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Economic policy/EU

Published on May 17, 2013
Opening speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at his press conference (excerpts)

Paris, May 16, 2013

I told you we’d meet every six months; so I’m on time for the second meeting. This press conference will enable me to go back over what we’ve done in the past year, but above all to sketch out the next stages in my action.

MALI

Yesterday I was in Brussels. I was chairing the donors’ conference for Mali. France’s intervention was welcomed and recognized there. The credit goes to our soldiers, and I want to pay tribute to them at this time. Six died. They’ve done much more than liberate a country from servitude and terrorism: they’ve made France loved throughout Africa and illustrated our role, which is that of a great nation: to be able to influence global stability.

FRANCE/EU/ECONOMY/PAST YEAR

Yesterday I was in Brussels because I wanted to share with the European Commission, which was meeting in full force – it was the first time since 1997 that a French President had met the college of Commissioners. So it was an event for them, but also for France, because I wanted to share with them my conception of Europe.

I spoke on behalf of a state that has demonstrated its budgetary credibility, a country that has begun restoring its competitiveness and, through negotiation, embarked on reform of the labour market. This is the effort I want to pay tribute to: that of Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government and that of all French people. It’s enabled us to gain time – two years – to achieve our target, which is to reduce the public deficit, thus confirming the well-founded nature of the effort I began when I was elected: to get movement on policies in Europe.

The policies have been changing in the past year. When I look at what’s happened, the Euro Area has been stabilized, solidarity instruments have been introduced, banking union has been defined. There’s also been a new doctrine on the part of the European Central Bank. Greece, who we thought at one point was under threat of no longer being able to be part of the Euro Area, has been rescued, as have other countries. Interest rates, which seemed intolerable for some countries, have fallen. I’m not talking about ours, which is at an historic low: never has the state borrowed money at such a low cost.

This result, for which I claim responsibility, has been possible only because France has been able to play the role of link between northern and southern Europe, in the framework of the essential – and I mean essential – Franco-German partnership, without which Europe can’t move forward.

But what’s hitting Europe today is no longer the financial crisis. I hereby repeat: that’s behind us. That doesn’t mean there are no longer any threats, but the causes have been regulated and stamped out. What’s hitting Europe is no longer the financial crisis, it’s the recession: a recession caused by austerity policies; a recession that’s been affecting all the Euro Area countries – some less than others, but I could make comparisons, including with Germany – for the past six months; a recession that’s threatening the very identity of Europe and the peoples’ very confidence in their destiny.

The European Commission has begun to understand the risks and threats. It’s decided to adjust, adapt the pace of short-term fiscal consolidation. That’s a good sign. But for me, this delay – two years for France – isn’t a respite, it’s a bounce-back, it’s an opportunity for a faster recovery in France and in Europe, because what’s at stake, I repeat, is growth, emergence from the crisis and an end to the recession. (…)

EU/FRENCH INITIATIVE

There you are: the first year of my five-year term – Year One, as it were – has been entirely devoted to defending our sovereignty, sorting out our economy, safeguarding our social model and putting right injustices. But I’m well aware there’s a recession, there’s rising unemployment, there are results expected. And what matters to the French people is – if I can put it this way – the here and now. Year Two, the one that begins today, must therefore be the year of the offensive. And I mean the offensive.

The offensive means first of all launching a European initiative. Europe – and it’s a paradox – is the world’s leading economic power. However, it’s regarded as a sick continent, in decline, in doubt. My responsibility – because I’m the leader of a founding state of Europe, a state that has made this choice, a nation that’s profoundly European, even if today it’s turning away from the current direction –, my duty is to get Europe out of the lethargy gripping it and ease the peoples’ disaffection, which can only compromise the European Union’s very future.

The initiative I’m taking consists of four points, and I submit it to our partners. The first point is to establish, with the Euro Area countries, an economic government that would meet every month around a real president, who would be appointed for the long term and entrusted with that single task. This economic government would debate the main economic policy decisions to be taken by the member states, harmonize tax, begin to bring about convergence at the social level – top-down – and embark on a plan to combat tax fraud.

The second stage of the initiative I’m proposing focuses on future generations, with a plan to integrate young people into work. The European Financial Framework – the European budget – has already provided for €6 billion for youth employment. Let’s release some of those funds straight away, even before the 2014 Financial Framework is in place, so that we can support all Europe’s young people, who have trouble finding training or employment today. Still as part of this initiative, to prepare for the future, Europe would define an investment strategy, particularly for new industries and new communication systems.

Third phase of the initiative: a European energy community destined to coordinate all renewable [energy] efforts and succeed together – even though Europe has countries which don’t have the same energy policies – in making the energy transition.

Fourth phase: a new stage of integration with a fiscal capacity for the Euro Area and the possibility, progressively, of raising a loan.

The European idea requires movement. If Europe doesn’t move forward, it will fall or, rather, it will be erased; it will be erased from the map of the world, it will even be erased from people’s memories. So there’s no time to lose in promoting this new ambition. On several occasions Germany has said she’s ready for political union, for a new stage of integration. France is also ready to give substance to this political union. Two years to achieve it. Two years, whatever governments are in power. This is no longer a matter of political sensibilities, it’s an urgent European one.

FRANCE/UNEMPLOYMENT/“FUTURE JOBS”/INTER-GENERATIONAL CONTRACTS/COMPETITIVENESS AND EMPLOYMENT TAX CREDIT/JOB SECURITY AGREEMENT

The offensive – there certainly is one here, in France – is about focusing all efforts on employment. Until unemployment starts falling, there will be no possible hope in our country. This is why I’ve personally committed myself – some have even said “hastily”, not to say “recklessly” – to the goal of reversing unemployment. I stand by this, and it’s the government’s road map. We must do everything in our power so that the measures, which have already started being implemented, can be expanded to drive down unemployment by the end of the year.

All resources are being mobilized with the “future jobs” scheme (1). One hundred thousand [jobs]! I’ve asked the Labour and Employment Minister to broaden this scheme to include the private sector and particularly the tourism industry and services to individuals so that we can render them even more effective. Seventy-five thousand contrats de génération [inter-generational contracts]. As you know, [this is] when a senior employee hands over to a young person – this alliance of ages, which started being implemented in companies in March. Here too, I asked for the very principle of the inter-generational contract to be extended to business creation and start-ups, including for farmers, because it’s the same idea: to make one generation give another a leg-up.

All players, primarily companies, are being mobilized too. Companies create jobs. This is the purpose of the crédit compétitivité-emploi [competitiveness and employment tax credit], which accounts for 4% of the wage bill, up to two and a half times the minimum wage. And next year it will be 6%. This is a way of improving business profitability so companies can invest, employ and export. But primarily employ.

And then there’s the agreement on job security, which will allow us to give companies more flexibility and employees more security, and sign agreements when threats loom over the very future of sites so that there are job safeguards and so that we avoid redundancy programmes and redundancies. Now that it has become law, companies must enforce the agreement as swiftly as possible. This is why I repeat here, before you – in doing so I’m running risks but also taking on my responsibilities – that unemployment can be reversed by the end of the year.

But the battle won’t be won over the long haul – because I want to tell French people the truth –, it won’t be won over the long haul unless growth returns, unless we emerge from this torpor, this lethargy and therefore this fear. So how do we go about it? The offensive. The offensive is about preparing for tomorrow’s France, to give her a head start, put her at the forefront of the fields most essential for her future, to promote a model based on economic performance but also on social and environmental responsibility.

This is what France has been capable of doing in her history, and on the President’s initiative every time. The head of state’s role is to determine the major issues, sectors with growth prospects, the essential challenges for the country, what France will be in 10 and maybe even 20 years’ time, and to ask the government to mobilize all resources. And every time the state has acted in that way, there have been major industrial, scientific and cultural successes. It’s by being far-sighted that we change our perception of the present and restore hope.

FUTURE INVESTMENT PLAN

This is why I’ve asked Jean-Marc Ayrault to present in June an investment plan for the next 10 years, centring on four major sectors: digital technology, the energy transition, health and major transport infrastructures.

To secure the finance for this, more imagination is needed than in the past, because we’re confronted by budgetary discipline. So how do we achieve this? First, by going and seeking the European finance we helped get with last June’s investment plan, the growth plan – finance which often remains unused, which is outrageous.

The second way is to go and seek the finance from the future investments programme – which the big loan produced in 2010, and it was a good idea; to go and boost the resources of this future investment programme, without, however, launching ourselves into some risky borrowing spree.

There’s what we can also obtain from the Livret A (2) ceiling rise and Caisse des dépôts (3) and Public Investment Bank funds. And then there’s what public asset disposals can bring in the way of additional resources. It’s necessary, without necessarily entailing a loss of control of the companies concerned.

But not everything can come from the state. To finance these future investments, we must also go and look at the private sector, partnerships, external capital and investment funds, sometimes from abroad. Whenever I travel, various countries tell me they’re ready to invest in France. We still have to guide them, and they must be able to spend their money without our being convinced it’s being put to the right use. So we’re trying to have different funds linked to us.

Of course, when we’ve launched those programmes – some of which are already under way – we’re not going to create growth straight away, even if there’s already an effect. We’ll certainly have to be patient. But it’s also the way to give the French people confidence in the future, because we’re a country that’s capable of innovating, inventing, finding sources of creation and production it didn’t imagine it had.

We should also better focus French people’s savings on productive investment. Three measures will be taken in this direction. Firstly, life insurance will be reformed so that funds can be allocated more to companies’ own funds.

Second measure: an equity savings scheme for SMEs will be created, with incentive mechanisms. Finally, as I’ve already announced, capital gains tax on property will be revised.

Why? Because I believe that when investors put their money into the productive economy – the one that is going to create employment, the one that is going to improve life – they’re taking a risk. Taxation must take that into account. And those rules, the ones I’ve already established, will be valid throughout the five-year term. There won’t be any flip-flopping, there won’t be any toing-and-froing, because I believe stability and visibility are the preconditions for confidence and therefore growth.

EDUCATION

Being on the offensive means training young people better.

In the autumn term of 2013, and for the first time since 2007, pupils will have more teachers in front of them than the previous year. Genuine teacher training will be brought back, ending that incredible situation whereby people thought the teaching profession was the only one that couldn’t be learnt.

By the end of the five-year term, the proportion of pupils leaving the school system without qualifications will be halved. There too, I’m asking to be judged by that result. Already, since last December, nearly 9,000 pupils who “dropped out” of school have been taken back in.

In the same spirit, the aim of the higher education bill is to take 50% of each age group to higher education diploma level and give our academic structures more resources to become attractive and better recognized internationally with their diplomas. This doesn’t prevent them from bringing in foreign students, sometimes even through courses in English specially designed for them. But the exams will be in French, so nobody starts worrying! When you’re trying to be an attractive country, you ensure our universities are classed among the best in the world. That’s also a precondition for our success.

Always on the offensive, to put our country back on the move.

Movement is what should enable everyone to make progress, create, get ahead, go faster and be freer. That’s why I’m in favour of movement. I came across this fine quote from a sculptor (4) who made mobiles and summed up his work in this way: “The only stable thing is movement, always and everywhere.” So we have to create movement. How?

SIMPLIFICATION DRIVE

First of all, I’ve talked about the “simplification shock” (5).

More simplification means more initiative, more activity, more jobs. More simplification means more time for our fellow citizens and therefore more life. It also means more growth. That’s part of the reforms, which ultimately require effort only from those in government – I want to pay tribute to them – but don’t require any additional contribution from French people and may enable us simply to live better.

So I’ve asked the Prime Minister to undertake in-depth work on reviewing administrative rules – not in order to remove protections or rights, but in order to streamline procedures, speed up decisions and make projects easier to implement. I was given a figure, and I thought it was a pertinent argument: the number of laws to be implemented in our country has tripled in 10 years! Tripled! If the effectiveness of governments were actually measured by the number of bills passed, I have no doubt that in the past 10 years the target would have been reached!

I prefer things to be streamlined. So two enabling acts will be requested from Parliament to allow the government to act by decree. One of them concerns housing. It will enable us to speed up construction and streamline procedures without altering rights in any way. There are 35,000 homes that can’t go ahead because of improper appeals.

And another piece of legislation will be passed in the field of relations between the government and companies, because we want to encourage start-ups, go faster and reduce delays. The time it takes to set up a company can be divided by three if we harmonize all the procedures. And for individuals, I propose a revolution of sorts. In many areas – not all – silence on the administration’s part will signify authorization and no longer refusal. It will indeed be a considerable change. It must be limited to some areas. Others necessarily require a period of investigation. Well, those periods are themselves restrictive and known in advance. When they’re not respected, authorization will be given.

This simplification drive for companies and individuals will continue throughout the five-year term. It’s a structural reform, as they say, but above all it’s a factor for growth.

TRAINING

The other reform included in the drive is professional training, which will also build on what’s been done on the labour market. One in every five unemployed people – one in every five! – receives professional training. We’re going to change that and ensure, through negotiation, that professional training can be provided especially in the first two or three months that jobseekers go to the Pôle emploi [employment body]. We’ll reallocate funds – for less qualified employees too, those who are nevertheless in companies and deprived of access to training.

I say this builds on the job security agreement, because in that agreement a personal training account was created which will give employees rights. This reform will be discussed with the employers and union representatives, the regions and the Pôle emploi, and it will be launched at the social conference in June and voted on at the end of the year.

PENSIONS

Finally, it’s up to us to ensure the future of pensions. The 2010 reform didn’t allow balance to be restored. Today there’s a deficit of some €15 billion, and it’s expected to be €20 billion in 2020. That’s intolerable. As President, I refuse to shift the burden of funding pensions onto the coming generations.

Employers and unions have shouldered their responsibilities for complementary schemes. We must continue, pursue [this] with other rules that will have to be found.

Three principles guide me. First principle: we must restore in a lasting way – I’m not saying it’s the last reform; you must beware of those who tell you it’s the last one, which generally means there’ll be another – so pay-as-you-go schemes will be restored, bearing in mind our demographics, which are also an asset compared to other countries. But insofar as life expectancy is increasing, there’s an obvious principle. Insofar as we’re living longer – sometimes much longer – we’ll also have to work a bit longer.

The second principle is justice: taking long careers into account. That’s also what we did in May to enable those who had been in work for a long time to retire at 60. This principle must remain. There are inequalities: inequalities between schemes, inequalities too which affect women or people with incomplete careers. We’ll have to work on this. Justice, because there can be no reform without justice.

Third principle: dialogue and consultation. It will begin at the social conference in June and continue until the end of the year.

Ladies and gentlemen, those are the reforms awaiting us. They’re important. They’re not being asked for in exchange for the delays we’ve managed to secure, because the fact is that we want to undertake those reforms. I presented them to the French people. (…)./.

(1) the scheme aims to get 100,000 young people into work by the end of 2013.

(2) tax-exempt savings account.

(3) national French savings and banking institution managing National Savings Bank funds and local community funds.

(5) Jean Tinguely, 1925-1991.

(5) a series of measures to simplify administrative procedures, cut red tape for businesses and boost growth.

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