As the clock runs down for Francois Hollande’s presidency in France, the woman who’s been at his side for most of the past 40 years is trying to salvage his reputation.
Segolene Royal has been partner, political rival and now unofficial vice president to Hollande since they met at France’s elite graduate school in the 1970s. With the president’s domestic agenda shredded by opposition from within his party and on the streets of Paris, the 62-year-old environment minister’s international efforts may represent Hollande’s best chance of securing a lasting legacy from five years in power.
Royal has helped position France at the forefront of efforts to tackle climate change, hosting a United Nations summit in December that produced a global deal to rein in temperatures. While 175 nations signed up to a new deal to rein in carbon emissions in New York last month, it won’t come into force until it’s been ratified by 55 percent of the world’s countries covering 55 percent of emissions. The UN says that could happen as soon as 2018. But Royal, who continued her lobbying at a meeting in Bonn on Monday, doesn’t have that long.
“I still have to achieve something irreversible,” she said in an interview at her ministry in central Paris last week. “I have to push this country and, as leader of the climate talks, the world, toward a new model of development and make it impossible to backslide.”
This time next year, France will be choosing its next president and polls suggest that Hollande, the father of Royal’s four children, wouldn’t even win enough support to make it into the second round of voting. He’s yet to say whether he’ll run again.
The campaign has already started all the same: Both the traditional right and Marine Le Pen’s National Front are stepping up their attacks on the government, tapping into voters’ frustration with unemployment near a record high and their fears about immigration. Unions have organized two days of strikes for this week to protest Hollande’s efforts to ease the restrictions on hiring and firing.