Still reeling from the scandal surrounding the resignation of his disgraced budget minister early this spring, French President François Hollande has been prodding lawmakers in recent months to subject themselves to strict new disclosure requirements and tough transparency rules. But MPs — including many of Hollande’s Socialists — in the lower house of parliament have watered down the reform measures such that whatever bill emerges from negotiations is likely to be a weak one. As it stands, the legislation would provide details of officials’ assets only when constituents specifically request them — and would impose hefty fines and even jail-time on those people (presumably journalists) who dare to make them public.
And if the outlook is not great for Hollande’s effort to renew confidence in the government, it’s even less sanguine when it comes to the question of his own political future. After all, by-elections since the Socialists cruised to victory a little over a year ago have seen conservatives consistently gaining ground at their expense. The successful French military intervention into Mali brought temporary relief for the president, taking the spotlight off the weak economy that has been plaguing him from the start (after helping him defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy), but his approval numbers remain historically low. Resentment of former Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac’s secret Swiss account (stocked with over half a million euros) is still seething. And coming across as incompetent, unable to unite even his own party behind a modest reform measure, is unlikely to stop the bleeding.
Indeed, Hollande’s position has deteriorated to such an extent that it raises the question of whether he has any realistic hope of recovery. He is effectively a lame-duck, despite having carried his party out of the political wilderness (or, if we want to assume a more skeptical vantage point, taken advantage of a favorable environment). Conservatives, on the other hand, appear united by antipathy toward Hollande’s social reforms like gay marriage and anger at his desire to spotlight income inequality and impose new surtaxes on the rich. Most critically, Hollande lacks the political capital to save himself, and some in his party have seemingly concluded he is beyond (or not worth) saving. His best hope is that the economy eventually rights itself and that his allies in parliament can at least offer the appearance of concern over corruption. But make no mistake: failure to show substantive contrition for the Cahuzac affair could be lethal. And right now, Hollande is in the crosshairs.