those unexpectedly well-armed militants.

 In Somalia, an operation aimed at freeing an intelligence agent held by Islamist militants there since 2009 ended with a disastrous scoresheet of one French soldier dead, another one missing presumed dead and the likelihood that the hostage-takers had executed their captive.

It emerged on Sunday that the French special forces involved in the operation had been spotted as soon as they landed in Somalia, three kilometres (two miles) from where the hostage was being held, ensuring the captors of their compatriot were tipped off and were waiting for them with more than twice the number of men.

Even if France can steer clear of similar debacles in Mali, there is no guarantee that Hollande will reap the benefit at the polls.

His predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was widely praised as the architect of the NATO-backed campaign that led to Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi being ousted from power in 2011.

France's involvement in that campaign was concluded without a single casualty but the voters still turned away from Sarkozy at the polls a year later. 

"Foreign policy," Sarkozy was later to lament, "when it goes wrong you get the blame, when it goes right, you don't get any credit."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Plan to cut speed limits on French motorways
France could see lower speed limits brought in for certain urban sections of autoroutes. Photo: AFP

Plan to cut speed limits on French motorways

France looks set to continue its drive to cut costly air pollution in certain towns with the government ready to back reducing speed limits on urban motorway sections to 90km/h. READ  

Missing flight MH370
French experts begin examining plane part
The plane part arriving in Paris on Saturday morning. Photo: Richard Bouhet/AFP

French experts begin examining plane part

Technical experts in France began examining a washed-up plane part on Wednesday that almost certainly belonged to missing flight MH370, raising hopes that some light may finally be shed on one of aviation's darkest mysteries. READ  

Calais migrant crisis
Migrant crisis: EU sends millions to aid France
Migrants put up a sign at a camp in Calais asking for help. Photo: AFP

Migrant crisis: EU sends millions to aid France

The European Commission offered on Tuesday to help France and Britain deal with the migrant crisis at the Channel Tunnel, as police on both sides braced for new attempts at the crossing. READ  

Riviera beach-gate
Saudis savaged over Paris hospital bills
Saudi Arabia owes €3.7 million to the Paris public hospital system. File photo: AFP

Saudis savaged over Paris hospital bills

Saudi royals who took over a public beach in southern France recently should have paid their country's outstanding hospital bills before leaving the country, a top French doctor has said. READ  

French parents busted over Disneyland drug run
The family headed home with a car full of stuffed toys and heroin. Photo: CetusCetus/Flickr

French parents busted over Disneyland drug run

Police have arrested a mother and father after finding ten kilogrammes of heroin in their car while the family was heading home from Disneyland Paris. READ  

Woman's dismembered body found in Toulouse
Police remained on the scene on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: AFP

Woman's dismembered body found in Toulouse

The dismembered body of a young woman has been found in a plastic container in a flat in the southern French city of Toulouse. READ  

French news site blocked in Indian porn crackdown
Le Dauphiné Libéré was one of 857 sites labelled as "worse than Hitler" by an Indian lawyer. File photo: AFP

French news site blocked in Indian porn crackdown

The Indian government is cracking down on online pornography but a list of sites blocked by authorities contains at least one surprise addition: French regional news site Le Dauphiné Libéré. READ  

Why the French back their striking farmers
A farmer passes by the main entrance of the DDT (Direction Departementale des territoires) with manure stacked outside during a protest. Photo: AFP

Why the French back their striking farmers

Visitors to France may have cursed the striking French farmers who recently blocked towns and tourists attractions with piles of manure, but the French public are 100 percent behind them. Well almost. READ  

New plan to get shy French chatting on trains
TGV passengers are known to keep to themselves. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers/Flickr

New plan to get shy French chatting on trains

A passenger survey from French rail operator SNCF has found that while the majority of respondents are keen to make conversation on a TGV train, they're being held back. And SNCF wants to help. READ  

Hollande hails Obama's 'courage' on climate plan
President François Hollande has saluted the courage of Barack Obama for taking on the fight against climate change. Photo: AFP

Hollande hails Obama's 'courage' on climate plan

The French President François Hollande has hailed the "courage" of Barack Obama for committing the US to unprecedented cuts in carbon emissions as the US president takes up the fight against climate change before December's key global conference in Paris. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
'Massacre' of black cats shocks Marseille locals
Education
Rampaging kids trash French kindergarten
French bullfighting president mauled by rampaging bull
National
French court says 'non' to new cockfighting pits
France names capital cities for new regions
Ten things you didn't know about Gay Paris
France eyes boost to holiday leave rights
Business & Money
French dating sites 'not protecting client privacy'
Features
Learn more about the Bayonne festival - France's wildest party
Features
What's on in France: Ten things to do in August
Features
What to see and do at the Paris Plages this summer
Saudi royals 'bar' French policewomen from beach
Take a closer look at the 560,000-year-old tooth found in France
National
Swiss army pilfers French water to give to thirsty cows
National
'B**ch' and 'brainless': French shop slurs clients
Travel
French cops rebel over order to give kids sweets
National
New measures to stop migrant deaths in Calais
Travel
Here are some of the most ridiculous comments you'll read about France
Features
Life may be about to get easier for expats settling in France
National
Burning tyres and blocking roads is just the way the French do strikes
National
Muslim tourists visiting French Alps are reminded of burqa ban
Opinion
Slim and chic: Are French women fed up of the stereotypes?
French officials defend handing public beach over to Saudi royals
Society
French kiss: Should expats in France do 'la bise' among themselves?
National
Paris commuters and tourists face summer of travel trouble
This man learnt the entire French vocabulary in nine weeks, but why?
French speed cameras snare tens of thousands of British drivers
Gallery
What kind of expat in France are you: A lover or a loather?
Society
French tweeters reveal the trials and tribulations of #GrowingupFrench
Where to find the best (and worst) quality of life in France
National
Riviera rumpus as Saudi royals grab public beach all for themselves
What we know about France's foiled terror plot
Features
Here are ten places in Paris where you can escape the summer heat
National
Coup d'état fails in France after being snubbed by military
Are shoppers in northern France the most honest in the world?
French woman fined €90 for driving in flip-flops
Cyclists in Paris get the green light to jump red
'Adieu France': Angry mum's parting rant goes viral
Franco-German rift opens over Greece and it could take time to heal
The Megavalanche: The most spectacular cycling event in France
Ex-French PM's daughter creates a buzz by going topless for photo shoot
Could Parisians be bathing in the Seine by 2024?
Paris unveils new mobile app to help non-French speakers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,616
jobs available