Economic policy/EU/Mali/French hostages/Syria
Q. – When you say “I didn’t underestimate the crisis” we took you to mean that you were saying “this crisis is temporary”, “the euro crisis is behind us”. You said these things at the beginning of last year, for example.
THE PRESIDENT – Of course. What’s been sorted out up to now? I significantly contributed to it: specifically the Euro Area crisis.
Q. – It hasn’t been sorted out, recently there’s been Cyprus as well!
THE PRESIDENT – There’s still Cyprus, but…
Q. – Perhaps Slovenia tomorrow!
THE PRESIDENT – These are small countries we’re dealing with, not without some difficulty given the financial system’s excesses.
Q. – Italy is still fragile!
THE PRESIDENT – Italy, fragile…
Q. – It’s a major country!
THE PRESIDENT – Here too, the mechanisms were brought in over the past 10 months. Because I remind you that I’ve been President of the Republic for 10 months, not 10 years. I haven’t had responsibility for the country for 10 years [but] for 10 months. But I’m not passing the buck. I’m here, I’m President, not in order to go against my predecessor, [but] to sort out the state of the country before possibly bequeathing it to my successor. So…
Q. – You had forecast – excuse me President Hollande – over 1.5% growth this year, 2013 or 2014 and the following… Clearly, there won’t be this growth, so the crisis is bigger than you had imagined.
THE PRESIDENT – When I took on responsibility for France, the European Commission, all the institutes were forecasting 1.2% for 2013. I myself thought that forecast wasn’t realistic, it was my predecessor’s; it wasn’t realistic. I’m not criticizing him for it, everyone was thinking in those terms.
I already corrected that in September, saying we wouldn’t get 1.2%, we’d get 0.8% at best. And then I was also honest enough to say: no, at the end of the day we won’t get 0.8% because Europe is in recession, recession with a capital “R”. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the United Kingdom… aren’t experiencing growth, but degrowth, a recession. We ourselves – we’re not going to boast about it – have got zero growth. When you’ve got zero growth you don’t create jobs. So I’ve taken measures to take this situation on board.
What’s my priority? What direction am I heading in? My priority, as I said, is to create jobs, but I’m aiming at growth, I want France to experience growth. Why growth? Because national production is at stake. When I see the pictures, what shocks me most are the businesses which are closing, the employees who don’t understand what’s happening to them, the painful decisions taken, sometimes by small firms, where a business is wound up! So it’s my duty to bring back growth.
Q. – Restore growth. If we understand you correctly…
THE PRESIDENT – So restore growth, what does this mean? Strengthening national production, competitiveness which we’ve done with the pact: the tax credit which is going to allow businesses to have fewer social charges and so be able to invest; the public investment bank; [measures to help] industry sectors and then also reorder Europe’s priorities. (...)
EUROPE/CYPRUS/FRENCH BANKING LAW/GROWTH
Q. – So let’s move on to Europe!
THE PRESIDENT – What’s expected of France? That she says of course it was necessary to sort out the financial crisis that occurred as a result of the banking turmoil and an uncontrolled financial sector. Most of that’s been done. There’s still Cyprus, but that’s just been resolved; resolved through principles that are very important, namely, that depositors with under €100,000 won’t have to pay.
Q. – Could you explain what you mean…
THE PRESIDENT – It’s very important…
Q. – ...for those who are watching; could our bank deposits be affected since we’ve had this Cypriot precedent even though it was ultimately rejected?
THE PRESIDENT – Never! I can be all the more positive about that since we’ve passed a banking law and this banking law anticipates what Europe should be. The banking union is a supervisory body; the banks are watched to make sure that they don’t make mistakes, that they behave as they should. Intervention is possible when there’s a problem or a crisis, that’s what we call troubleshooting. They can even be recapitalized without it costing the saver anything. Why? Because under the banking law, as will be the case for the banking union, all deposits up to €100,000 are guaranteed. In France we’re completely protected. (...)
Q. – During the campaign you said “I will reorder Europe’s priorities to focus on growth notably with this addition to the European treaty”. Almost a year later, Europe is more than ever in a situation of austerity. Were things said which weren’t upheld? Was a commitment made somewhat lightly?
THE PRESIDENT – Of course not! A commitment was made and it was put into practice. In the first few weeks, the very first days after I took office, I was able, together with our European partners, to pass this growth compact (€120 billion).
Q. – But what does this mean in practice today?
THE PRESIDENT – At every European Council I make sure it’s effectively being implemented.
Q. – We’re not seeing much of the money.
THE PRESIDENT – You will do, since the European Investment Bank, which will provide loans and do what’s necessary to promote growth, has been recapitalized. We’ve mobilized structural funds but that always takes too long and I’m tired of wasting time. Europe allows us to demonstrate solidarity but its procedures are so long that we have to speed things up.
Q. – Who are you saying this to this evening?
THE PRESIDENT – I’m saying this to all our partners and they’ve already heard me in this respect. We need to move faster, including with respect to solving problems like Cyprus, or Greece.
Q. – And they followed you?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, it’s longer…
Q. – Does France still exist in Europe? (…) It seems that France’s voice isn’t being heard.
THE PRESIDENT – France’s voice was heard on the growth compact; it was heard on the banking union, since we initiated it; Germany fully recognized this. We’ve been able to move towards these rules that protect us from speculation.
Q. – Not on the budget, not on the situation of austerity?
THE PRESIDENT – The financial transaction tax: we introduced it and the Germans followed us. There are amicable tensions between us and Germany; as you know, Mrs Merkel doesn’t have the same ideas as me but we both have a duty: to ensure that Europe can move forward. (...)
A situation of austerity wouldn’t mean condemning Europe to recession, it would cause it to explode; because I can see what’s happening in Europe: popular movements are gaining strength, you’ve seen what happened in Italy; extremist movements, even neo-Nazi movements in Greece. I can also see national egotism – you were talking about the European budget, I’ve seen it firsthand. France has done relatively well; we kept the Common Agricultural Policy. I kept funding for the regions; that was a trade-off and I said to myself “but where’s the European interest? Where is it leading?” I therefore have a duty, since I’m President of France, to say to Europeans – and I do so to you as I do to them and to the French people – that prolonging a situation of austerity today could mean that we might not be able to reduce the deficits, and would certainly lead to unpopular governments that will be no match for the popular movements when the time comes.
Q. – But who’s listening to you?
THE PRESIDENT – Those who are concerned: Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium; they all know they’ve made efforts and that they had to…
Q. – Might that influence the German position?
THE PRESIDENT – The German position. Germany, too, is mindful of the fact that when there’s no growth in Europe, when there’s a recession, she doesn’t prosper. In the last quarter of 2012, we grew less than 0.3; they grew less than 0.6. So they were drawn into this trend…
Q. – Nevertheless…
THE PRESIDENT – Except in our case, we have a situation …
Q. – ...will they change their position?
THE PRESIDENT – One must make a case for it, and I won’t accept a policy that means austerity for Europe. This is our choice: do we absolutely have to meet our targets in 2013, the 3%? Or can that target be deferred to 2014? You’ve seen all the efforts being made: savings, cuts that have been rather…
Q. – Significant.
THE PRESIDENT – …serious. So I say: we won’t reach 3% because, if I were to push the pace, I would dash hopes and hinder the return of growth.
Q. – And the Commission said OK?
THE PRESIDENT – I’ll have a discussion with the Commission. I’m not claiming that they will sign the paper I present to them. I will make the case, and I think there’s an awareness there. (…)
Q. – Mali’s being talked about. Military-wise, has most of Mali been recaptured? Have you, this evening, got a day, a date to give us for the start of the French army’s withdrawal?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, we’ve achieved our objectives. What were our objectives when I took the decision in France’s name? It was to stop the terrorist offensive. That’s done; it was done in the first few days. Then the second objective was to recapture the towns and cities which had been occupied by the terrorists. That’s done; I went to see this for myself. (...)
Q. – You said: “it’s perhaps the finest day of my political life”.
THE PRESIDENT – Yes it was for France, not me. France, which used to be a colonial country, which was returning – a few things could be said about this – to a country it had occupied in the past. This France was regarded as the country of freedom, the country of emancipation, the country of deliverance. Every French person should be proud of this. And the French soldiers should be rewarded and thanked. We achieved that second objective: to liberate the towns and cities. We had a third objective: to go to where the terrorists were hiding, to their haven in a mountainous area which is extremely difficult to access. Here again, our soldiers have set an example. They went there on foot in temperatures of 45 degrees. I followed these operations...
Q. – Your eyes sparkle when you talk about it.
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, because I’m full of admiration for what’s been done. There were some deaths. Five soldiers were killed. Several were wounded, some seriously. They went to look for the terrorists, including the terrorists’ leader, who was killed by bombing by the French army. We’ve achieved this, except – I’ll come back to this – we haven’t been able to get our hostages back. So from that point of view we’re going to continue with this search. So you ask me the question: when are we now going – since we’ve achieved our objectives – to scale back? At the end of April, we will [begin to] withdraw; we have a little over 4,000 [troops]; and in July, there will be no more than 2,000 French soldiers in Mali, very likely as part of a UN peacekeeping operation. At the end of the year, only 1,000 French will be present. This is in close agreement with the Malian government, but we’ll still have prepositioned forces to intervene if necessary.
Q. – So a military success, but a major political uncertainty: is France going to find herself effectively engaged in building a Malian nation because, for the time being, the Malian government isn’t legitimate; it’s the result of a coup d’état. There will be elections. Is France, for example – it isn’t very politically correct to say this, but is she working towards finding candidates for the Malian presidency who could be elected and restoring a situation where the country can have unity, particularly between the Tuaregs and ethnic “majorities”?
THE PRESIDENT – No, the time when France nominated heads of state in Africa is over.
Q. – You won’t do that? You won’t be forced to do as the Americans tried to do in Afghanistan?
THE PRESIDENT – That isn’t necessarily the right way; but there will be elections. There were elections in Afghanistan too. But we want there to be elections in Mali at the end of July. We’ll be uncompromising on this. Secondly, there has to be this dialogue with all components of Malian society.
Q. – Which is largely the cause of this conflict...
THE PRESIDENT – At the beginning it was a pretext, and then the terrorist jihadists hijacked it; but the problems in Mali going back years must be resolved. It’s a matter between Malians. France will help, but with the United Nations, with the African countries. The European countries will, moreover, go on training the Malian troops to ensure the security of the territory. We had one objective: to liberate Mali with a concern for maintaining, and above all reinstating, democracy. After that, it’s a matter between Africans.
Q. – The hostages; it appears you said to the families, “France won’t pay any more, France isn’t paying any more for hostages”. Is this true?
THE PRESIDENT – France’s policy is for no ransoms to be paid. (...)
Q. – Syria; France is expressing her wish to deliver weapons, a certain category of weapon, to the rebels, even if Europe doesn’t agree, even if the rest of Europe doesn’t agree to lift the embargo. Isn’t there a risk in delivering weapons when we don’t know if tomorrow they might end up in jihadists’ hands. It’s said that you can mark the weapons. Is this true?
THE PRESIDENT – Today there’s an embargo, we’re respecting it. This embargo is being violated by the Russians who are sending weapons to Bashar al-Assad. It’s a problem. There have been nearly 100,000 deaths in Syria, with a civil war which was becoming radicalized with the jihadists seizing the opportunity not just to deal blows to Bashar al-Assad, but at the same time lay down markers for what follows. So we need to continue the political, military pressure. But a message must also be sent. What message? There can’t be arms deliveries at the end of the embargo, which ends in May, if there’s no certainty that these weapons will be used by legitimate opposition forces with no possibility at all of them being illegally seized by terrorists.
Q. – Can we have this certainty?
THE PRESIDENT – For the moment we haven’t got it. So we won’t do it as long as we can’t be certain that the opposition haven’t got total control of the situation. Uncertainties remain since the opposition has become relatively divided in the past few days. But at the same time I wanted to send this signal: we have to exert this pressure because we can’t allow a people to be massacred without reacting. It’s up to the opposition to get structured, give us every guarantee. It’s up to the Russians to encourage political negotiation. That’s what will at last allow us to see Bashar al-Assad go.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE/MEDICALLY-ASSISTED PROCREATION
Q. – We’re going to try and wind this up in around ten minutes. We’ve still got some more topical issues. Gay marriage: could the size of the demonstrations which took place last weekend – and may well do so again – and the determination displayed possibly make you change your decision?
THE PRESIDENT – This parliamentary initiative on marriage for all hasn’t come from nowhere. First of all, it’s something I firmly believe in – and I’m not alone. It was a commitment I had made. Equality for everyone, rights given to everyone with no rights taken away from others. Heterosexual couples will have the same rights: father, mother. Nothing changes for these couples. So it was a principle of equality. Admittedly these social debates are always extremely divisive…
Q. – Were you expecting such opposition?
THE PRESIDENT – I remember the PACS [civil solidarity pact giving rights and obligations to both partners], which had also been a very intense moment. I remember – even though I was younger – the debate on the voluntary termination of pregnancy. I respect these differences of view in French society. So what must I do? I’m a president who wants both to honour my commitments and, at the same time, is mindful of the need for respect and to reduce tension. What did I decide with Parliament? That in the bill there’d be only marriage for all and adoption under certain conditions. I repeat it here, MAP (medically-assisted procreation) for couples moreover who aren’t necessarily homosexual isn’t in the bill. The issue has been referred to the National Ethics Committee which is going to give an opinion at the end of the year. So it isn’t part of the bill.
Q. – If the Ethics Committee says “no”, you won’t introduce MAP?
THE PRESIDENT – I shall accept what the National Ethics Committee says.
Q. – If it says “yes” you’ll introduce it?
THE PRESIDENT – I’ll look at its opinion, I’m not going to prejudge. In any case it isn’t in the bill.
When it’s hinted that this provision might be included surreptitiously, it isn’t true. Similarly, as I told you, the Civil Code still has father and mother. Then there’s surrogacy, surrogate mothers. This will remain prohibited in France so long as I’m President of the Republic. So here we’ve got something on which we can’t agree – I understand there’s this opposition, that it reflects spiritual views which I respect – but there’s a moment when people also have to accept the legitimacy of Parliament and the ballot boxes, with the concern to find ways of providing the necessary reassurance. (…)./.