Political anniversaries are artificial constructs. There is no real-world reason why a president should be judged on his first 100 days, or even on his first year. Still less when his country is prey to the worst economic crisis in decades, and in the eurozone where the margins of error are so slim. In such circumstances, judgment must surely be postponed. Yet few are today prepared to give François Hollande that leeway. Almost all of the write ups of his first year in office read like political obituaries.He is the victim of his own success a year ago. The French political system gives the president greater power than almost any of his international colleagues. That he should have been so empowered a year ago and appear so disempowered today is a measure of the distance he has travelled. Mr Hollande must be casting envious eyes at Barack Obama, who is battling against a legislature determined to thwart everything he does. Would that the man in the Elysée had that excuse.The problem is not that Mr Hollande has been inactive. It is that most of his activity has backfired on him. Once-popular measures such as the 75% tax on income over €1m are less popular than they were after being rejected by a court as unconstitutional – a bizarre outcome, since tax was Mr Hollande’s special subject in opposition. In the turbulence generated by repeated pratfalls, some genuine progress is obscured. Most centrist prime ministers of the last decade would have been happy to have secured the labour market reform Mr Hollande extracted from the unions. But the unique feature of Mr Hollande’s first year is that his reform programme has been obscured by a blizzard of conflicts: some foreseeable, such as the social rift caused by gay marriage; others, such as Jérôme Cahuzac, the tax supremo who was secretly dodging tax and lying about it, not.The biggest irony of the president’s first year is that a consensus-building politician who vowed after the divisive Nicolas Sarkozy years to bring people together, has had the opposite effect. France is a jumpier, more divided place today than it was a year ago. Decisions calibrated to cause the least possible offence end up displeasing everybody – too timorous for some, too bold for others. Mr Hollande did not in fact make too many promises during his election campaign, but those he did make now lie in shreds: growth has flatlined; unemployment stands at a record high and is growing at a rate of 900 claimants a day; the blast furnace at Florange in Lorraine is now closed. What was seen during the election campaign as Mr Hollande’s greatest political asset – his image of being Mr Normal – has become in one short year a political liability. L’Express now labels him Mr Weak.Is this verdict too harsh? Not if you judge a president’s primary job to be that of constructing a national narrative which the French can embrace. Neither Mr Hollande, nor his prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault have been good at portraying themselves as the steady hand at the tiller. But how would you go about describing the long, dark and dank tunnel which France is now in? Mr Hollande has to find a new prime minister who can recapture public confidence. His record low ratings are not deserved when set against the magnitude of the economic crisis he inherited. But they are a measure of his inability to lead. The biggest danger for him is not reacting. The longer he allows his agenda to be set by others, the more he will appear to be at the mercy of events.The drama of Mr Hollande’s presidency affects Europe as a whole. German analysts accuse France of being a paid-up member of the economic Club Med for its resistance to reform. They forget they will need a strong partner to construct a deeper fiscal union, which is the only solution to the eurocrisis. Who would Germany rather be dealing with: Mr Hollande, the political heir of Jacques Delors? Or Marine Le Pen? A year ago, the choice between the Europhile left and the Europhobic far right would have been far fetched. Now it is not.• This article was amended on 3 May 2013. The original used the word “effects”, where “affects” was meant.