Hollande’s Versailles speech

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

The speech delivered by the President of the French Republic on Monday, November 16 before the Parliament convened in Congress at Versailles was an important one. In the tragic circumstances which we are living through, François Hollande strove to position himself at the level demanded by the events and all comments converge in stressing the dignity of this reunion. Still, it being a speech, it is pertinent to examine its contents. As it happens, the speech is revealing both of the President’s apprehension of context and of situation, and of the limits of his apprehension.


From the state of emergency to the concept of war

While rendering homage to the victims of the attacks of Friday 13, the President makes the statement that we are at war. Words have a meaning and the word “war” is particularly loaded in the symbolic field. So that it was not used by chance. But it is necessary to examine the formulation. There cannot be any doubt that these attacks were indeed acts of war, planned along the lines of military logic and with an intent more military than political, which differentiates them from the attacks of last January. As much as the latter can be considered to have been « targeted, » however odious the ideology which presided to the targeting, such is not the case this time. These attacks were aimed at people indiscriminately, more precisely, at any person not living according to the mad rules of a fanatic system of thought.

Yet it is not sure that this suffices to qualify the situation as war, unless the enemy is precisely designated. This is indeed what the President is doing by designating the organization which purports to call itself the Islamic State and which we know under the name of DAECH. He then draws the conclusion: « It is for this reason that the necessity to destroy Daech is a matter which concerns the whole of the international community. I have therefore asked the Security Council to convene as soon as possible in order to adopt a resolution stating the common will to fight against terrorism ». However, an organization is not a State. By assimilating the one to the other, by taking seriously the claim of DAECH to present itself as a State, the President of the Republic takes on the responsibility of a confusion. And this is particularly the case with an appeal to the United Nations. We know that the traditions of the socialists, derived from the pre-war SFIO, involve placing a sometimes blind trust into collective international action. But in this case, this collective action clashes with the interests of the international allies of the terrorists. Whatever happens, it is clear that this will imply an updating of French diplomacy.

There exists therefore here a risk of confusion. If it limits itself to speeches, it will not amount to much in terms of consequences. But if the concept of “war” should have a direct translation into the means to be used, the problems would become much more serious. For the organization which calls itself the Islamic State is diverse, penetrated with contradictions, and certainly less centralized than it is believed, or that it pretends, to be.

We are not intending here to put into question the necessity to destroy this organization, but we must reflect about the most efficient means. If a military action is in order, to be conceived and endowed with the adapted means, in order to destroy the capacities of action of this criminal organization and to take back from it the territories which furnish it with financial resources (oil, wheat, cotton) we must understand that this action alone will not be sufficient. One must drive into it, and profit from, « the discord among the enemy” as General de Gaulle was wont of reminding us [1], and foresee right from the beginning a solution of stability which can accompany armed action. To put it briefly, “war” is only a formula. As a matter of fact, the President did not propose a declaration of war, which would have been in the logic of some of the terms of his discourse. We understand therefore that the fight against the organization purporting to call itself the Islamic State will be far more complex than a war.


A re-examination of foreign policy

This brings up the problem of our foreign policy and of our alliances. On this point, the inflexion brought to bear by the President of the Republic in his speech is a most notable one. There is, first of all, a noticeable evolution in the French position, which had lead to its isolation, on the Syrian question. Let’s get back to the speech: « We are fighting terrorism in Iraq in order to allow the authorities of this country to restore their sovereignty over the totality of the territory and in Syria we are seeking resolutely, indefatigably a political solution in which Bachar AL ASSAD cannot be the solution, but the enemy, our enemy in Syria, is Daech ». In specifying that the priority is indeed the fight against the organization which calls itself the Islamic State, and that this priority is valid in France as well as in Syria, François Hollande admits implicitly the errors of French diplomacy. He recognizes that the obstinacy in making the departure of Bachar el-Assad a prerequisite or, at the very least, an important point in the negotiations on the future of Syria, was a mistake. He does so belatedly, but he does so. We must take due note of this. We are not trying here to sing praises to Bachar El-Assad. Clearly, the Syrian people has grounds for holding many things against him. But politics consist in establishing which is the principal danger and which is the secondary one. Very clearly, the principal danger is in the rise of power of the group calling itself the “Islamic State.” We are returning here to the reality principle.

He then adds: « Today, we need more strikes – which we are doing – more support to those who fight against Daech– which we, France, are bringing – but what is needed is a coming together of all those who can really fight against this terrorist army within the framework of one large and unique coalition – this is what we are working at. It is in this spirit that I will meet in the coming days with President OBAMA and President PUTIN in order to join our forces and to reach a result which for the time being is still projected too far into the future ».

The question of the intensification of the military effort has already been raised. It will impose itself forcefully, but it would be dangerous to see in it the only means of combat. What is important, here, is the fact that François Hollande recognizes the fact that Russia cannot be circumvented when it comes to questions of the Middle-East. This demand of concertation with Russia is important. It signals the shifting of our foreign policy. But the question then arises of our relations with the United States and with some other countries. It is pertinent at this point to listen to words spoken by General Desportes at the occasion of the hearing of December 17 2014 before the COMMISSION OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, OF DEFENCE AND OF THE ARMES FORCES of the French Parliament [2]: « Who is the Doctor Frankenstein who created this monster? Let’s state it clearly, because it has consequences: it’s the United States. Out of a short term political interest, other actors – some of whom are posing as friends of the West – other actors, then, through complacency or by deliberate intent, have contributed to this construction and to strengthening it. But the first responsible are the United States. » Others have said similar things, and they have not been heard.

The turn which French foreign policy is taking, should it concretize itself, should also lead to clarifying these points. One ought to be glad about it, particularly on behalf of Russia. But let’s wait for things to turn concrete.


Rethinking the position of France in the European Union

A third important point focuses on France’s position in relation to the European Union and to the Euro. François Hollande has been very clear on this matter: « And if Europe does not control its external borders, then – and we are seeing this today with our own eyes – there will be a returning to national borders, if not to walls and barbed wires profiling themselves in the future. This then will be the deconstruction of the European Union ». We know him to be, for better or worse, a committed European. But he cannot help but admitting that the European Union has engaged itself very little in questions of security, that the partners of France are far from exercising cooperation we require, and also that the rules of the European Union, which in budgetary matters derive directly from the Euro, are at present exceedingly constraining. As a matter of fact, he is saying just that when he adds, on the subject of increasing the human means in police and defence: « All these budgetary decisions will be taken within the framework of the law of finances which is at this very moment being discussed for 2016. They will necessarily translate, and I will stand up for this before you, into an increase in expenses, but in such circumstances, I consider that the security pact transcends the stability pact ».

In fact, the « security pact, » which is nothing else but an important element of the National Pact, goes way beyond the sole budgetary implications of an increase in means. It commands that France find back soonest to a trajectory of growth which will allow it to reduce unemployment and to proceed to the necessary investments in the public sector as well as in the private sector. This policy is today in contradiction with numerous European texts, among them the TSCG which François Hollande has had voted in September 2012. But it is most of all in contradiction with the straightjacket which the Euro constitutes for the French economy, and not only for the French economy. Here, François Hollande will have to choose between his attachment to the European institutions and his duty as a President of the French Republic. At a deeper level, time has come for an uncompromising assessment of what the European Union has delivered to us in reality. It would be better to proceed to it with a level head rather than in an emergency, as we will have to do in the first semester of 2016 if we are to witness a converging of political crises in many countries, from Portugal to Great Britain.


The state of emergency instrumentalized?

There remains one last important point. On the subject of the state of emergency, the President of the Republic made the following declaration: « And I have much thought over this question. I estimate in due conscience that we must bring our Constitution to evolve in order to allow public powers to act, in conformity with the constitutional state, against warlike terrorism». This means that the President aims at constitutionalizing some dispositions of the state of emergency. This latter announcement is most questionable. The state of emergency exists in the law, and to believe that it would be a reinforcement of the lawful order to specify and constitutionalize any of its dispositions is illusory. That which insures that the government is indeed working within the space of democracy is not such or such a measure; it is the context in which the measures are taken, it is the purpose with which they are taken, and in the end, it is the assurance that as soon as the context will have changed, these measures will be abolished. This is what distinguishes Dictatorship, in the primary legal sense which we must give to this word, from Tyranny.

David Dyzenhaus shows how an obsession with the rule by law (i.e. formal legality) and fidelity to the text very often turn to the advantage of government policies, whatever these are. Repeatedly, the author evokes the perversions of the legal system of Apartheid[3] reminding us that this demeaning jurisprudence proceeded less from the racist persuasions of the South-African judges than from their « positivism»[4] and that it was, from this point of view, technically faithful to a positivist vision of the rule of law. This shows the vacuity of attempting to maintain the notion of the state of emergency within the framework of a positivist vision of the rule of law. But this observation raises another problem. François Hollande could very well have abstained from proposing a « constitutionalization » of the state of emergency. The latter has been invoked on multiple occasions since 1955, without any need to « constitutionalize » it.

The « constitutionalization » of measures such as electronic surveillance and assimilated is by no means mandatory. We must recognize that the legal arsenal of France is sufficient in this matter, but that it needs to be implemented. The instrumentalization of the Constitution and of the state of emergency for the purposes of politicking must at this stage be condemned with the utmost firmness.


The style is the Man – isn’t it?

There remains the question of the style of this speech. François Hollande delivered a speech in which fragments of great strength alternate with fragment of great banality, even repeating himself on occasion. Not that he would not know – be it only intuitively – that the more grave the occasion, the more it befits a leader to be sparse in his words. We shall not do him the offense to remind him that from Cesar to General de Gaulle, economy of expression has always characterized the leader when confronted to an exceptional situation. Indeed, what the style of his speech reveals to us are the hesitations, even the contradictions, of François Hollande. He is most naturally a product of the atlanticist tropism which has existed in the fold first of the SFIO then of the Socialist Party, and he must take cognizance of the radical divergences between the interests of the United States and those of France. He is a leader who has been raised in the rigid observance of formal legalism, and he was lead to exercise an act of sovereignty, at the risk of putting himself in contradiction with the very principles he has defended. Finally, he is a man who has reached the pinnacle of power having had no other political experience than the management of a political party.

This explains, without justifying them, the hesitations, half-measures, and the vagueness which are found in his speech. This also explains the tendencies to intrumentalize the particular situation which we are living through, as well as the principles of the state of emergency. But we must also put to his credit the inflexions, some of them major, of the policy of France, which are contained in his speech.

[1] De Gaulle C., La discorde chez l’ennemi, Paris, Berger-Leuvrault, 1924.

[2] http://www.senat.fr/compte-rendu-commissions/20141215/etr.html#toc7

[3] Dyzenhaus D, Hard Cases in Wicked Legal Systems. South African Law in the Perspective of Legal Philosophy, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991.

[4] Dyzenhaus D., The Constitution of Law. Legality In a Time of Emergency, op.cit., p. 22.


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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