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French and International Policy

Published on February 27, 2008
Press conference given by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, (excerpts)

Paris, January 8, 2008


THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen, on the evening of 31 December, when extending my New Year greetings to the French, I told them about my intention to implement a policy of civilization so that France may be the soul of the new Renaissance the world needs. I know that a large number of you have a lot of questions about this policy of civilization, and I’m pleased that this meeting gives me the opportunity to answer them, because for me this wasn’t something I just thought appropriate for the occasion, but a deeply-held conviction and strong commitment. Moreover, I expressed this conviction during the presidential campaign; I made this commitment before the French and have every intention of honouring it. I was elected on a promise of radical change, I was elected on a promise of a genuine break with the old ways of thinking, behaviour and the ideas of the past, which have led our country into its present situation. I was elected at the end of a campaign in which values were a key feature when for decades it had virtually no longer been possible to talk about values in a political debate. In my campaign I talked not only about life, ethics, authority, identity, culture, integration and a sense of citizenship, but also about love, openness to others and humanism. I talked about respect, self-respect, respect for others and respect for difference, and I talked about diversity. I talked about what we want to pass on to our children, I talked about the need to get them to love what is great, what is beautiful. I wanted to put people back at the heart of politics. (…)

The policy of civilization is the policy needed when we have to rebuild benchmarks, standards, rules and criteria. It’s not the first time this has had to be done in our country. It has been necessary to build new rules, benchmarks and standards in our country whenever a great political, economic, technological or scientific shock has shattered intellectual and moral certainties, the institutions and ways of life. (…) This was the case at the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth with the Enlightenment, it was the case with the Industrial Revolution at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, it was the case again in the immediate post-war period, after the major civilization crisis of the 1930s and 1940s. What is the Declaration of Human Rights if not the fruit of a policy of civilization? The education system brought in by [Jules] Ferry (1) is a policy of civilization. Secularity (laïcité) was the fruit of a policy of civilization, as were the public welfare system, labour law and public service.

Responses have varied with each era, but the challenge has always been the same: how do we reconcile order with progress, how do we reconcile the identity we have to defend with the modernity we have to embrace? How do we help the new world come into being and get itself organized when the old one is still disintegrating? How do we make society human again? How do we enable man to regain control? How do we make this change – which is essential – benefit mankind, and how do we get ownership of the new technologies? These are eternal questions we need to address today. (…)


After decades of delayed reforms, missed reforms, after decades of a blinkered approach [which excludes alternatives] – which it would have been so easy to continue – of conservatism, mass unemployment, reduced social cohesion, less social advancement, wage stagnation, devaluing of work, deficit and debt, there is urgency everywhere, and I’m amazed that people can query whether we’re going too fast when I’m so conscious of French people’s impatience. (…) The French can’t wait any longer, and François Fillon, his government, the majority, and I are striving to address this urgent need. (…)


In 2008, this policy of civilization will find expression first in the determination to make our democracy an irreproachable democracy, thanks to what I want to be an ambitious reform of our institutions, inspired as it is by the work of the committee chaired by Edouard Balladur. We must stop talking about a better balance of powers and decide to revamp Parliament’s role. It will be revamped through the very important initiatives we’ll be taking on its agenda – no one has ever seen a Parliament gain autonomy and power without being able to control a large part of its agenda – and by giving our citizens new freedoms. But confining ourselves solely to modernizing rules and procedures won’t be enough. It seems to me that it’s now time to add to the fundamental rights forming the bedrock of our Republic the new rights called for by our times. After the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, after the 1946 preamble on social rights, which mustn’t be touched, because these are major universal texts, I’d like an addition to our Constitution’s preamble to guarantee equality between men and women, ensure respect for diversity, and its means, make possible genuine integration policies and address the challenge of bioethics. I’ve asked Mme Simone Veil – who, as everyone knows, sets her sights high – to chair the committee tasked with drafting the requisite bill. (…)


With the same determination to implement a policy of civilization, I want to launch a debate on ways of getting away from a method of measuring our economic performance based excessively on quantitative and accounting values, because if we remain prisoners to a restrictive vision of GNP we can’t hope to change our behaviour and ways of thinking. If the criteria, indicators of wealth stay the same, how are we going to change the way we produce and way we think? To change everything we first need to change our appraisal criteria, we need to take quality and not just quantity into account. If we want to promote another type of growth, we have to change our yardstick for growth. Here too, France wants to set the example by taking the initiative of bringing together a very high-level group of international experts to ponder the limits of the way we measure national growth and GNP, and the best way to go beyond them, so that there’s a more comprehensive yardstick for economic progress. (…) Amartya Sen has agreed to advise me, and Joseph Stiglitz to chair the committee of experts, I thank them for this, their international expertise will be extremely valuable in defining these new criteria.


2008 will be the year for implementing what was decided at the Grenelle Environment Forum (2), when we begin to build another growth, another development model, the start of a far-reaching change in our civilization, in its relationship with nature, in its idea of its responsibility vis-à-vis the planet, and even vis-à-vis future generations. (…) The Grenelle Environment Forum was a political watershed, not a public relations exercise. The Grenelle Environment Forum conclusions will be scrupulously adhered to, at stake is the credibility of the State and politics.


In 2008 the policy of civilization will find expression in schools. Last year, I wrote to all France’s educators to present to them the schools project I had placed at the heart of my campaign; well, now it’s time to implement it. (…) François Fillon and Xavier Darcos will give priority to primary schools, which have been neglected for too long without it being realized that their deterioration was the main cause of the growing difficulties in collèges [catering for children aged approximately 11 – 14]. (…) It’s in primary school that tomorrow’s society and civilization will be built. (…)

In 2008, the policy of civilization will find expression in the radical modernization of our universities. With François Fillon, we have released substantial resources to make up the ground lost over the past decades which has left our universities – excuse me for putting it like this – in a dilapidated state. (…) In 2008, we’ll select the first 10 projects for modernizing our universities, which will show how ambitious our policy is in this area. (…)


I want the break with the past to allow us to implement this civilization project which we are also expressing in the policy which will really get to grips with the unrest in the problem areas around some of our cities. We’ll talk about this policy in early February. It will be a policy of integration, above all targeting individuals, supporting them, giving everyone who wants to find a way through their problems the means to do so, and enabling those suffering from particular disabilities to compensate for them and those to whom life has delivered hard knocks to overcome them. It will be an equal opportunities policy aimed at ensuring a training course for all these young people. (…) Our society is just fantastic: it distrusts success, is suspicious in every respect, and is so fascinated by failure that it regards it as insurmountable. So, it isn’t good to succeed, because that’s suspicious, and success is bound to involve something dodgy. And at the same time, the person who fails isn’t given a fresh chance. But what do you do if you can’t fail, overcome your problems, bounce back or succeed? (…)


I have launched the discussion on "Greater Paris", by this I mean the great metropolis formed by the Paris conurbation, which has to be considered as a whole because it is one. Here, the first thing to look at mustn’t be the institutions, governance – sorry if I’m perhaps surprising you – but town planning, architecture, sociability, conviviality, quality of life and man’s place in the city. I want to make this the testing ground for human modernity. I want it to be the opportunity for putting France back at the forefront when it comes to town planning and architecture. (…)

I am going to put my heart and soul into this. Of course, everything will be done in consultation, working with the people of Ile de France, their elected representatives, mayors, general [department] councils and regional council, but I’ll tell you one thing: I won’t let this project get bogged down. (…)


The policy of civilization is going to find expression in an unprecedented modernization of public service broadcasting. (…) Public service broadcasting exists because it has a special mission. If the same criteria, imperatives and processes apply to the public service as to private channels, then it isn’t very clear – in fact it really isn’t very clear – why there should be a public service. (…) I’d like a radical review of the schedule of obligations for the public television stations and thought given to totally scrapping advertising on the public channels, which could be financed from a tax on the private channels’ increased advertising revenue, and an infinitesimal tax on the turnover of the new means of communication, such as Internet access providers and mobile telephone operators. This is a revolution, which, by changing the economic model of public television, will completely change the scenario for our cultural policy in today’s communication society. (…)


Of course, in 2008 we’ll be pursuing the policy of restoring the value of work, because work is an essential value, it’s through work that everyone finds his/her place in society. (…) In 2008 we shall introduce greater fairness in the economic system. (…) Employees must have a fair reward for their efforts. Exemption from social contributions will be conditional on negotiations between employers and employees. (…) In 2008, the policy of civilization will find expression in our ability to ensure a better distribution of advantages and profits, share more fairly the results of everyone’s efforts. This is why we’re going to go far further in the area of statutary and voluntary profit-sharing. We’re going to create rules and tax regulations so that statutary and voluntary profit-sharing can be extended to all businesses, all of them, even those with fewer than 50 employees. (…)

This desire greatly to extend profit-sharing goes hand in hand with promoting an entrepreneurial capitalism, and a family capitalism, more rooted within our own country. So, faced with the increasing power of the extremely aggressive speculative funds and sovereign wealth funds, for which there is no economic rationale, there is no question of France failing to react. There’s no question of having a laisser-faire policy. France takes responsibility for her strategic choice to protect her businesses, give them the means to defend themselves and develop – and we’re going to make the Caisse des dépôts (4) an instrument of this policy of defending and promoting the nation’s primordial economic interests; people must stop finding a contradiction between our determination to have an industrial policy and the free market; it’s absurd. (…)

We’re not going to support no-hope businesses, but, personally, I remember the debate on Alstom, I heard people who at the time were writing leading articles, but were subsequently more discreet, and Alstom is today one of French industry’s finest successes. (…)


This year France will take new initiatives to make capitalism more ethical, particularly during the French European Union presidency, beginning on 1 July.


Moreover, this presidency will be another opportunity for France to push a policy of civilization. But what do Europeans want? Well, throughout Europe people are demanding protection. Europe has been built, designed to protect, not cause concern. And I assert that it’s possible to be totally European and use Europe to deliver protection. And those who ignore Community preference, it seems to me, have understood nothing about the European ideal. Europe has been built precisely for Community preference, otherwise it wasn’t worth building Europe, or at any rate, political Europe.

Europe must enable us to act; Europe mustn’t just put up with things. Europe needs a policy of civilization, it needs to get rid of red tape, become more human; it needs more political input and less bureaucracy. This is what we’ve got with the simplified treaty. But I’m well aware that, on its own, the simplified treaty isn’t going to reduce the gulf between Europe and its citizens. That’s obvious. It’s a means. But at the end of the French presidency, I’d like Europe to have an immigration policy, a defence policy, an energy policy and an environment policy. And from then on, everyone will understand what Europe means in people’s everyday lives. (…)

G8/G13 vFinally, France will do her utmost to get the G8 to become the G13. Here too, listen, I was very astonished in Heiligendamm – I’m talking in terms of diplomacy –: how come that we meet for two-and-a-half days without China, without India, without Brazil, without Mexico, without South Africa, ignoring a mere 2.5 billion people? Of course, obviously, we invite them for lunch on the third day – what’s most extraordinary is that they come. France says: we can’t organize the twenty-first century world with the organization of the twentieth, it isn’t possible.


Moreover, the same applies to the Security Council: as a Permanent Member, France will do her utmost to get Germany, Japan, Brazil, India and a major African country to become Permanent Members of the Security Council. (…)


On immigration policy, I have asked Brice Hortefeux to make progress on two, to my mind, exremely important points. First of all, to finalize the quotas policy. People have been talking about it for too long; everyone knows it’s the only solution. So we need to take the plunge and stop wanting to protect some people and not shock others, because that way leads only to disaster. We must implement the quotas policy, with the quotas based on our capacity to accept and integrate people, because we have to take in people who we can take in because we can and want to integrate them. We can’t accept people we can’t integrate. We have to take the process to its logical conclusion. This will avoid human tragedies. And then I’ve asked him a second thing, in agreement with the Prime Minister: to abolish this French oddity whereby, when it comes to the law, we deal with immigration matters in two types of courts, one administrative, and one judicial (3), and, what’s more, with contradictory case law. Choose the one you want, but choose one of them. (…) Also, Prime Minister, I should like there to be an annual debate in Parliament on the following year’s immigration policy: how many people we have accepted, how many people we want to accept. (…) Governments will be compelled to explain to the country what their immigration policy is, act on and take responsibility for their choices and be accountable for the results of their policy.


Of course, there will be the Mediterranean Union which – you know – for me is, par excellence, the project of civilization.


We’re working for the mutual recognition of the rights of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, and for Lebanon’s independence – it’s a long road – and for diversity. I’m going to fight on this idea in 2008. Diversity – why diversity more than democracy? Because when you fight for democracy, some countries say: oh, the post-colonial era, you want to impose your system on us. When we fight for diversity, that argument is blown out of the water, because from time immemorial, in that part of the world, they have lived together: there have been Muslims, there have been Jews and there have been Christians. And diversity isn’t valid for us and not for others. Why should Lebanon’s independence be defended? Because Lebanon is a symbol of diversity. And why must Israel be defended, other than because her existence is a major twentieth century political development? Because she’s a symbol of diversity. And I say it’s perfectly normal and natural for us to recognize the same rights for French Muslims as for the others, I mean when it comes to religion. And I’ve always supported the projects to open mosques. But, at the end of the day, let things be perfectly clear: there can’t be diversity in France and church closures elsewhere. Diversity is good for everyone. Diversity is a universal principle which has to be respected everywhere – diversity, reciprocity. (…)


Finally, what’s the aim of French foreign policy: it’s one of reconciliation; France has to talk to everyone. (..)

If we don’t accept visits from people who have renounced terrorism, compensated the victims and released hostages, if we don’t help them on the path towards respectability, what will we do with the others and what will we tell them? Of course, we have to share civilian nuclear energy, because if you have – compared with us – poverty and underdevelopment in the southern Mediterranean, once the oil and gas has run out, do you believe that we’ll then have democratic governments? And of course Mr Bouteflika’s government has to be supported because no one wants a Taliban government in Algeria, and of course Mr Mubarak has to be helped in Egypt, a country of 76 million inhabitants, because what do we want over there – the Muslim Brothers? And, of course, we must support Libya on the path to respectability. And I don’t regret trying with Syria, even though we haven’t got results, because France wants to reach out to her. France wants to be honest. France wants to be of good faith. When the Syrians didn’t respond to France’s appeals, I accepted all the consequences by condemning Syria’s attitude. (…)


[*Q. – A few moments ago you were talking in detail about the reform of public-service television and spoke of the need for a reorganization of French external broadcasting. You’ve had on your desk for some time quite a lot of fairly concrete data on the shape this reform could take. Will it or won’t it be a revolution? When? And how?*]

THE PRESIDENT – Listen, Bernard Kouchner, Christine Albanel and I have done a lot of work on this, and I’d like it to be as soon as possible, at all events this year. The idea would be to create a "France Monde" umbrella organization, a holding company bringing together the resources of "TV5", "France 24" and "RFI", on terms and conditions still to be discussed, which would allow all these networks, which have great professional expertise, to make France massively more influential abroad than she is today. We can pool resources, call on complementary networks of correspondents – who are in fact pretty remarkable, I’m thinking of "RFI" –, we can give a new editorial identity to "TV5" and take advantage of the success of "France 24". The problem is that one of these is being broadcast efficiently and has an editorial problem, another doesn’t have an editorial problem but isn’t being broadcast sufficiently efficiently and a third needs to rely on the other two because it’s only radio and we need television. Then there are other questions we are debating and arguing about. We don’t inevitably agree on everything. I personally am thinking of a public channel, "France Monde", which would keep the identity of each of the participants, of course, but a public station funded by the taxpayers has to broadcast in French, I’m not prepared to finance a channel which doesn’t broadcast in French. But it’s perfectly possible to have subtitling by region: Spanish, Arab, English to promote a French vision. Between "Al Jazeera", the Arab view, and "CNN", the view of the English-speaking world, we’d like to promote a French view. (…)./.

(1) First free, then mandatory, secular education.

(2) Conference bringing together the government, local authorities, trade unions, business and voluntary sectors to draw up a plan of action of concrete measures to tackle the environmental issue.

(3) From her past, France has inherited two types of court. When the State, a local authority or a public service is involved, the administrative courts have jurisdiction, the Conseil d’Etat being the highest one. All other disputes are referred to the ordinary, i.e. civil and criminal courts.

(4) State-owned financial institution which carries out public interest missions on behalf of French central, regional and local authorities.

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