March 31 - France cut its public sector deficit less quickly than planned last year, missing the government's target. As Joanna Partridge reports the setback comes after President Hollande suffered another drubbing in the polls.
Another bruising weekend for France's President Hollande. His Socialists lost out again in the second round of local elections. Instead - the smile of victory belonged to Marine Le Pen. Her far-right National Front seized control in a record number of towns. They're set to take over 11 across the country, easily beating their past record of 4 from the 1990s. SOUNDBITE: Marine Le Pen, Leader of far-right National Front party, saying (French): "France is sickly and this back-and-forth between the UMP and the Socialists changes nothing. I think ever more French people understand this, and want to get out of the UMP/Socialist rut." Hollande's party lost at least 140 other towns, which swung to the conservative opposition. Voters punished him for raising taxes and failing to tackle unemployment, or turn the economy around. Dominque Moisi is from the French Institute for International Relations. SOUNDBITE: Dominique Moisi, Senior Advisor at the French Institute for International Relations, saying (English): "It proved a rejection of the president, a rejection of his government , a rejection of his policy, it combines the personal and the direction, and so the margin of manoeuvring of Hollande is in fact extremely slim." If that wasn't bad enough - new data also showed France didn't cut its deficit quickly enough last year. It missed the targets it promised the EU. A request for more time isn't likely to go down well in Brussels. Figures showed the euro zone's second-largest economy grew in the final quarter mostly because consumers plundered their savings to finance spending. Christian Schulz from Berenberg Bank expects France to underperform the rest of the euro zone this year. SOUNDBITE: Christian Schulz, Berenberg Bank, saying (English): "There is no major labour market reform on the horizon any more. He's probably not doing enough any more to really set France free of all these shackles that hold it back. We also don't expect France to enter recession or even a financial crisis." Hollande may hope a cabinet reshuffle will be the answer. But he's already the least popular French president in modern history. It's not clear how a reshuffle will kickstart reforms, or reinvigorate Hollande's presidency.