The first steps of St François

It has been a popular if easy start for new French president François Hollande - but he faces far more testing battles ahead.

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TWO weeks, three continents, two world summits and one European Union gathering later, François Hollande, France’s new president, looks almost like a practised old-timer, reports The Economist.

Laurent Fabius, his foreign minister and a former foe, called his performance at the G8 and NATO meetings in America “faultless”. His fight for growth over austerity in the EU has won him friends and praise. He claimed after the G8 summit that his electoral mandate had been “honoured”. “Hollande the conqueror” cooed Le Nouvel Observateur on its cover. “St François walking on water,” said Le Point in an editorial tinged with irony.

Polls suggest that Mr Hollande is one of the most popular newly elected presidents of the Fifth Republic. With an approval rating of 61%, he trails only Charles de Gaulle (67%)—and Nicolas Sarkozy, his defeated predecessor (65%). Mr Hollande’s new prime minister, the little-known Jean-Marc Ayrault, has soared even higher: 65% of the French think he is doing a good job, more than for any modern predecessor.

What the French like most, after the flashy Sarkozy years, is the new style: conspicuous modesty. Mr Hollande has decreed a 30% pay cut for himself and his cabinet. Ministers must refuse expensive gifts and hospitality, they must travel by train when possible (as he did to Brussels on May 23rd) and their cars must respect traffic lights (a novelty for ministerial motorcades). Half his ministers are female, many are young and some are both, including Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the 34-year-old Moroccan-born minister for women and government spokesman, and Aurélie Filippetti, the 38-year-old culture minister, a novelist and daughter of a Lorraine miner.

So far, so good—but also, so easy. Mr Hollande has taken largely uncontroversial decisions.

Read more of this report from The Economist.

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