Hollande vows action on economy on Bastille day
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In his first major interview since his May election victory, French President François Hollande sought to portray himself as the man who will put the French economy back on track, improve competitiveness and make employment his "top priority".
In Saturday's traditional Bastille day interview, François Hollande promised to make employment and growth his top priorities, despite the country's stagnant economic climate.
Asked straight away by France 2 journalists Claire Chazal and Laurent Delahousse about carmaker Peugeot’s plan to slash 8,000 jobs, which caused a massive outcry when announced on July 12, the president said it was “unacceptable”, adding that the state would intervene to renegotiate the plan.
He also made vague noises about incentives for the purchase of French-made cars and means of improving France’s competitiveness. Employment, he said, would be his “top priority”.
While the French government needs to figure out how to find 33 billion euros to meet its European deficit targets in 2013, the president promised that he would not raise VAT (Value Added Tax), “which would weaken economic growth and hit purchasing power.”
But when quizzed about a possible increase of the CSG social welfare tax, he answered it was “one resource among others” and repeated that the target of any tax hikes would be the wealthy rather than the middle class.
The only European left-wing leader?
While admitting that he did feel a little alone as the only left-wing president among right-wing leaders in Europe, he painted himself as a promoter of growth rather than austerity.
He defended his signing of the European stability pact: “I renegotiated the pact and we reached a compromise, making sure growth was as much of a target as fiscal discipline,” he said.
François Hollande also pointed out that he did not want to set any “golden rule” in stone by having it written into the constitution. “Measures to balance the budget are a commitment for a few years.”
A more subdued presidential style
When the question of his so-called “normal” presidency (as opposed to his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy’s flashy style) and the role of his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, as first lady was broached, Françoise Hollande stiffened.
“Private matters are settled privately,” he said curtly, adding he was perfectly happy for “Valérie” to keep on working as a journalist and to attend official functions only “if protocol required it”.
In a stab at former rival Nicolas Sarkozy, who is currently embroiled in the L’Oréal heiress scandal over alleged illegal campaign financing, François Hollande announced that a commission would work on reforming the ethics of political life.
“Let the Africans intervene in Mali”
Foreign affairs were left for the end of the interview, clearly lower on the president’s agenda than domestic economic concerns.
Regarding the crisis in Mali, he said it was up to the Africans to intervene, within the framework of the African Union, to prevent Islamists from “spreading terrorism across the continent”.
The president revealed his humorous side when the interview ended with a comment about the “exceptional” lack of rainy weather, which seems to have plagued his public appearances so far.
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