Hollande stonewalls on private life to make reform pitch

Tue Jan 14, 2014 3:37pm EST
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By Mark John

PARIS (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande brushed away questions about an alleged affair with an actress on Tuesday and unveiled moves to ease company taxes, cut labor charges and trim France's high public spending to revive a stagnant economy.

He called for France and Germany to harmonize corporate taxation and create a joint venture to manage the transition to renewable energy, modeled on European plane giant Airbus.

With over 500 journalists packed into the Elysee Palace ballroom for a New Year news conference, the Socialist leader, deeply unpopular with voters, made no mention of controversy about his private life in a 30-minute introductory speech and defiantly stonewalled on the subject for the next two hours.

His official partner, Valerie Trierweiler, is in hospital recovering from shock after a celebrity magazine published pictures of what it said was Hollande wearing a motorcycle helmet visiting actress Julie Gayet for nocturnal trysts.

"Everyone in their personal life can face trials. That is our case," Hollande said when a French reporter ventured a coy first question about Trierweiler's future as first lady.

"These are painful moments ... This is neither the place nor the time to (discuss) that," Hollande said, adding that he would clarify the issue before a visit to the United States on February 9, on which Trierweiler had been due to accompany him.

The president said he had chosen not to sue the magazine Closer for invading his privacy because as head of state he was immune from being sued himself and did not want to create a double standard. He did not deny the reported affair.

The French are traditionally indulgent of their leaders' sexual indiscretions, and an opinion poll on Sunday showed an overwhelming majority said it did not change their view of Hollande, who was entitled to privacy in his personal life.   Continued...

French President Francois Hollande answers a question during a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer