THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking part in the sixth press conference since the start of my term, in the presence of the Prime Minister and members of the government.
As this autumn session gets under way, there are images, events and situations which are knocking at the door of our conscience.
Firstly, there’s the heroism of passengers on a train from Amsterdam to Paris who overpowered a hell-bent terrorist; there’s the destroyed world heritage site at Palmyra; there are thousands of refugees on Europe’s roads; there’s a lifeless child, face-down in the sand of a Turkish beach, a martyred child, symbolizing the 3,000 shipwreck victims whose journeys have ended in death since the beginning of the year.
So in the face of what may arouse shock, compassion, but also concern, it is up to us and it is up to me to respond to the emergency and above all make choices – those which will matter when the time comes for history to pass judgement, but choices which must also shape our future.
The first of these choices is about dealing humanely and responsibly with the influx of refugees and displaced people. Since the beginning of the year, 350,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to get to Europe. That’s a lot – it’s three times more than last year. It’s a crisis, it’s tragic, it’s serious, and it can and will be brought under control.
It’s France’s duty. The right of asylum is an integral part of its soul and goes to its core. It is history which urges this responsibility and humanity – a history marked by generations of exiles and refugees who came, in decades gone by, to create France with us.
The right of asylum is also a fundamental principle of our institutions. It is inscribed in the preamble to the Constitution: “any person persecuted because of his activity in furtherance of freedom has the right of asylum in the territories of the Republic”.
This principle was even incorporated in the Constitution when there was a question about whether Schengen was compatible with our laws. This principle is recalled in the rules which form the basis of the European Union. It’s why, given these tragedies, given this situation, Chancellor Angela Merkel and I have proposed a permanent, compulsory mechanism for receiving refugees to share out the effort between all the European countries. The important word is “compulsory”, because this is what makes it different from what has or rather hasn’t been done over the past few months.
France is prepared to play its part. The European Commission is proposing – or is going to propose – to redistribute 120,000 refugees over the next two years. For France, this will mean 24,000 people. We’ll do this. We’ll do it because it’s the principle which, I believe, France is committed to. We’ll do it because it’s the proposal we ourselves drew up and would like to get all Europeans to adopt.
Many mayors, local authorities, voluntary organizations, religions and also private individuals have already mobilized to provide this asylum. I welcome these initiatives. They must be coordinated and organized in a dignified, serious manner. To succeed in doing this, the Interior Minister will convene a meeting on Saturday of the mayors involved and the Prime Minister will have to implement all the policies resulting from these decisions.
France is doing its duty, but the response is a European one, a global one. Acting effectively is conditional on controls being established at the EU’s borders – in Italy, Greece, Hungary – with identification and registration centres in order to take in [refugees] but also distinguish between those eligible for asylum and those who must be deported in a dignified manner. This is the prerequisite for Europe’s external borders to be protected and it’s also the prerequisite for humanely receiving the refugees.
But let’s be realistic. There are four million displaced people in camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and hundreds of thousands in the Horn of Africa. If we want to avoid an exodus of these people, the challenge is to provide a massive amount of humanitarian aid to the countries, the major voluntary organizations and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, so that these people stay as close as possible to the countries they’ve fled.
We must also take action with the countries of origin and transit, and set up centres over there as well which can take in those who want to flee for other – particularly economic – reasons and put together a genuine co-development policy. This will be the purpose of the Valletta summit on 11 November 2015; France will make proposals there.
But the level of responsibility undoubtedly has to be stepped up further. We have to be aware that the issue of refugees, displaced people, is firstly one which concerns, which affects the countries of the South and not as is thought – or claimed – the countries of the North. This issue of displaced people, refugees, of course affects Africa and the Middle East, given the wars and crises; it also affects other continents, including Asia. So we’ll propose an international conference on refugees and we’re prepared to host it, in Paris.
But let me come back to what we’ve got to do in Europe. For several weeks, France and Germany, the interior and foreign ministers, have been preparing this comprehensive plan. It will thus be submitted to the [EU] Council of Interior Ministers on 14 September. (…)
Regarding these conclusions, these guidelines, these proposals, the government will organize a debate in Parliament in the next few days on the subject of the refugees.
We know the causes of this hardship, this horror to which we want to respond honourably and actively. These causes are terrorism and war. So at the same time we’ve got to – and this is the choice I’ve made – fight the terrorists, here in France and in the very places it [terrorism] is taking hold.
In France, the Vigipirate plan was raised to its highest level. The Intelligence Act was passed. Surveillance was stepped up on transport, and the fight against indoctrination was intensified. Here too, I owe it to the French to tell them the truth: attempted attacks were prevented, thwarted, deterred, but the danger still exists so long as fundamentalism and jihadism keep hatred alive.
Terrorism does not come out of the blue. It has roots, an ideology, organizations. The most monstrous one, Daesh [ISIL], is in Iraq and Syria. It is Daesh which, through the massacres it commits, is causing thousands of families to flee. Daesh has significantly strengthened its grip over the past two years, and it is in Syria – we have proof of this – that attacks are being organized against several countries, and notably our own.
My responsibility is to make sure that we have the best possible information on threats to our country, so that we can counter them. That is why I have asked the Defence Minister for reconnaissance flights to be carried out above Syria, starting tomorrow. They will make it possible for us to consider air strikes against Daesh, while preserving the independence of our decision-making and our actions.
Parliament will be informed of this operation under Article 35 of the Constitution.
Making choices is also what the world will have to do this coming December to reach a climate agreement. The issue is no longer up for debate; good intentions – thank goodness – are there. Statements have been made, but we are still far from achieving a binding agreement and obtaining funding commensurate with the challenge we face.
We have less than three months to succeed. France – because it is hosting this conference, because it is committed – wants to step up the pace. Laurent Fabius and I have decided to make the United Nations General Assembly a milestone in the preparation of the Climate Conference, and there too, we will speak the truth. A wake-up call is needed, and we must once again lead the world.
FRENCH DOMESTIC POLICY/ECONOMY/REFORMS
In order to lead, influence, convince and act in every sphere of international life, France must be strong. Morally strong. That was the case on 11 January, when millions of French citizens rejected fear and demonstrated for freedom. This same message must be proclaimed today: France must move forward. Its vocation is not to withdraw. Its destiny is not to take shelter behind a Maginot line – that never stopped anything. To preserve its honour, it must not abandon its values or give up the very idea that inspires it, in the name of a rigid identity.
In the current state of the world, it’s not the exit from the euro, the end of Schengen, or the abandonment of the Common Agricultural Policy that will allow us to regain growth, power, prosperity and sovereignty. That path is regressive; it equals decline. It is by being itself that France will succeed, provided it has the courage to make choices, take ownership of them, and share them.
France must therefore be strong economically and socially. First, in order to lower unemployment. That is the aim of the decisions taken over the past three years, the reforms that have been instituted and new ones that will be conducted until the end of my term. The Responsibility Pact, with its easing of charges and contributions, will continue in 2016. It will be assessed, as planned, with the social partners. I believe that stability and keeping one’s word are prerequisites for trust. That is true for us, and it’s true for businesses as well. Likewise, the tax cut policy that began in 2014 and was expanded this year will continue in 2016. More than €2 billion will be allocated to it, and it will concern eight million households.
But there’s no question of stopping there. There was the Growth and Economic Activity Act. I asked the Economy Minister to prepare a bill on economic opportunities sparked by innovation – particularly, but not only, digital – which may represent a risk – we have to keep an eye on that – but also a considerable opportunity for many economic sectors. The social partners must take up this matter.
The Social Conference will also aim to organize employees’ rights throughout their professional career; those are the stakes of this major reform of the personal activity account (1).
Reforms also mean making the labour code more understandable, as it both provides protection and helps create jobs. We will give the necessary space to collective bargaining and company agreements, to ensure that labour laws are better adapted to corporate realities. That is the follow-up that will be given to the Combrexelle report, which the Prime Minister will receive on 9 September. It will subsequently be submitted for consultation, and a bill will be presented.
Many issues await us – I haven’t mentioned them all, we will come back to them – agriculture, health, ageing, digital technology and what it makes possible, and also the freedoms that must be protected, and the justice system, which must continue to be modernized and strengthened.
Everything requires choices. Choices to respond to urgent situations whenever necessary. Choices to prepare the future. Choices to protect the French, to move the country forward, to succeed and create unity. Choices for France; we are its leadership. Choices for Europe, to put it on the right path whenever it is called upon to act, as we have done in recent months. And choices for the world. (…) Making choices is what I’m doing with Manuel Valls’s government; it is what I will do until the end of my term, without ulterior motives and without respite. (…)
Q. – A question to do with the European Union and the United Kingdom: in a poll this weekend, a majority of British people said they would vote to leave the European Union. Is France ready to negotiate with the British government? (…) Should the British stay in the European Union at all costs, and what impact is the migration crisis having on these negotiations?
THE PRESIDENT – (…) France would like the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union. Moreover, it would be difficult to understand that country, a friend, which was our ally, a country which plays a role on the international stage, being outside the European Union. Moreover, it wouldn’t be in its interest economically, when you realize how much a number of financial services depend on the European Union.
Prime Minister Cameron would like there to be a discussion; incidentally, I’m going to the United Kingdom in late September to have talks and I’ll explain to him exactly what I’m going to tell you, namely that we can discuss what Europe must and mustn’t do, i.e. simplify a number of its decisions – yes, that’s fine. We can also be keen to see some countries in the Euro Area and others not, as long as everyone doesn’t bother each other – that’s absolutely fine. We can ensure that national parliaments have more roles – we’re not at all hostile to that. On the other hand, if the discussion focuses on the European Union’s essential principles – free movement, the ability to take decisions together – then in that case, we don’t want any modification of the treaties.
Secondly, as far as the refugee issue is concerned, the United Kingdom admittedly isn’t in the Schengen Area, and so already has a number of capacities which are different from Europe, but that does not exempt it – moreover, Prime Minister Cameron said this – from showing solidarity. And this is the thrust of the action the two governments have been carrying out to settle the Calais issue, as much as is possible. Because in Calais people come not to get asylum in France, but to go to the United Kingdom. Everyone must understand this. You can’t ask for solidarity when there’s a problem and absolve yourself of your duties when there are solutions. (…)./.
(1) On 8 March 2015, the Prime Minister announced the creation, from 1 January 2017, of a compte personnel d’activité. This will bring together all the entitlements acquired by a worker (personal training account, occupational risk account, entitlements to unemployment benefits etc.) in an account which the worker can use throughout his or her career.