French President Francois Hollande has given a broad televised speech to mark the country's national day. He touched on issues ranging from family and football to the economy, Syria, Mali and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The recently elected Hollande spoke to the French nation on television to mark the Bastille Day celebrations on Saturday, restarting a tradition stopped by former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Delivering a long speech broadcast on France 2 and TF1 telvision, the Socialist president said he was trying to convince Vladimir Putin to change his stance on Syria after Russia and China blocked draft Security Council resolutions that would have condemned the conflict.
"I said this to Mr. Putin, who is very keen that Syria remains close to his own country. There are commercial and historic ties, and I respect them," Hollande said. "I told [President Putin] that the worse scenario would be a civil war in Syria. Therefore we should work together to find a political position that avoids a civil war. There is still time, and it's high time."
Hollande also discussed the conflict in the former French colony of Mali, where two rebel groups are vying for control of the north of the country after ousting government forces amid a coup earlier this year. The French president said it was "up to Africans to determine the moment and force" of any intervention, referring to an AU troop contingent that is prepared to intervene in northern Mali.
"We must show solidarity. At the Security Council, there is a resolution which would enable precisely that intervention to be made with the backing of the UN," Hollande said.
Automobiles and austerity
Hollande took aim at carmaker PSA Peugeot-Citroen in his address, two days after the group announced plans to close a factory near Paris and slash roughly 8,000 jobs.
"The state will not allow this to pass," Hollande said. "The plan is not acceptable for the state, it must be renegotiated."
The new president also accused the PSA car group of intentionally withholding the announcement until France's presidential and parliamentary elections were finished, rather than breaking the news during Nicolas Sarkozy's tenure. PSA had blamed sinking demand within Europe and high labor costs in France for the decision to close the Aulnay-sous-Bois factory in Paris.
"It's too easy to say this is the fault of high labor costs: There were also poor strategic decisions made," Hollande said, claiming that PSA should have paid fewer dividends to shareholders in order to preserve the factory.
Hollande also hinted at new incentives designed to encourage French consumers to buy domestic cars. The Socialist campaigned on a platform of economic stimulus, not just austerity, to deal with Europe's debt difficulties - a position that has put him somewhat at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Nevertheless, he described his budding relationship with Merkel as "frank, balanced and respectful," saying that at the recent EU summit "we sought compromise at every stage."
Family and football
Hollande spoke publicly for the first time about a scandal on Twitter surrounding his partner Valerie Trierweiler, who had wished good luck to an opponent of Hollande's former partner Segolene Royal ahead of last month's parliamentary elections. Royal and Hollande remain key allies and figureheads of France's center-left Socialists.
The president said he had asked those close to him to "scrupulously respect" the separation between private and public life.
"I consider that private matters must be resolved in private," he said. "I have said as much to those close to me."
The Socialist leader also appealed to the country's scandal-plagued footballers to follow the example set by the military, saying "when you wear the French national jersey, you have to be on your best behavior."
Star player Samir Nasri was involved in a couple of verbal altercations with French journalists during the recent Euro 2012 competition, twice addressing them profanely during the course of the competition.
"It's not the results that I judge them on, it is their attitude," Hollande concluded.
France were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Spain, who went on to win the tournament.
msh/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)