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New Year greetings to the press

Published on January 14, 2011
Excerpts from the speech by François Fillon, Prime Minister

Paris, January 10, 2011

SAHEL/TERRORISM

Two Frenchmen died on Saturday after being taken hostage in Niger. It’s a tragedy and I’m thinking of the parents of these two young men, who had met up prior to one of them getting married. I’m thinking of the young fiancée from Niger. Terrorism has shattered their lives.
And yet, as President Sarkozy said yesterday, it must in no way shake our determination to fight this scourge. (…)

French people in the Sahel area must be extra cautious. The Quai d’Orsay will carry on firmly issuing essential instructions. Alain Juppé is in Niamey to take stock of the situation with the Niger authorities and meet the French community. (…)

FRANCE/EU/CHALLENGES IN 2011

It’s our duty to reach 2012 with as solid a track record as possible: on the economy, first, with new growth free from the turmoil of the crisis; socially, with a continuously falling unemployment rate, a consolidated pensions regime, a more comprehensive system of care for the most fragile in society; financially, with a track record marked by a near halving of deficits in 2012 compared with 2009; diplomatically, with an international profile bolstered by our presidency of the G20; and finally, a cultural track record marked by a France now accustomed to the idea that continuous reform is vital to her progress. (…)

France’s major challenges transcend elections: the challenges of competitiveness, debt reduction, an ageing population, sustainable development, French identity and a political Europe. We’ve started dealing with all these issues, but we need time and persistence to see our efforts through to the end.

In this respect, it’s clear to everyone that 2011 is going to require very great political skill. At European level, the imperative for skill is obvious. With Germany, France has an important role to play to secure the euro and Europe. This means three things: strengthening political union by structuring to EU governance; stepping up our efforts on investment, in particular by reorienting European research programmes in order to maximize their effect on industry; and finally, on the budgetary front, putting every European State on a virtuous path.

EURO AREA/CRISIS

The instability of the financial markets arouses controversies over the euro, controversies to which I want to respond, because I’m worried about the scepticism surrounding the EU. And having not voted for the Maastricht Treaty, I don’t think I’m suspected – or can be suspected – of dogmatism on the matter.

This crisis is not a crisis of the euro: above all, it’s a crisis of countries weakened by the economic recession, which has revealed and amplified the failings in their growth models. In the majority of European States, adjustments have become inevitable and we mustn’t suggest they wouldn’t have happened if those countries had not belonged to the Euro Area. In short, this crisis doesn’t call into question the relevance of the euro or the benefits provided by more than ten years of exchange rate stability. I scarcely need to recall, either, that when you examine the situation of public finances in the Euro Area as a whole, it’s less damaged than that of the United States or Japan, in terms of both deficit and debt. The determination of the Euro Area member countries is strong.

The scale of the measures adopted in recent months or in the process of being adopted proves it. The euro is an irrevocable project, and I like to think the difficulties we encounter have at least one benefit: to revive the principle of strengthened political leadership in the EU and greater integration by the countries sharing its currency.

FRANCE/ECONOMY

At national level, political skill will also be needed to support the recovery. For 2010, French growth should be close to 1.6%. So our forecasts have been confirmed. For 2011, according to INSEE [National Institute of Statistics and Information about the Economy], growth in the Euro Area should decelerate by June as a result of the slowdown in export markets and the implementation of measures to improve the public finances. For the time being, unless the sovereign debt crisis deteriorates in 2011, the goal of 2% growth in our economy remains within our reach. (…)

This growth target will require very precise management: on the one hand we’ll fuel the development of our economy through the abolition of the local business tax, which will enable €4.3 billion to be injected into businesses in 2011, and through future investments, which will this year secure €15 to 20 billion, and on the other we’ll scrupulously respect our deficit-reduction commitments.

Because we can’t envisage increasing fiscal pressure, which is already one of the highest in all the European countries, we’re conducting the most stringent programme in 20 years to curb public spending in our country. (…)

FRANCE/AFGHANISTAN/HOSTAGES

Ladies and gentlemen, the years go by, but the problems of the press must still and always be overcome. Around the world, several of your foreign colleagues are being silenced. In Afghanistan, Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier are still being held hostage. We were all shocked by the spying accusation made against them; they were only doing their duty of reporting in Afghanistan. My thoughts are with their families and close friends and I understand the pain of such a long separation. I want to tell them we’re making every possible effort, with all the contacts we’ve been able to establish, and that we’re not forgetting them – just as we’re not slackening in our efforts for our hostages held in Mali and Somalia. (…)./.

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