Hollande defends economic leadership during first year in office

The French President, François Hollande, has used a major press conference to urge the French public to be patient with his plans to reverse sluggish growth and rising unemployment. The president also touched on Syria and France’s military intervention in Mali.

François Hollande gives his bi-annual press conference.
François Hollande gives his bi-annual press conference. Reuters/Benoit Tessier

When he came to office a year ago, Hollande promised to give a major press conference every six months.

Speaking to 400 journalists in a conference broadcast live by French media, Hollande said he was committed to seeing France return to growth, a day after official statistics showed France is in recession.

The conference was dominated by questions about economic policy and the European Union.

“I want my country to succeed…I want companies to be competitive,” he said. “What’s hitting Europe now is not the financial crisis, but recession,”

Hollande said his second year in office would be an “offensive” to “drag Europe out of its lethargy”. He proposed an “economic government” for the eurozone that would have its own president, its own budget and a coordinated tax system.

He acknowledged France did not always see eye-to-eye with Germany, the eurozone’s largest economy, about solutions to the region’s fiscal crisis. But Hollande insisted he and German Changellor Angela Merkel must find consensus.

Faced with record unemployment in France, Hollande outlined plans to get more unemployed people and low-skilled workers into further education, and promised to half the number of school leavers without qualifications by the end of his five year term.

When asked about Hollande’s record unpopularity as president, he urged the electorate to be patient with him.

“I ask not to be judged by opinion polls, but by what I achieve after five years…What’s important now is how the country will be after this term,” he said.

On foreign policy, Hollande highlighted France’s military intervention in Mali and recognition of the Syrian opposition as key achievements of his first year in office.

He deplored Russia’s support for president Bashar al-Assad and accused Russia of sending arms to Assad’s regime while committing to diplomatic dialogue.

“I saw President [Vladimir] Putin to make the following proposition: we could find members from the regime and allow a dialogue. He told me he agreed with this initiative…[but] at the same moment the Russians accepted the idea of this conference, it continues to send weapons to Assad’s regime,” he said.

Click here to re-read our live blog of the press conference.

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