The man who will compete with Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency next May (it’s expected) has gone by many nicknames in his time: François Hollande, ‘nice guy’, ‘the discreet one’, ‘softy’… but above all ‘patient’. He knew how to bide his time.
After winning the primaries, he said: “I’m sizing up the heavy and serious task ahead of me. It’s up to me to meet the expectations of the French who have had their fill of Nicolas Sarkozy’s politics.”
And perhaps the left’s turn has finally come. The popularity of today’s centre-right president has never been so low. Hollande, however, knows his adversary is a fierce competitor.
François Hollande was born in Rouen, in northern France, in 1954. His father was a doctor, close to the far right, his mother a social worker, who has always adored her son. A few years ago, she confided on national television: “He said something that always made us laugh: ‘When I’m big I’ll be president!’ We just didn’t believe it! We still don’t!”
To think that no one believed in young François… Yet he studied at the top: law, business school, political science and the prestigious National School of Administration, ENA. That is where he met Ségolène Royal in 1079. They did not marry but raised a family, while pursuing their frontline political ambitions, gravitating towards the power of President Mitterand. She rose to head a ministry.
François the father, the fixer, then local councillor, always close, always in the wings… he was former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s shadow. Jospin chose him to succeed him as head of the party, where Hollande stayed for 11 years, as the Socialists enjoyed successes, but also crushing defeat, like Jospin’s shock first round elimination from the presidential race in 2002.
In 2007, Jospin was in retirement, and yet it was not Hollande the party picked as candidate for president, but his partner, Ségolène. Sarkozy’s victory dashed the Socialists’ hopes again, and the Royal-Hollande couple officially separated just after the race. Hollande took flight. In four years he has criss-crossed France, preparing earnestly, slimming down. Then in March this year he announced he was ready.
So different from the incumbent Sarkozy, Hollande presents quite a contrast for French voters to consider next year.