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The terrorist attacks make their mark on François Hollande’s press conference

Translated Sunday 8 February 2015, by Anne Sanders

On Thursday morning, François Hollande held his fifth press conference, in which the January terrorist attacks loomed large in the background. François Hollande laid a heavy emphasis on the solidarity of the republic and extolled the virtues of French “secularism”. At the same time he announced measures to promote education and equality across France.

In his introduction, François Hollande said that he felt that he needed to maintain “the spirit of January 2015”: “That is, the solidarity of the republic. This does not wipe out differences or divisions, but it overrides them with a strength that goes straight to the heart of the matter: the need to ensure social cohesion in the country so that we can move forward and succeed. I must maintain this spirit within the government.”

The spirit of January has also led to a recovery in his popularity ratings. In this vein, he insisted that secularism was “not negotiable” and that it should not “undergo any modification”. “Secularism means values and laws which protect what is common to us all, but also what is unique: it is a guarantee against potential intolerance coming from inside and influences from outside”. Several measures, or at least declarations of intent, have been announced, to “keep up the spirit of 11th January”. The president has, at the very least, laid the emphasis on prevention and made some vague announcements.

• Education

François Hollande announced new funding, without mention of how much or from where, which will be allocated to the fight against pupil drop-out. He also promised an improved emphasis on vocational training, and better career guidance for pupils. “Digital technology” will be taught from primary school through to the sixth-form. We do not quite know by whom or to what extent. New qualifications have been promised. However, the president announced an improvement in the training of teachers, still without any precise details.

• Regional equality
François Hollande announced the creation of a national economic development agency, which would function like the ANRU, the National Urban Renewal Agency. Moreover, he confirmed the meeting of a joint ministerial committee in March, committed to strengthening “social diversity”. This committee was announced on 22nd January by Manuel Valls, the prime minister. Its target is “a system of population settlement, in other words, social diversity and the distribution of the population, so that social housing is created in areas where there is a need, not just where it is already present”. “Despite all the huge efforts made over 30 years, there is still too much evidence of failure: concentrations of the underprivileged in one area, massive inequality, high unemployment, intolerable discrimination”, emphasised François Hollande.

• Creation of a “civic contract”
On Thursday, during his fifth press conference at the Elysée Palace, François Hollande announced the creation of a “civic contract” with a “universal youth service” and the creation of a “citizen’s reserve for all French citizens”. “I propose (…) a new civic contract with the establishment of a universal youth service and the creation of a citizen’s reserve for all French citizens, all those who want to participate in the collective move forward and to give the best of themselves, and the strengthening of a participatory democracy”, he declared. He emphasised that “the French people’s love for the republic is intact” after the vicious attacks which sullied France in January.

• No new security order
The spirit of the law on defence expenditure, the LPM, which is already contentious, must be maintained, announced the president. He does not, therefore, plan to increase spending for the armed forces. He explained that he did not plan to modify the planned expenditure, although the cutting of 7,500 jobs in the army will not now go ahead. But, “if there are further dangers, I will face up to my responsibilities.”

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