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France's Hollande signals economic U-turn, but nation only has eyes for alleged affair

President François Hollande's partner was admitted to hospital over the weekend after a magazine reported that the president had an affair with an actress. 

Philippe Wojazer/REUTERS/File
French President Francois Hollande and his companion Valerie Trierweiler visit the Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, in this 2012 file photo.

When allegations of an affair emerged on Friday between the French president and a famous movie actress, many feared that the rumors would overshadow the president's platform as he attempts to overcome record-low popularity ratings.

As if to prove their worries, Monday's headlines across France are dominated by the hospitalization of the nation's first lady. This is bad timing for President François Hollande, who had called a press conference Tuesday where he was expected to unveil a major about-turn on economic policy. Instead, the press is more likely to be focused on his personal life. 

Valerie Trierweiler, who is not married to Mr. Hollande but carries out the functions of a first lady, was admitted to the hospital on Friday, according to local reports. This came after a tabloid published a photo spread alleging that the French president is having an affair with the much younger Julie Gayet.

“Rest and for some tests” is the official reason for her treatment, and while she is expected to be released today, the president's ordeal is far from over.

This year has been awash with speculation of a U-turn in the Hollande administration since the president's New Year address. He spoke of a “responsibility pact” with businesses that would include fewer taxes and bureaucratic headaches if they commit to more hiring, as well as an acknowledgement that the nation's taxes are too high and the welfare state too heavy.

The address took France by surprise. Leftists dubbed Holland a sellout, nicknaming him “François Blair,” after the centrist prime minister in Britain (Hollande is from France's Socialist Party). He's also been compared to the next possible Gerhard Schroeder, the German leader from the left who was responsible for pushing through a business-friendly reform agenda that center-right German Chancellor Angela Merkel today reaps the benefits from. 

It seems these are the issues the French would like to remain focused on. An Ifop poll published in the Journal du Dimanche showed that 77 percent of those surveyed said that the details of any love affair should remain private.

Still, according to the Irish Times, the 600,000 copies of the magazine Closer, which ran a photospread Friday of Hollande and Ms. Gayet allegedly meeting in a private apartment, sold out on the first day, leading to an additional reprint on Saturday.

It is highly unlikely that as many will clamor to tune into Hollande's press conference on economic policy Tuesday.

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