Bread and circuses: The last days of the Hollande presidency?

François Hollande en compagnie du président argentin Mauricio Macri (à gauche) à Buenos Aires, le 25 février. AFP

Art Goldhammer directs our attention to a bizarre and fascinating article in Le Monde suggesting that President François Hollande is hoping that a French victory in the Euro 2016 would give his presidency a desperately needed bounce.  This is pathetic beyond words.  It’s also disheartening that the worlds of football and French politics would seem to be intertwining in a manner more typical of an impoverished third world dictatorship seeking to distract the minds of the people from the failings of the regime with bread and circuses.

One oddity struck me, though, as it surely must have struck everyone who follows French football: In typical Monsieur Flanby fashion, at the very moment when President Hollande was supposedly salivating at the prospect of associating himself with a famous victory, his prime minister was (in my opinion) seriously undermining France’s prospects for achieving that victory by excluding the scandal beset Karim Benzema, the country’s best striker and leading goal scorer, from the national team.

The indecision and lack of consistency on display here has, of course, been the very hallmark of the Hollande presidency.  On the one hand, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has quite legitimacy taken a strong and compelling moral stance; he has excluded Benzema because Benzema has been involved in numerous scandals including his allegedly having purchased the services of an underage prostitute (something which he has denied but, in fact, the charges were dropped only because a French judge concluded that, although Benzema did indeed have sex with the underage girl and knew she was a prostitute, it couldn’t be proved that he knew she was only 16 years old).

Benzema’s long history of scandal and, in particular, his recent arrest for allegedly blackmailing a fellow footballer makes him a very poor example for young French people, to say the least.  As Valls stated in making the moral and ethical case for excluding Karim Benzema:

“A great athlete should be exemplary. If he is not, he has no place in the France team. There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes. They wear the blue jersey, the colours of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Yet, on the other hand, if my presidency’s last best hope for a « rebondir » was riding on France winning the Euro 2016, I might be less concerned with moral niceties and more concerned with selecting players capable of delivering victory.  You can’t win if you don’t put the ball in the net.  Warts and all, Benzema is still the best striker that France is capable of fielding. If Paris was worth a mass to Henry IV, surely a man as desperately ambitious and cynical as François Hollande ought to be willing to hold his nose and employ a supremely talented football player who, in addition to being innocent until proven guilty, is also very popular with Frenchmen of North African descent who were once a key voting bloc for the Socialist Party and could perhaps be again.

So, is President Hollande a man of exceptional moral principles willing to risk his future by insisting on doing the right thing or is he the M. Flanby who couldn’t overrule his prime minister even to save his presidency?   If Valerie Trierweiler is to be believed, François Hollande is a cynical, yet chronically indecisive, man of overpowering and, at times, unscrupulous ambition who surely would not give a tinker’s dam whether Benzema was a suitable role model if it would even slightly improve his prospect of reelection. My inclination is towards agreement with Trierweiler’s description of the man so my guess is that Hollande was too afraid or indecisive to overrule Valls, even though he probably wanted too. But then, as with everything in politics, “you pays yer money and you takes  yer choice”


One thought on “Bread and circuses: The last days of the Hollande presidency?

  1. According to how you look at it, given that France props up its fair share of third world dictators I suppose it makes sense that some of the tendencies rub off on its president. With Sarkozy a serious contender to be the LR nominee, and with the FN not being particularly attractive to North African French people, even if they have polished up their image since Jean-Marie gave way to Marine, perhaps Hollande thinks he can count that slice of the electorate as his by default. Hope for his sake that they don’t simply abstain come election day next year. If Juppé gets past Sarko then maybe Hollande will regret leaving Benzebut out.

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