Even in times of crisis, a nation has to afford expensive but symbolic events. July 14th, celebrating the storming of the Bastille in 1789, is one of those national holidays that cannot be avoided. The day could be compared to July 4th in the United States, as they are both considered as the landmark day when the two nations started a new era in their history.
However, watching the news in France on Saturday, one could wonder where the references to the storming of the Bastille have gone. It is one of the numerous events which triggered the French revolution, and it was then chosen to commemorate this period of great trouble and changes that Dickens chose to describe as follows, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in A Tale of Two Cities. Nevertheless, the media mainly focused on only two issues: the traditional military parade on the Champs-Élysée and François Hollande’s speech.
The military parade takes place every year on the Champs-Élysées and has a two-fold meaning: the military reminds the citizens that it is still there to serve their country, while the nation, through the figure of the President, pays its tribute to the men and women who protect them.
One cannot deny the importance of such a meeting between the citizens and their army, which takes the shape of a renewal of contract. However, one cannot deny either that the parade slowly, year after year, drew the majority of the attention to itself, until the military became the main theme in the media on this day. This shift in attention has caused the military theme to outshine partially the historic meaning of this day.
For President Hollande, who initiated the withdrawal of the French troops in Afghanistan, it was more than just a tradition. It was important for him to prove his absolute support to the military institution. The President needed to convey the right message: that he acknowledged with respect the work of the soldiers and the results of their actions on the ground.
This year’s parade had a theme and was dedicated to the armies “which serve the Nation and peace in the world”, the soldiers from the United Nations and the withdrawing French troops being the guests of honor.
Other issues awaited François Hollande this day. He gave an interview to two important journalists near the Place de la Concorde, where the parade ended, in the Hôtel de la Marine. The speech had another symbolic value. His predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had chosen to give up this old tradition. Hollande then pursued his wish to be a “normal” president, that means following the “right” path that Sarkozy had left during his presidency.
The President talked about the PSA case. PSA is a major company in the automobile industry that announced a few days ago that it would make important job cuts in its French infrastructures. Considering that the State needs to maintain this activity on the French soil and that PSA was acting too hastily, François Hollande asserted that PSA’s layoff plan was “unacceptable” and that it was too easy to put the blame on the French competitiveness.
The President promised that his government, his Prime Minister and the Minister of Productive Recovery, Arnauld Montebourg, would work to avoid the consequences of this decision and would save as many jobs as possible.
The President considers that a long-term agenda should be scheduled, to avoid de deindustrialization of the sites that are threatened by the layoff plans and give the automobile industry the keys to stay in France and remain competitive.
There were other issues to deal with during this interview. Regarding his promise to put an end to the tax credit granted to overtime work, Hollande said that it would still be possible for the smallest businesses to benefit from it. Hollande denied that it could have a negative impact on the French productivity because of a higher cost of work in general. Hollande highlighted that his government would give the businesses other tools to be competitive. They want to lower income taxes and the cost of retirement benefits paid by the companies by finding other sectors to tax, so as not to place too heavy a burden on the shoulder of the industry.
Hollande’s companion, Trierweiller, tweeted her support to an opponent to a PS candidate during the legislative campaign. When asked about the recent criticisms of this behavior, the President said that he wanted a strict separation between the private and the public circle, and that he would not let it happen again. More generally, Hollande announced that a commission would be opened to deal with the “moralization of political life”, one of Hollande’s favorite themes and a serious issue after the Sarkozy’s presidency. For Hollande, “exemplarity” must become a priority.
In terms of international relationships, Hollande said how glad he was to see that the theme of growth that he used to praise alone was now a priority in Europe and abroad.
Even if Hollande gave some precisions about the issues that were dealt with in the interviews, the answers he gave to the journalists were still rather vague and inaccurate. It is a flaw that the opposition noticed without mercy. Among several of Hollande’s opponents, Jean-François Copé, head of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), said that: “François Hollande proposes for France a presidency of symbols and dodging: all the important decisions essential to solving the crisis are being postponed”. He also asserted that “François Hollande gives the impression to be a rider who refuses the obstacle every time he faces it”.
The opposition asserts that Hollande is not answering the concerns of the French people, who were watching fireworks across the country, waiting with a lot of apprehension to know how hard the austerity measures will strike them. Nobody in the country seems to believe that Hollande can avoid the toughest measures that need to be taken.