French judges, footballers and an ex-girlfriend hit back over explosive Hollande book

Francois Hollande

Francois Hollande

France’s president is facing a chorus of critics for reportedly describing judges as “an institution of cowardice”, suggesting footballers do a little “weight training on their brains”, and accusing his former partner of an “odious betrayal”.

The controversial remarks appeared in a 672-page book titled “A President Should Not Say That” (in French, “Un président ne devrait pas dire ça”), the result of a staggering 61 private interviews François Hollande granted to investigative journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme throughout his term in office.

The book touches on a range of subjects, including the president’s troubled private life, his belief that there is a “problem” with Islam in France, and his intense rivalry with his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he refers to as a “Duracell bunny, always flapping about”.

Even before its release on Thursday, critics had seized on extracts leaked to the press to blast the French president – accusing him at once of Islamophobia and “appeasement” to Islam, a hot-button issue in the run-up to next year’s presidential election.

But the furore over the president’s confessions has extended well beyond the political domain, prompting protests from people and professions Hollande discussed – and reportedly mocked – in his candid interviews.

Judges’ ‘cowardice’

On Thursday morning, the French president held talks with two of the country’s highest-ranking magistrates at the Elysée Palace in a bid to patch up relations after the book quoted him as suggesting French judges made up an “institution of cowardice”.

Shortly after, Jean-Claude Marin, the prosecutor-general of the Court of Cassation, France’s highest court, said the talks had failed to alleviate the “humiliation” felt by magistrates.

The president’s “outrageous” comments “pose an institutional problem,” added the court’s president, Bertrand Louvel.

“It is inconceivable that the function of president of the Republic […] could be used to spread a degrading vision of the justice system among the French public,” Louvel said.

The USM, the main magistrates union, earlier published a statement urging Hollande to “recant”.

It quoted from a speech at the union’s annual congress last week, in which the French president declared: “It is above all the magistrates who guarantee the excellence of our justice system.”

Trierweiler fires back

Social media have been abuzz with the book’s revelations on the many private scandals that have rocked Hollande’s presidency, and his estranged partner Valérie Trierweiler’s latest tweets have added fuel to the fire.

Hollande, who had previously remained tight-lipped about his romances, refers to his dramatic break-up with Trierweiler as the “worst personal moment” of his presidency, describing her as obsessively jealous of his longtime partner Ségolène Royal – who is now his environment minister.

The French president says he hasn’t read the kiss-and-tell book Trierweiler published after they split, in which she portrayed him as a cold and calculating man whose cheating drove her to ingest a large quantity of sleeping pills.

But he says her claim that he despises the poor and once referred to them as “the toothless” was a lie, calling it an “odious betrayal”. Instead, he claims he once said: “I see people who come up to me during demonstrations, they are poor, they are toothless.”

Trierweiler swiftly fired back on Wednesday, tweeting a transcription of a message she claims Hollande sent her in 2005.

“I am with my friend Bernadette in a large demonstration in her district,” the tweet said. “I launched a charm offensive. But you do not have to worry. In her speech, she made a great slip. Everyone laughed, even the toothless.”

Trierweiler dated the message to May 31, 2005, at 12.39pm, though she later corrected the year to 2008. She has not posted any photographic proof of the original message.

Footballers ‘are no imbeciles’

Some of the most bizarre comments from “A President Should Not Say That” concern France’s top footballers, particularly those on lucrative contracts with foreign clubs.

Hollande is quoted as calling them “guys from housing estates without bearings, without any values, who left France too early”, and suggesting they need “weight training on their brains”.

Several current and retired footballers expressed outrage in French media, including former Word Cup winner Emmanuel Petit.

“For too long politicians have treated us with condescension,” Petit told RMC radio. “We’re not lucky enough to attend the ENA [an elite school that trains France’s top politicians and executives], but I would be happy to give politicians some gym classes for the brain, and teach them integrity.”

The UNFP, a footballers’ union, penned a letter to the French president, purportedly written by “a football”.

“The French are no fools, and footballers, with whom you are fond of posing for posterity on the doorstep of […] your palace, are no imbeciles,” it read.

Adopting a sarcastic tone, the “football” added: “I wouldn’t want to be in your place […] having to govern a toothless people and love […] a sport practiced by feeble-minded beings – assuming they have a brain at all.”

In a pun on the president’s name, the letter concluded with a reference to Dutch football legends Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp, regretting their “elegance” and “precision”: “Normally, […] people from Holland like me, flatter me, stroke me on the football pitch”.