Exclusive Interview with Kader Arif, Minister for Veteran Affairs: Part Three

Kader ARIF ©Jacques Robert

La Jeune Politique’s reporter Hugo Argenton sat down for half an hour with Kader Arif, Minister of Veteran Affairs. In the last section of this three-part interview, the Minister discussed the first six months of the Ayrault government and Arif’s own future.

LJP: Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government has known difficult beginnings regarding public opinion. Even though the opposition is still tied in an internal fight, François Hollande’s popularity has decreased very quickly. Now, how can the government pass Hollande’s message to the French people?

Arif: I believe that François Hollande made a campaign – I can talk about it since I was in it – without lying, without illusions, telling that there nothing is free. He knew and the French knew the difficulty of the situation. After ten years with the Right in power, there was €600 billion of additional deficit, one million more people unemployed, 500,000 people in poverty, in particular among single-parent families and women, a nation put in a situation with major difficulties regarding internal social relationships. The previous government and President of the Republic put everyone against each other: the workers against the unemployed, the wealthiest against the poorest, ethnic minorities against the rest.

We came in to find a difficult situation, even more on the European level where France was dominated by Germany, a balance of foreign commerce in deficit, while it was positive when the Left was in power until 2002. The Social Security budget was also in surplus in 2002 and it is completely in deficit now. What Louis Gallois said in his report was a true case against the management of the Right. For the first time, we answered the urgency. People tend to forget about things as soon as they are finished, but maybe there were some communication problems from us. We cannot blame everything on others, we also have to look on our side.

But of the sixty promises that were made by François Hollande as a candidate, most policies are now launched, being launched, or already implemented. We can talk about the retirement age being brought back down to 60 for those who began work young, or the 25% rise for the “back to school” allocation that gives up to €88 per child in each family for those benefits. A rise in minimum wage was decided. Maybe it was not enough, but at least it was done. We also blocked the rent rates because there is a real problem in France surrounding these questions.

The European Union was put back to work, so that some day it will be a hope and not only a fatality to undergo. And it is the will of the President and of the government to raise €120 billion to build a growth pact at the European level. Maybe it is not enough, but it is going in the right direction. There is no need to announce what everybody knows, but many engagements were respected, both answering urgency and building long term.

The long-term is a priority for us, particularly with employment. We will create the “Jobs for the Future” – 100,000 contracts in 2013 – for young people without diplomas. It is important. We [the Government of Lionel Jospin between 1997 and 2002] were mocked about the “Jobs for the Youth,” but they were a true success and were much needed. There is also the “Generation Contracts,” to keep a senior [50+] in a business while hiring a younger person [25 or younger] to create a link of guidance and to encourage businesses to hire young people while keeping the more experienced. Even if at 50, my age, one is not elderly and we still have life ahead of us!

The Public Bank for Investment was created to help small and medium businesses [companies with 500 employees]and very small businesses [companies with 10 employees] to invest. So our priority is job creation and the return of growth. Those are the priorities. And I believe that François Hollande was right to say that in his press conference [on November 13th]. He has already expressed this, but we cannot repair in six months the harm that was done over ten years; and while we have to answer the urgent problems, we will be judged at the end of the five-year term.

I believe we have taken the right road in the actual context. We could have done differently with a higher growth rate, but such things do not just happen. There are other problems, like purchasing power. But I hope, we hope, for a change in tendencies by the end of 2013, and that we will have entered a virtuous circle in 2014. What we have done already is to prepare France. That is what Sweden did, and when growth came back to Sweden the country was ready. It might look like a bet, but it is not. In 1981, we went down a different road: we had to strongly, massively liberate the country, and we were right to do it over two years. But in 1983, we had to turn towards austerity and we paid for it politically for the next ten years. Whatever choice you make, it is always difficult. But I am confident.

Last question: what about the future? What hope, what objective can one have as a Minister?

Not so much. My first objective is to succeed where I am. I want to show that I can respond to the honor that was given to me. I cling to that. I work. It is important for me to work. Because you must respond to the trust put in you.

Over that, I think that if my career must serve to do something, it might be that it opened a door for others who come from disadvantaged social backgrounds, who bear a foreign-sounding name or something else; for them, nothing is impossible and that is a value to transmit.

And for the rest I will see. When you are a Minister, you must consider that you are on fixed-term contract, you do not belong to yourself and nothing belongs to you. It is important for me to keep humility. It does not prevent ambition, but I will see what happens nationally, locally.

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