François Hollande sets out economic recovery plans
Economy/society – Preliminary remarks by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at his press conference (excerpts)
Paris, 18 September 2014
So today’s is the fourth press conference I’ve held since being elected. It was a pledge I made, which consisted of regularly reporting back to you, and therefore to the French people, on the action I’m taking. (…)
My sole aim – and I mean my sole aim – is for France to regain its full strength in order to move forward, to take its full place in globalization, and for the French people – yes, the French people, who are suffering, worrying, battling, being entrepreneurial, struggling and sometimes waiting for results that don’t come – for the French people to live better at the end of my five-year term.
That’s why I’ve made choices. I’ve stood up for those choices. They’re consistent with what I said in the campaign. Those choices are, at the same time, in line with what I’m experiencing as leader of my country and where I must act.
What are those choices?
The choice of competitiveness, because you can build nothing – nothing – without there being solid businesses, industrial and agricultural excellence and successful services. To support business is to support the people working in them. It’s an irrevocable choice.
That’s the point of the Responsibility [and Solidarity] Pact. The Responsibility and Solidarity Pact is a framework for ensuring that, in the next three years, everyone knows what they have to do, what they can rely on, so that commitments can be made and honoured. This is true for all the signatories, particularly the employers’ side, because social dialogue means there are negotiations and therefore mutual commitments.
This choice isn’t easy. It isn’t easy in the eyes of the French, at a time when so many needs have not been met. This choice isn’t easy in the eyes of the majority, who would have liked us to redistribute more, even though I warned: two and a half years of recovery, two and a half years to redistribute. (…) These choices aren’t easy, because, necessarily, what’s devoted financially to businesses isn’t allocated to households.
I’ve also made the choice of controlling public expenditure. An exceptional plan – which I’ve recalled – of €50 billion! The level of state expenditure – I’m thinking only of state expenditure – has been exactly the same for three years, despite inflation, which I appreciate is low. So there have been those efforts. No government – and I mean no government – has previously made them. I’ve made this choice. There too, I could have made another which would have led us to more deficit, more debt, more borrowing!
I’ve also made the choice of social justice. Access to healthcare has not only been protected but even supported. Treatment is reimbursed better. Costs linked to ageing – legislation is currently being discussed – are better taken into account. Low-income families, particularly single-parent families, have been supported more. Employees who have worked a long time have been able to leave at 60, because that was the condition for social cohesion.
Need I go on?
I’ve made the choice of backing young people. It was my priority; it still is. (…) I think education must keep the same values but open up thoroughly to new technologies. That’s why digital technology is going to be rolled out. The digital plan will be implemented in 2016 from collèges [schools for pupils aged approximately 11-15] upwards. I believe it’s an opportunity for both children and teachers to use this equipment. It’s also an opportunity to have educational content through digital technology, and an opportunity for the economy to have jobs which are already prepared at school.
But I’m not going to dwell only on education and schools. There’s also everything we must do about those who drop out and those in the greatest difficulty. There’s what we’re going to do, in another field, with vocational lycées [schools for pupils aged approximately 15-18], with apprenticeships, so that we can move towards trades and professions – not those of yesterday but those of tomorrow.
Finally, there’s a major challenge, namely commitment. I’ve talked about the crises occurring everywhere else… There’s what we can do in our own country. Military service has been abolished; it won’t be brought back! But [voluntary] civic service is a great idea. We must broaden it out as much as possible, make it much more accessible, ensure that there are more missions and more young people who can achieve their full potential, and that it also confers rights, in particular to take a driving test or have other ways of entering professional life. I’m asking for a major commitment to civic service from the government. (…)
Industry plans/energy transition/Paris climate conference
I also made the choice of innovation and transformation: 34 industry plans and, above all, the bill on the energy transition, which is going to be the big issue, the major national cause, the major international cause! We’re going to change the approach to industry, construction, transport… We’re going to revolutionize a number of lifestyle choices. At the same time, we’re going to set the example because, in a year’s time, we’re hosting the climate conference. This has to provide an opportunity for France, for Europe to succeed in getting what others haven’t been able to, i.e. an agreement.
(…) Since my election, here, as President of the Republic, the judiciary has become independent, the press is independent. We see this every day – at any rate, I do! The principles of equality are respected everywhere: equality between women and men (a law was passed, but one law isn’t enough! So there will still be a great deal to do), equality of access to everything to do with human dignity (I’m talking about disabled people in particular). And also “Marriage for All”!
There’s also the Republic’s modernization. It’s been talked about for so many years! The ban on holding more than one public office, and territorial reform are at last going to come into play: fewer – but more powerful – regions, departments which, depending on the population, depending on the areas, will be stronger inter-communalities (1).
And also, in the Republic, there’s transparency, setting an example. These reforms need time to produce results and, above all, help change attitudes. A recent case is there to show us the effectiveness of these rules. There aren’t more dishonest elected representatives than in the past (…) but there are more procedures today allowing them to be found out and thus punished. Everyone has to realize this.
Things are changing. Now that we’ve reconvened after the summer, I want the High Authority [for Transparency in Public Life], which revealed to us what happened as regards the minister of state who wasn’t fit to remain as such, and not fit either to remain in the National Assembly, because he wasn’t paying his taxes – it’s this High Authority which enabled us to know about it –, this High Authority is going to submit reports in the next few weeks. If there are cases, they will be exposed and known. This High Authority, if it wants to increase its resources, will make proposals to us. We will give them the fullest consideration. (…)
Government policy/alternative options
The results are a long time in coming, I know, I can see this. They will come. They’ll come if we all play an active role. I’m not asking the French people to do the government’s work… The government must do everything it can and I’m doing everything I must in my position. I’m conscious that the policy I’ve set, that the policy I’ve mapped out, that the course I’ve shown will allow us to get results, I hope before 2017. But what matters, at least in political life, is that one does one’s duty. And sometimes you serve the future rather than the present.
I also want to focus on the alternatives. There are always some; there’s never just one policy, that’s wrong! I see others which may present competition for us.
The first is to exit the Euro Area, close the borders, drive out everything foreign. That’s one choice, it’s being proposed; it’s not ours. When I say “ours” – that of France, its values, that of Europe…
Second alternative proposal: wreck the social model. I hear [people talking about] €100 billion, €150 billion of savings, spending cuts… We’re not told how, but we can surmise: the end of the 35-hour week – it’s been proposed –, retirement at 65, the labour law abandoned, permanent contracts axed… What would that mean, even though it seems unlikely to me that this policy could be implemented at any point? Well, it would mean greater inequalities, job insecurity, unemployment and stifled growth.
There’s another policy too – there are always other policies, I’m not going to promote them here – which is to say: “in the end, we’ve got to take refuge in deficit, in debt”. But for how long? It’s been tried. I remember that in 2009 the deficit reached 7% of national wealth. Were we in better health? There was the crisis and recession. So we can end up in debt and be held back by financial constraints… (…)
I’m in the middle of my mandate; my goal isn’t to wait and hope that the economic situation will finally produce the expected results. My duty – with the government, which has my full confidence, with the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls – is to take action so that all the useful reforms are carried out, and I mean all the useful reforms, so that France succeeds. (…)
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe in France. When I see the way people view it wherever I visit, wherever the government goes; when I see the interest shown in our companies – big ones but also the small ones which are struggling; when I see how French technology and research, creativeness, culture, product manufacturing and also our food goods, countryside, heritage are valued… few countries have so many which excel! (…)
Now, after the summer break, this is my task. (…).
(1) inter-municipal structures which cover several communes, typically forming a single urban area.