An Exclusive Interview With France’s New President, Francois Hollande

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
May 7 2012 5:58 PM

Francois Hollande: “France Isn’t Just Any Country”

France’s new president talks about Obama, Europe’s economy, and whether he is afraid of Angela Merkel.

(Continued from Page 1)

Slate.fr: Speaking of Barack Obama, you’re to meet him for the first time at the Camp David G8 Summit on May 18 and 19. [In English] Mister Hollande, do you speak English?

Hollande: [In English] Yes, I speak English. But a French president has to speak French!

Slate.fr: Do you think it’s important for the French head of state to speak the common language of international diplomacy?

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Hollande: He needs to understand it and to be able to have unmediated exchanges with his interlocutors. But I am attached to the French language and to the French-speaking world.

When I took part in European leaders summits, it was sometimes unpleasant for me to hear Romanian, Polish, Portuguese, and Italian friends speak English [rather than their own language], although I admit that on an informal basis, first contacts can be made in this language. Nevertheless, I will defend everywhere the use of the French language.

Slate.fr: The United States might look at a change of president in France, especially to a socialist one, with suspicion at first. How do you intend to make yourself known and acknowledged in the United States?

Hollande: I perfectly understood President Obama’s attitude throughout the French presidential campaign. He had no reason to distance himself from Nicolas Sarkozy. It’s the basic solidarity that leaders who worked together owe to each other. Barack Obama himself is running for re-election this year, and this vote will have a huge importance in the world. The Democratic administration’s choices in terms of foreign policy showed serious and beneficial changes compared with the preceding one. In the same way, we have similarities on the economic level. So, I intend to assert France’s independence without making Barack Obama’s task any more difficult. For example, I will maintain the position I had during my campaign of a pullout of French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, in agreement with our allies.

Slate.fr: What’s your position on the Iranian nuclear program crisis?

Hollande: I haven’t criticized Nicolas Sarkozy’s firm stance on the risks of a nuclear proliferation. I will maintain it with the same strength and the same will. And I will not accept it if Iran, which is perfectly entitled to civil nuclear power, uses this technology for military purposes.

Slate.fr: On this particular topic, the Obama administration seems more flexible, more ready to negotiate, than the French government.

Hollande: Iran must bring forward all the information that was asked for and stop pretending. Sanctions must be reinforced as much as necessary. But I still believe that negotiation is possible to reach the intended goal.

Slate.fr: Wasn’t your position about the French presence in NATO rather vague throughout your campaign?

Hollande: I regretted this decision as it was taken in 2008. The goals that were stated, and more particularly the reinforcement of the European defence mainstay, were not reached.

But I don’t intend to go back to the previous situation. I will ask for an evaluation of France’s role and responsibilities in the military command.

Slate.fr: On Africa and the Middle East, do you share [outgoing foreign minister] Alain Juppe’s position of extreme firmness regarding Islamists? He considers that negotiation is possible as long as certain boundaries are not crossed, such as the respect of fundamental human rights, of the free choice of voters, and the acceptance that different parties can succeed one another as the head of state.

Hollande: France mustn’t change its principles depending on the circumstances or the situations. The principles we valued during the Arab spring, when regimes prevented the advent of democracy, must be discussed with the new governments that were elected in those same countries, in Tunisia and Egypt for example. We must remind them as often as need be of the importance of the good functioning of democracy, of gender equality, and of the place that society and the state respectively hold.

Knowing if Islamic parties can enter a long-term democratic process is what is at stake here, which is why the success of this transition is very important. The Tunisians demonstrated it, even if we can see that threats are looming large.

Slate.fr: Do you think the arrival to power of Islamists in numerous countries in Northern Africa could reinforce the French fears and fantasies about Islam that were very present during the presidential campaign?

Hollande: I found the confusions and generalizations that occurred throughout the campaign very upsetting. Foreigners can be of African or North African descent without being Muslim. And they can be Muslims without being “communautarists” (a French term that means identifying so strongly with one group that one separates from the nation as a whole). I want the French people to respect values that allow each individual to practice his or her faith, but in the frame of our common rules of secularism.

This interview was conducted by Jean-Marie Colombani, Johan Hufnagel, Eric Le Boucher, Eric Leser, and Jean-Marie Pottier, and translated by Cécile Dehesdin, Grégoire Fleurot, and Bérengère Viennot.

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