Q. – President Hollande, we’ve just watched the 14 July parade. Can the defence budget be an adjustment variable, as some people maintain? Around 24,000 posts are apparently due to go by 2009. Does this mean there’s a price to pay for national pride?
THE PRESIDENT – The past few years have taken a toll on the armed forces, and I’m not talking only about the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and again recently in Mali, but a budgetary and financial toll. You gave the figures: 54,000 posts have gone, yet we have to ensure the missions are carried out. This is my responsibility – I’m head of the armed forces.
Q. – So you are hearing them, reassuring them?
THE PRESIDENT – So I’ve decided to maintain the exact same military budget even though I’m asking sacrifices from many, efforts from all the French. I considered it right to safeguard this budget, so that there’s good materiel and good training. At the same time, we’re adapting the format: more military posts will be abolished because, inevitably, we haven’t today got the resources to do everything everywhere. But you attended the parade, as I did; there were representatives from the African countries, 13 of them, who went into Mali with us…
Q. – Do you think the situation has stabilized in Mali?
THE PRESIDENT – It’s a victory which has been won: France, with the Africans, who mobilized, Europe which supported us and the United Nations which legitimized and created the conditions for an intervention with us, yes, it’s a victory. (…) But let’s look at what was achieved: a victory, a victory for Africa and against terrorism and for the pride we must take here too. Because I was saluted in Africa, not for what I’d done, but for what I had decided. The French soldiers were the ones who acted.
Q. – A victory which isn’t definitive since some jihadists are perhaps today in Libya. Would we go so far as to go and hunt them down there?
THE PRESIDENT – We’ve defeated terrorism in Mali, we haven’t defeated it everywhere. There are still some, you’re right, particularly in southern Libya, some have escaped to neighbouring countries. So we have to give our support to all those countries which appeal to us, but we won’t wage war everywhere. We did so there because a country, our friend, called on us to, Europe supported us and it was in accordance with international law. (…)
Q. – If you don’t mind, let’s talk about the economic problems, they are what the French are concerned about. On Friday, a third ratings agency downgraded France’s rating. The plan for employment, President Hollande, with in particular the intergenerational contracts (1), isn’t producing the hoped-for effects. What can be done to make it more effective in terms of creating jobs?
THE PRESIDENT – I’m not here going to go over again all the measures which have been taken. I’m fighting [for jobs]! I’m not going to invent another measure because we’re in front of you. It wouldn’t be credible. Politics isn’t magic. There aren’t any conjuring tricks. There’s a will, a strategy and coherence. We’ve put in place the jobs for the future scheme (2) and there will be 100,000 – and I mean 100,000 – such jobs by the end of the year. There will be 70,000 intergenerational contracts by early next year. What I’m trying to do now, with the Minister of Labour and employers and trade unions, is to match job vacancies for which employees or more specifically job seekers haven’t been found with the waiting unemployed. So we’ve said that between now and the end of the year, for 35,000 of these available posts, we’re going to train unemployed people so that they can fill them.
Q. – To give employment a new boost, you need growth. Today, according to your Minister of the Economy, growth is estimated at 0.2%. This isn’t enough to get France actually to start moving again on the jobs front, at the very least you need 1.5 or even 2.5% like some other countries in the world. Is this figure worrying you for the months and years to come?
THE PRESIDENT – And why increase the tax pressure, at the risk of wrecking what is in any case a small semblance of growth. The recovery is here. I’m not going to embellish the picture. (…) Industrial output is picking up and in Europe we’re the country where industrial production has picked up fastest in the past three months.
Q. – The engines of growth have broken down, consumption…
THE PRESIDENT – Industrial output is picking up. Consumption is recovering a little bit. Job hirings are starting to increase, they are very slightly up, I’m not here going to…
Q. – They are slightly up, it isn’t a trend turnaround!
THE PRESIDENT – But there’s the assurance that the second half of the year will already be better than the first. So I’m not going to wait, I’m going to promote investment – the investment the Prime Minister announced which will focus on tomorrow’s France. Because for there to be growth, the first principle is confidence. The French have to tell themselves: we’re in a great country, we mustn’t run ourselves down, succumb to pessimism, a sort of feeling of resignation. No! We’re a great country. Not simply at the military level because we’ve had this operation in Mali, we’ve got armed forces and a national defence – this is very important – but also because we’re a great industrial and technological country. So what do we have to do? I’ve proposed that we think, act for the France of 10 years’ hence – it isn’t my five-year term which is at issue – about what we’ve got to do straightaway, [i.e.] what France we want to craft over the coming ten years so that we are stronger at the end of them.
What challenges have we got? The energy transition, i.e. France’s ability to be a model, a model for using renewable energies, model for making energy savings, model for electric cars and model for “smart” electricity meters in order to be energy wise, reduce consumption. We’ve also got the new technologies to promote: France is a country of inventors, researchers. So we’re going to put every effort into the digital economy, high-speed broadband network, so that in 10 years’ time, or even earlier, we’re the country where it’s easiest for all those who want to communicate to do so, and particularly businesses.
Third example: infrastructures, modes of transport, everything in which France must be able to excel – here too she’s regarded as a country of excellence. And then the last example I want to give: our universities, our research – it’s here we have to make the effort. So everything I can find in the way of additional resources, everything the state can invest, with the private sector, we’ll do in these spheres. Now, you’re talking to me about taxes, of course. (…) We’re going to make, we’ve made savings and I’ll increase taxes only if this is absolutely essential, ideally as little as possible. So everything I’m doing, everything I’ve asked of the government is aimed at achieving the largest possible savings. (…)
TAXATION/PENSION CONTRIBUTION PERIOD
Q. – For 2014, will there or won’t there be tax hikes? (…) Lower contributions, €6 billion less – if this is in fact the figure – which has to be found somewhere, so in the normal course of events taxes will go up in 2014.
THE PRESIDENT – We have to ensure some funding.
Q. – So yes!
THE PRESIDENT – You talked about pensions, health insurance, I can’t rule these things out. It’s a matter of solidarity, it’s the social model.
But as regards the state budget, I pledge that spending will be less in 2014 than it was or will be in 2013. So there will be a historic effort to make savings. Those putting proposals to us are precisely those who increased the debt and widened the deficit. (…)
Q. – So, lengthen the contribution period…
THE PRESIDENT – Lengthen it, I’ve never hidden that position. Lengthening of life expectancy, lengthening of the contribution period.
Q. – But not increasing the retirement age, in any case raising...
THE PRESIDENT – If you raise the legal retirement age, that would mean those who started work at 18 or 20 would have to work for 45 years? That would be intolerable. So we’re going to increase it gradually, we’re going to discuss the contribution period with the employers and trade unions.
Q. – Are you going to make retired people pay more – at any rate, tax them more...?
THE PRESIDENT – Everybody will contribute to the effort, but – and everyone can understand this! – if we want to resolve the problem long term, manage the change through the next few years, we can’t do it in one full sweep; that would, moreover, be absurd, it would wreck a number of growth mechanisms. So everyone will be called on to contribute to the effort, according to their means. (...)
You know, there’s something I want to fight: pessimism. For years, as you know, we’ve been the most pessimistic country in Europe, and indeed the world! There are countries at war which are even more optimistic than us! So how can this be? One explanation is because France isn’t just any country: France is a great country with a place in international life. So when we have a crisis, we suffer, because we can’t accept decline or dropping in status. So my role isn’t to be re-elected or to try and get re-elected. My role is to be able to say, “well, at least during the mandate, this mandate I’m carrying out, we’ve made progress, we’ve reformed as much as necessary”. (...)
Q. – During your visit to Tunisia, you said something very important: France knows that Islam and democracy are compatible. These words were quite obviously aimed at Tunisia, at the Ennahda party. I wanted to ask you a question. There are roughly five to six million Muslims in France; a third declare themselves to be practising Muslims. If one day an Islamic fundamentalist party is set up in France, what would your reaction be?
THE PRESIDENT – First let me come back to what I said – it’s important, because if it were thought that Islam, the Muslim religion, couldn’t have its place within democracy, would that mean that countries with these regimes should be brushed aside? I think that no religion is at odds with democracy, that democracy is the common good, which in no way precludes the concept of religion. In France, we’ve based it on the secular principle (principe de laïcité (3)), the reconciliation of democracy, the Republic and religious freedom. And this is also why, in France, a party can’t claim to represent religion. (...)./.
(1) a state-aided subsidised employment scheme to create jobs for the future.
(2) this contract allows businesses with fewer than 300 employees to a financial incentive if they recruit a young person, provided they pledge not to fire an elderly employee.
(3) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.