Hollande faults Europe for Scottish independence drive
French president admits ‘other countries’ paid ransom for French hostages
French president François Hollande during a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris where he outlined plans for the rest of his five-year term. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters
“Europe must ask this question . . . Why is Europe not capable of creating a federating project in which everyone could find their identity,” Mr Hollande told a press conference. “We didn’t make Europe to get to this point, for there to be deconstruction of nations.”
The idea of “getting smaller, allegedly to be stronger” was “the very opposite of the European ideal”, Mr Hollande said. “The referendum in Scotland may decide not only the future of the United Kingdom, but also the future of the EU. There’s a risk of Europe falling apart.”
Mr Hollande spoke at length about the fight against Islamic State (IS), one of the few issues on which there is consensus. France carried out reconnaissance flights over Iraq twice this week, he said. “As soon as we have identified targets, we will act. It won’t be long.” He excluded sending French ground troops, or bombing IS in Syria. “We cannot, despite the presence of IS in Syria, give help to the dictator Bashar al-Assad,” he said.
The far right National Front (FN) won European elections in May. Mr Hollande stressed that the FN has been strong for 30 years, and that extreme right-wing parties have grown in Scandinavia, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. “I observe that Madame [Marine] Le Pen’s party was not able to form a group in the European Parliament. Even the extreme rights in Europe don’t want to be associated with the French extreme right.
Anxiety and fears
To address the concerns of the French working class, who vote in the highest proportions for the FN, the government this week announced that it will do away with income tax on the lowest tranche of wage-earners – nine million people comprising one-third of French taxpayers. Citizens must not feel abandoned, Mr Hollande said. “I prefer anger to silence, because anger is still a form of contact. With silence, there is no hope.”
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, whom Mr Hollande defeated in 2012, is expected to announce his candidacy to lead the conservative UMP party on Sunday. It wasn’t his place to comment, Mr Hollande said. “I am not going to be dragged into a fight. I am not a candidate. I am the president. I am not going to replay the 2012 campaign.”
Mr Hollande admitted that “results [from his economic policies] are slow in coming”. But, he asserted, “They will come . . . I hope before 2017.” He rejected the policies of the FN, which he described as “Leave the euro zone and close the borders.” The right’s desire to save €150 billion in government spending, end the 35-hour week and raise the retirement age to 65 was not feasible. Nor was renegade socialists’ desire to let deficits run unchecked.