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Fight against terrorism/Sahel/Syria/Iraq/Lebanon

Published on February 9, 2015
Press conference given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)
Paris, February 5, 2015

(…)

PARIS TERRORIST ATTACKS/FRENCH REPUBLIC’S RESPONSE/INTELLIGENCE BILL

Here we are, back together a month after events which left a deep impression on France and are now embedded in our national memory. The most sacred things about France were attacked: freedom of expression, the Republic and human equality. France was able to react with dignity and pride. Where the terrorists wanted to bring it to its knees, it stood firm. Where the fanatics wanted to sow fear, it rallied together. Where the extremists wanted to divide it, it united. The many public gatherings in those terrible days impressed the world, which expressed to France its solidarity.

The spirit of January 2015 is the unity of the Republic. This requirement and this message don’t wipe out differences, sensitivities and divisions, but they go beyond them and powerfully embody what is essential: to ensure the country’s cohesion in order to move it forward and make it succeed. The government and I must maintain that spirit, because it increases our responsibility for making the Republic stronger and fairer.

The first of the responsibilities is to be equal to the threat. It hasn’t gone away. There’s been another resurgence of it in recent hours, in Nice, with the attack on three soldiers because they were wearing a uniform, that of France, and protecting a Jewish cultural centre. So the state must act with the greatest firmness, in compliance with the law. That’s why new measures were taken very quickly, and resources were made available to the police, the justice system and intelligence. Vigilance has been raised to its maximum level.

A bill on intelligence is currently being prepared. It will be presented in March and voted on before the summer. Measures will be taken, at both national and European level, to monitor [suspects’] movements. I say it here: in addition to the provisions and measures, the Republic will be inflexible, implacable, at national level. It will also be irreproachable with regard to freedoms and the law.

ROLE OF EDUCATION/LAICITE/COMBATING EARLY SCHOOL LEAVING

Our responsibility is also to make national cohesion a reality. It all begins with laïcité [secularism] (1). Laïcité isn’t a formula used in certain circumstances. Laïcité isn’t a principle that should undergo compromises. Laïcité is non-negotiable, because it enables us to live together. Laïcité must be understood for what it is: namely freedom of conscience and therefore freedom of religion. Laïcité means values and legal rules consisting in protecting what we have in common, but also what’s unique about us.

Laïcité is a guarantee for France against internal intolerance and external influences.
Laïcité must be transmitted. So it must be learnt. This will be done in schools throughout the compulsory education period. Laïcité means the separation of the state and religions; it doesn’t mean ignorance of them. So dialogue with religions is one of the duties of the Republic, including dialogue with the Muslim religion. So together with the Prime Minister, I’ve asked the Interior Minister to continue the work begun with the French Council of the Muslim Faith on the security of mosques, the training of imams and chaplains and the fight against radicalization.

Our responsibility is to promote the Republic’s schools. They don’t protect children from all the evils that may hit society. But schools are the best weapon for fighting back. I’ve also made them the priority of my five-year term. A new step will be taken in their overhaul.

Let me outline it: mastery of French from nursery school onwards, because French is essential for living in France and sharing in France’s success. New resources will be given to combating early school leaving. Teacher training will be stepped up and improved, to prepare them for their job. I want to pay tribute here to their commitment. Vocational lycées [schools catering for pupils aged between approximately 15 and 18 years] will be reassessed and the journey of those young people will be supported all the way, i.e. until they secure a job. Finally, digital technology will be taught from primary school until the age of 18, with the relevant diplomas. A plan will be presented very soon; broad consultation has been started; the decisions will be taken in May.

REGIONAL EQUALITY/ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCY

Our responsibility, my responsibility, the government’s responsibility is equality between the regions. There too, despite the efforts made – and they’ve been significant over the past 30 years – there are still too many failures: the concentration of poor people in the same places, huge inequality, excessively high unemployment and intolerable discrimination. The government will convene a cross-ministerial committee in March.

I’m giving it three goals: creating a social mix, distributing the population so that social housing is created where necessary but not only where it already exists; support to strengthen the social fabric by drawing on voluntary organizations and on democracy; and finally development, with the creation of a national agency for economic development in the regions. Because the ANRU, the [National] Urban Renewal Agency, already exists, there will be an agency for economic development at national level.

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Our responsibility is civic engagement. As French people have shown, their love for the Republic is intact and they have a deep desire to be useful and serve the common good. So I propose a new “civic contract” with: the establishment of a universal [civic] service for young people (2); the creation of a réserve citoyenne (3) for all French people, for all those who want to contribute to the collective momentum and give of their best; and a strengthening of participative democracy. This unity of the Republic,
which is so necessary for living together, also gives France not only the means to excel within its borders but also hold its own beyond them. Incidentally, I’m not separating the issues. No weak country can be a strong nation in the international arena.

The first challenge France has to confront is the fight against terrorism. I didn’t wait for January’s events in order to take action. Back in 2013, on 11 January 2013, I took the decision for our forces to intervene in Mali and then protect the Sahel region. In the same way, over the past few months, even though I’d have preferred things to go faster, we stand alongside those fighting for freedom in northern Syria and are contributing to the international coalition in Iraq. We shall continue to do this whatever threats we receive, because this is a question of universal values and also our own security. (…)./.

(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.

(2) as of 1 June 2015, all people under the age of 25 will be offered the opportunity to give their time and energy to the community by choosing from a variety of tasks across a broad range of spheres.

(3) a pool of citizens who wish to undertake voluntary work in various public services.

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