France's Hollande defends record on jobs, security as elections loom - Metro US

France’s Hollande defends record on jobs, security as elections loom

By Michel Rose

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) – President Francois Hollande used the last Bastille Day address of his mandate, less than a year before presidential polls, to paint himself as France’s guardian through a time of joblessness and violence that he had brought under control.

“I must protect France, it’s fragile, it can crack at any moment,” he told journalists on the national day commemorating the storming of the Bastille and the liberal ideas that gave birth to the French Revolution.

He said the Western world and democracy was under threat from terrorism and from wars as well as a rise in populism.

“I have gone through tremendous difficulties: the crisis, Greece, the banks, and the attacks of course, but that was my responsibility,” he said at the Elysee presidential palace.

Hollande, elected in 2012 when the eurozone was suffering the fallout of a Greek financial crisis, expressed confidence he could achieve the cut in French unemployment he has promised.

Unemployment hovers still close to 10 percent and France has suffered a number of Islamist militant attacks, culminating in the November bomb and gun attacks that killed 130 people. He has consistently proved unpopular in opinion polls.

Opinion polls show far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen would likely come first in the first round of the 2017 presidential election.

Although she would lose in a run-off of the two top placed candidates, Hollande himself could struggle to reach that run-off ahead of candidates of the mainstream right, the polls show.

Hollande said Britain’s decision to leave the European Union showed, by causing economic turmoil, the dangers of policies such as Le Pen’s plan to leave the currency union.

After weeks of strikes and protests against a labor reform bill he rammed through parliament in an effort to curb unemployment, he said he would not apologize for the choices he made.

“I made the right choices for the French economy,” he said, defending a pro-business U-turn a year and a half into his mandate after having risen to power in 2012 vilifying the financial sector as his biggest enemy.

He said taxes would be lower at the end of his mandate than in 2012 but set a condition that further tax cuts for households would depend on growth of about 1.7 percent next year, which he said depended on the consequences of the fallout from Brexit.

Hollande also warned his youthful economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, who was harshly criticized by other ministers for holding a political rally that smacked of rivalry to his president, that he should respect the rules of cabinet solidarity, but he struck a broadly forgiving tone.

(Additional reporting by Sophie Louet; Editing by Andrew Callus and Ralph Boulton)

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