Hollande Wants to “Put France Into Motion” and Dodges Personal Questions

President François Hollande Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

President François Hollande
Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

Tuesday at his first press conference of the year, a closely watched tradition in the French political world, President François Hollande chose to start his speech with a simple though ambitious commitment to “put France into motion”.

On New Year’s Eve, giving his wishes to the French people on television, Hollande had vaguely mentioned a “pact of responsibility” between the government and French companies. Subsequently, his words have been talked about and interpreted for the past two weeks as a major turning point in his policy, going from a “socialism of demand” to a “socialism of supply”, which is more friendly to the private sector.

In the past, the opposition as well as French companies had accused the government of increasing taxes on the French and specifically on businesses, hindering economic recovery in France. Now, Hollande is seen as implementing a social-democratic policy, in the British or German style of Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder.

Hollande’s policy has consisted in two major moves so far: cutting State spending as much as possible without threatening certain sectors defined as essential, such as education, to make some room for improvement in a narrow list of sectors, and increasing taxes when possible without putting too much burden on the poor.

The French President had also pledged to reverse unemployment by 2013, an objective that was a failure despite the frustrating stabilization of unemployment. Hollande thus acknowledged that the initial results of his policy were “too frail”, despite some improvement in youth employment. This lack of results likely prompted this surprising change in economic policy.

This new “pact of stability” will then, on the one hand, help businesses by lowering taxes and putting fewer constraints on them while simplifying considerably the administrative procedures allowing them to invest. On the other hand, the President strongly stated the need for those businesses to make numbered commitments in terms of hiring and to enter into social dialogue with unions, with the whole process being watched by an “observatory”, linked to the Parliament.

He acknowledged that France’s main problem was its industrial production, and that this plan was intended to improve the situation, but that it was in no way a “gift” to these companies but rather a “great social compromise”. He was also very adamant that it would not mean higher taxes for households. The process would be officially launched on January 21.

Hollande also highlighted the previous efforts of his government to reduce public spending, unlike his right-wing predecessor, acknowledging that further efforts would be needed. Nevertheless, he reminded the public that the government and State administration only make up one third of public spending, and that the French overseas territories, the régions and départements, should be reorganized, with a new process of decentralization, a transfer of responsibilities from the State to the territories.

Hollande also recalled his commitment to preserve the French social model, especially regarding health care, which is almost entirely free. Still, he acknowledged the problem of funding that must be addressed.

Alluding to the fact that France has been recently singled out as having the most unequal educational system in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), he announced a new plan to tackle those problems and to make the French school districts that are the most in difficulty more attractive for competent teachers.

The President also mentioned euthanasia, “the right to die with dignity”, calling for the initiation of a debate “to gather society as a whole”, in order to allow it but only under strict conditions. It was a difficult move for the President, after debates such as the one on gay marriage tore the French society apart and awoke the still vigilant conservative forces of the country.

With the recent French involvement in Mali and in the Central African Republic, Hollande praised a “victory for democracy”, “for development” and “against terrorism” in Mali and highlighted in both cases the fact that France had decided to intervene with the approval of the United Nations, defending the legitimacy of the intervention. Consequently, the operation in Mali “will end” according to the President, since the “integrity” of the country is “restored”, with a progressive decrease of the troops involved. Regarding the Central African Republic, the President was not so optimistic, but stressed the gradual commitment of African troops to maintain order.

Regarding the European Union, Hollande simply said that Europe was “France’s future” and that “making Europe is not undoing France”. He welcomed the general stabilization of the Union of the Euro Zone, stressing his role in the establishment of a banking union, though he admitted that sufficient progress had yet to be made to encourage growth and tackle unemployment in the EU as a whole. He announced more cooperation to come between the French and German governments, so that the two countries might give common answers to common problems in the future. He thus reactivated the idea of the Franco-German couple as the core of the European Union, to give the “European idea” a new motion.

The first question from the press, carefully asked, as expected, dealt with Hollande’s alleged affair with an actress, and the hospitalization of the First Lady due to the shock of the revelations. Hollande refused to comment and clearly restated his attachment to the clear separation the French make between the private of life of their political leaders and their public actions.

 

 

Trackbacks

  1. […] second phase was undertaken during last week’s press conference. A very confident Hollande announced a number of measures that break with the classic socialist […]

  2. […] Hollande Wants to “Put France Into Motion,” Dodges Personal Questions. On Tuesday, January 14 at his first press conference of the year, a closely watched tradition in the French political world, President François Hollande chose to start his speech with a simple though ambitious commitment to “put France into motion.” The first question from the press dealt with Hollande’s alleged affair with an actress, and the hospitalization of the First Lady due to the shock of the revelations. Hollande refused to comment and clearly restated his attachment to the clear separation the French make between the private of life of their political leaders and their public actions. […]

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