For diverse reasons, I miss Sarkozy but I like the new French President, François Hollande, more and more. Yesterday he gave a speech at the Grande Conférence Sociale here in Paris (program here).
It was a good speech: sober and clear with a call for everyone to "serrer les coudes" (work together) to fix the pressing issues of the day (youth and senior unemployment, the economy, the debt) in order to save the things that matter like "les régimes sociaux" (social safety net). No hyperbole or grand rhetoric or attempts to "chercher les coupables" (find the guilty). It's the kind of speech that one would expect when there are grown-ups running a government.
You can read the full text of the speech here. Allow me to translate a few paragraphs for the non-Francophones in the audience so you can get a taste of his method and his message:
The state of the nation: "Je ne veux rien cacher de la situation de notre pays. Nul besoin de forcer le trait, il suffit de prendre la mesure des trois grands défis que nous devons collectivement relever." (I don't want to hide anything about our country's situation. No need for exaggeration, it's enough to simply look closely at the three large challenges that we must face together). These are, he says: the debt, the eroding competitiveness of the French economy, unemployment and social insecurity.
Three conditions to respect in the search for solutions: 1. "D’abord, les Français veulent en comprendre le sens." (First the French people want to understand the reasoning) 2. "C’est la justice." (justice). How, he asks, can we ask the people to rally behind us if the most favored percentage of the population is exempt and only working people are required to make sacrifices? 3. "Enfin, la condition la plus certaine de la réussite, c’est la confiance. Les sociétés qui connaissent les performances les plus élevées sont celles qui ont su nouer des compromis durables." (Finally, trust/confidence is the most important condition for success. Those societies that have the highest performance are the ones that know how to put together compromises that last).
A method based on three principles to save the French model: 1. "Le premier est d’aborder l’ensemble des sujets, sans exclusive (The first is to tackle all the subjects, no exclusions. Everything goes on the table), 2. Fixer un agenda cohérent et partagé permettant d’avancer en commun, dans le respect de l’indépendance de chacun." (Set a coherent and shared agenda to progress together while respecting everyone's independence), 3. "S’inscrire dans la durée." (commit to the long-term). The goal, he says, is not to have multiple conferences just to hear everyone talk over and over again on the same topics.
Seven themes: 1. L'emploi (employment), 2. "Le développement des compétences et la formation tout au long de la vie." (skill development and life-long training), 3. "Les rémunérations" (compensation), 4. L’égalité (equality), 5. "L’avenir de nos retraites." (the future of our retirement system), 6. "L’équilibre de nos comptes et la compétitivité de notre pays." (find the right balance between the budget and the competitiveness of our country), 7. "Assurer la pérennité de nos régimes sociaux." (assure the long-term survival of our social safety net).
Hollande ended his speech with this modest statement: "Je ne demande à personne, ici, d’abandonner ses convictions, de renoncer à ses revendications, de ne céder à je ne sais quelle pression. Je fais confiance à des acteurs libres et indépendants pour prendre leur part de la tâche commune. Celle qui nous dépasse : l’avenir de notre pays. Toute votre part." (I am not asking anyone here to abandon his convictions, to renounce his interests or to cave under I do know what pressure. The thing that is more important than all of us is the future of our country. It is in your hands).
Very promising and, from my standpoint, inspiring in a quiet thoughtful way. We'll see how things shake out in the year to come.