Meet Monsieur Reform: François Hollande

Why the world needs France's president to succeed in reviving his country's fortunes—and why the odds are against him

Marco Grob for TIME

Hollande, at work in his Élysée Palace office, may wield more executive power than most other Western leaders, but he cannot ignore the street.

French presidents have powers most democratic leaders only dream of. Yet François Hollande, like his predecessors, faces a defining question: Can he, will he, fix France?

That's because the French love revolution but hate reform. So even as Hollande works the levers of the Élysée Palace, Paris once again fills with protesters who denounce everything from his economic plans to his private life.

Hollande's alleged affair with 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet and split with the First Lady, journalist Valérie Trierweiler, have generated worldwide headlines. But it's his economic plans that have implications well beyond his borders as he prepares for a state visit to the U.S. on Feb. 11. The performance of the world's fifth largest economy affects not only the well-being of its own citizens but the fragile global recovery. Foreign investment in France plunged 77% last year, while unemployment hit 3.3 million in December. The government is France's largest employer.

There was, therefore, relief in capitals from Washington to Berlin on Jan. 14 when Hollande set out plans to cut the bloated state and make France more business-friendly. This marked a sharp change of direction for a President elected on a Socialist Party ticket. In a Jan. 25 interview with TIME, Hollande insisted that voters' priorities have changed. Unchecked public spending, he says, "was not stimulus. It was submission, acceptance ... It was just the easy way out."

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