Former French president Hollande unveils surprise new career as actor

Former French president Francois Hollande made the first tentative step into what may or may not be a second career this weekend when he trod the boards at one of the world's biggest theatre festivals.

Former French president Hollande unveils surprise new career as actor
Former French president Francois Hollande has appeared in a play. Photo: AFP

The Socialist leader – who was forced from the political stage by his one-time acolyte Emmanuel Macron in 2017 – appeared for 15 minutes in a play at the Avignon theatre festival in the South of France.

With acting skills often cited as one of the key qualifications for a career in politics, Hollande acquitted himself rather well in his 15-minute surprise appearance in a sprawling meditation on the state of Europe by one of France's most acclaimed novelists, Laurent Gaude. 

READ ALSO Has former French president Sarkozy really got taller since he left politics?

Has Hollande been getting acting tips from his partner Julie Gayet? Photo: AFP

All the more so since he was playing himself and had to face a residual scepticism that saw him struggle with the lowest approval rating in French political history at the end of his mandate.

Hollande, 64, known for his sense of humour even in the gravest circumstances, managed to make the audience laugh with a quip at the expense of his party, which has gone into a precipitous decline since his presidency.

But for most of his time on stage Hollande struck a graver tone, warning of the dangers of the rising wave of nationalism in Europe in response to questions from the cast.

Nationalists were out to sabotage Europe from the inside, he told the audience of the three-hour “Us, Europe Banquet of the Peoples”, slipping into political rally mode.

“They don't just want countries to leave the EU, they want the end of the whole European project. It's their political objective,” he said.

But Hollande acknowledged that his own errors may not have helped.

“My regret is not to have been shared to a bigger number of French people our commitment to the European project,” he said.

He also said he felt bad about the way the refugee crisis in the wake of the war in Syria was handled, with the lack of EU unity in taking in asylum-seekers across several countries.

Hollande insisted that “Europe always makes the right decisions but always late” and “in he meantime camps developed” and populists were able to step in to make “people fear for their identity”.

“France and Germany have a responsibility to clear the way” for the others, he declared in the play, which charts the European project from a continent ruined by war to the present day.

It was one of two major productions at the festival concerned with the EU. Europe was also at the heart of the opening show “Architecture”.

Hollande's great rival, Nicolas Sarkozy – whom he condemned to early retirement after beating him in the 2012 presidential election – has carved out a career for himself as a writer as well as the kingmaker of the divided traditional French right.

The first instalment of Sarkozy's memoirs, “Passions”, tops France's summer bestseller list.

It was passion and another bestselling memoir that undid Hollande – that by his former lover Valerie Trierweiler.

The journalist eviscerated him in her tell-all “Thank You For This Moment”, torpedoing his presidency after the paparazzi caught him paying nocturnal visits on a scooter to his present partner, actress and producer Julie Gayet.

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French energy firms urge ‘immediate’ cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

France's top three energy providers are imploring the public to reduce their energy consumption this summer in order to save resources and avoid shortages this winter as cuts to Russian gas and oil begin to bite.

French energy firms urge 'immediate' cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of the three top French energy companies came together to urge the French public to reduce their energy consumption.

The heads of TotalEnergies, EDF and Engie published an open letter in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday calling on the French to “immediately” reduce their consumption of petrol/gasoline, diesel, oil, electricity and gas in order to help stave off the shortages and soaring prices that could threaten “social cohesion” in France this winter.

The letter begs people to begin “acting this summer,” on cutting energy and fuel usage, adding that this “will allow us to be better prepared to face next winter and in particular to preserve our gas reserves.”

Why is there a risk of shortage this winter?

In light of the war in Ukraine, deliveries of Russian gas to France and other European nations via pipeline have been significantly decreased. Thus France, like the rest of Europe, is attempting to fill its gas reserves in preparation for this upcoming winter. The goal is to have French gas reserves at 100 percent by this fall

As Americans prepare for ‘driving season’ (when many families use their cars to go on vacation) and China begins to relax some of its lockdown measures, the world oil market is looking at high demand that may not be in line with current production capabilities. 

France is a relatively small consumer of Russian gas, but does depend heavily on domestic nuclear plants for energy – production of nuclear energy is however threatened by two things; droughts that mean shortages of water for cooling purposes at plants and maintenance issues that have lead to several plants being temporarily shut down for safety

Concern for adequate energy resources has been on the minds of energy providers for several years, according to the manager of France’s Electricity Transmission Network (RTE).

France has been anticipating that the winters of 2018 to 2024 would be “delicate” as this is a pivotal period for energy transition after several coal-powered plants were closed. France’s oldest nuclear plant, Fessenheim, was also shut down and disconnected from the French grid in 2020.

As of late May, almost half of France’s nuclear reactors were offline due to planned closures, as well as issues related to corrosion.  

What is the real risk of shortage this winter?

“There is no risk of shortage in the short term,” assured France’s Ministry of Environment in May, as there are up to “90 days worth of strategic stocks, as well as commercial stocks, which can both be distributed throughout the country as needed.” 

Experts like Professor Jan Horst Keppler, from Paris-Dauphine University, also do not anticipate a widespread shortage, though, “potential spot shortages are possible.”

Horst Keppler clarified that it is not possible in many cases to substitute one quality of oil for another, which could mean that some refineries may experience “spot shortages.” Therefore, he urged that consumers and providers will have to pay close attention to “the availability of gasoline, diesel and heating oil” even more so “than the availability of crude oil.”

Other European countries, however, are sounding the alarm. Germany, for example, will return to coal-powered energy in order to meet demands this winter. 

What are the energy companies doing to combat risk of shortage?

According to their statement, the heads of France’s top energy providers accept their “responsibility to act on the supply side” by implementing short term plans such as “diversifying gas supplies, proactively filling storage facilities, speeding up liquified natural gas (LNG) imports, and reactivating ‘mothballed’ facilities.”

Additionally, the leaders hope to launch a “major energy efficiency program” and a “national hunt for waste.”

In addition to ensuring adequate energy stocks for the winter, the three leaders also urge the French public to consider reducing consumption as a means for increasing household purchasing power in the fight against rising cost of living, as well as an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also said that reducing energy “immediately” will show solidarity with other European nations at greater risk, particularly those in Eastern and Central Europe.