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Sarkozy tackles financial crisis, burqa in landmark speech

Video by Philip CROWTHER

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-06-22

French President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed hot potato issues such as the financial crisis and the Islamic burqa during an extraordinary speech to both houses of parliament at the Château de Versailles, the first such address in 150 years.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy delved into key issues such as the financial crisis, the debate on the Islamic burqa, and government spending in a landmark address to both houses of parliament at the Château of Versailles near Paris.  

French presidents have for more than 150 years been barred from entering parliament to ensure the legislature's independence from the executive. Sarkozy’s Monday speech follows constitutional revisions lifting the ban in June 2008.
Addressing the financial crisis, Sarkozy said the government would take a national loan from the market or the public to finance key investments in the wake of the financial crisis. This announcement comes despite warnings from the European Central Bank over the weekend that there was no room for European governments to raise new debt to help pay for further spending programmes.

He however provided few further details of the loan. "As for the loan, its volume, its details, those will be decided once we have agreed on our priorities together," said Sarkozy

"I will take the necessary steps to ensure that this loan is exclusively dedicated to strategic priorities for our future," Sarkozy said.  

Sarkozy, who has frequently lambasted "Anglo Saxon capitalism", said the crisis highlighted the virtues of France's traditional policies of strong public investment and relatively generous social spending.
"The crisis has brought the French model back into fashion," he said.

The French leader vowed to push his proposal to allow employees, laid off due to cost-cutting, to keep a year’s salary and receive professional training for one year and ruled out tax increases to balance public spending.

"I will not increase taxes because an increase in taxes would delay the end of the crisis, and because by increasing taxes when we are at our level of taxation, we would not reduce deficits, we would increase them," he said.

Sarkozy said policies to tackle the financial crisis were top priority for French PM François Fillon’s government, due to be reshuffled on Wednesday.

Burqa ‘not welcome’ in France

During his speech, Sarkozy also weighed in on raging about the use of burqas, the all-encompassing female Islamic garb, in France. “The burqa is not a sign of religion,” said Sarkozy, “it is a sign of subservience." The French president then went on to add that the garment was “an unwelcome sight in France”.

Nearly 60 French legislators signed a proposal calling for a parliamentary commission to look into the spread of the burqa, a garment that they said amounted "to a breach of individual freedoms on our national territory". But while the proposal to hold an inquiry enjoys wide public support in France, it has been criticised by the official French Muslim council. France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population.

Opposition criticises speech as attack on republican values

The French president’s speech at the special session drew strong criticism from opposition parties, who called it an attack on republican values. Green and Communist lawmakers boycotted the speech while the Socialists, the main opposition party, agreed to attend but refused to exercise their right to comment during a brief debate held after the president left.

François Bayrou, a former presidential candidate and head of the centrist Modern Democratic party, told the press, “A parliament that represents the people should not accept a situation in which they are addressed without being able to answer back to the speaker.”

Date created : 2009-06-22