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'Democracy is stronger than barbarism,' Hollande says in key speech

Christophe Ena, AFP | François Hollande delivers a key speech on "democracy and terrorism" in Paris on September 8, 2016

President François Hollande delivered a key speech in Paris on Thursday in which he rejected the idea that the state should sacrifice civil liberties in the fight against terror and emphasised that French secularism is not incompatible with religion.


“The French Constitution is not a flexible text with ellipses or parentheses," Hollande said in his speech on “Democracy in the Face of Terrorism”.

“As president of the Republic, I vow that there will be no new laws that prove to be either overreactions or hastily imposed, or that would be as inapplicable as they are unconstitutional.”

But Hollande went on to warn that the struggle against terrorism would prove long and difficult.

"While the government led by [Prime Minister] Manuel Valls is doing everything possible to protect the French, I need to tell you the truth: The threat is not going away soon. We must face it with courage, determination and while keeping a cool head," he said.

Hollande added: "Democracy will be stronger than the barbarism that has declared war on us." 

With his speech coming in the wake of a renewed debate over French secularism following an outcry over summer bans on the burkini, Hollande sought to emphasise that secularism “is not a religion of the state that stands against all other religions”.

"Nothing in the idea of secularism opposes the practise of Islam in France, provided it respects the law," he said.

Hollande also hit out at his potential challengers from the right-wing Les Républicains (formerly UMP) party in 2017, saying the right wants to “liquidate the social model”.

Hollande silent on re-election bid

In May 2014, Hollande famously declared that he would not seek a second term if he failed to cut the unemployment rate and steer the country back to economic growth. In May and again in August he told reporters that he would announce his final decision “at the end of the year."

Recent production and unemployment figures in France may point to a very modest economic recovery, but Hollande’s dismal job approval rating has certainly not turned a corner. Only around 14 percent of voters say they have a favourable view of the president, and a new poll on Wednesday showed Hollande would come in fourth place in the presidential ballot behind mutinous former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who resigned last week.

Three months ago the Socialist Party committed to organising presidential primaries in January 2017, whether or not Hollande had launched a re-election bid by that time. The decision was made after increasingly loud calls from the disaffected left-wing branch of the ruling party and Hollande’s abysmal ratings.

While the prospect of a Socialist primary was first seen as a shameful blow to Hollande – it would be unprecedented for an incumbent French president to run in a primary – many now think that it could actually work to his advantage.

In June, French political analyst Gérard Grunberg pointed out that, while he is in poor standing among the general electorate, Hollande enjoys wider support among Socialist Party members than potential party rivals like Prime Minister Manuel Valls and ex-industry minister Arnaud Montebourg.

Considering the Socialist Party’s internal divisions, there is a good chance that Hollande would win the left-wing primary and thus “help give his candidacy a legitimacy that, so far, it is sorely lacking”, Grunberg said.

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