A kneejerk law banning the burkini would be inapplicable and could fuel further Islamist attacks on France, François Hollande warned on Thursday in a combative speech seen as kicking off the unpopular president’s re-election campaign.
In an hour-long address on democracy and terrorism, the embattled Socialist president insisted he would not let France deteriorate in the coming months and years and lashed out at rivals inside and outside his party.
Commentators saw this as a clear indication he intends to run for a second five-year term next Spring despite remaining the most unpopular president in modern history.
Promising to protect the nation and maintain national unity in the wake of a string of attacks that have left 238 people dead since January 2015, Mr Hollande said France could make no compromises on democracy and the rule of law in the fight against terror, or it would lose its soul.
In particular, the 62-year-old singled out Nicolas Sarkozy, who hopes to represent the centre-Right again next year and has been vocal in calling for a new law banning the burkini, the body-covering swimsuit.
Dozens of southern French resort towns banned the garment from beaches this summer via decrees, but the country’s constitutional court ruled it broke no laws on secularism and was not a public security threat.
Mr Hollande said: While I’m president, I will pass no kneejerk law that would be as inapplicable as it would unconstitutional.
“It is my deep conviction that our laws are sufficient, we simply need to apply them in all their rigour and effectiveness, he told a room of allies and journalists in the Wagram hall – named after a famous Napoleonic victory.
He added: “I don’t want to give Islamists reasons to put pressure through provocation to test the limits of the French Republic. Nor will I give them a pretext to take offence at the stigmatisation of Muslims to justify more attacks.
Mr Hollande warned that secularism was not a “state religion” to be used against other religions and that it was compatible with Islam as it is with Christianity and Judaism.
“Can Islam accept the separation of faith and law that is the very basis of secularism? My response is yes clearly yes. The immense majority of our Muslim compatriots today give us daily proof by practicing their faith without any threat to public order.
“The question the Republic must answer is: Is it really ready to make place for a religion that it did not expect to be this big over a century ago. There too, my answer is yes, certainly.”
Fears of fresh Islamist attacks in France were raised this week when police found an unmarked car containing gas tanks and petrol canisters next to Notre Dame cathedral. Two couples, one with Islamist leanings, have been detained for questioning.
Meanwhile, Abdeslam Salah, the only surviving member of the terror commandos who attacked Paris last November, killing 130, was brought before a judge on Thursday, but refused to talk.
Mr Sarkozy this month called for a merciless response to the terror attacks and said legal niceties should not hamper the fight against terror.
Without mentioning his rival by name, Mr Hollande said: “Constitutional principles are not legal niceties.”
Is the freedom to come and go a legal nicety? Is freedom of expression a legal nicety? Is freedom to worship a legal nicety? Is being presumed innocent – something that’s useful when defending one’s self – a legal nicety?” Mr Sarkozy is facing charges of illegal party financing.
He also slammed his conservative opponent’s calls for terror suspects to be interned in camps. “Did the Patriot Act and Guantanamo protect Americans from the (terrorist) threat? No, he said.
“Democracy is our weapon.
Worryingly for Mr Hollande, an opinion poll published by Elabe on Wednesday suggested almost nine out of 10 voters were against the president seeking a second five-year term.
In particular, they voiced deep dissatisfaction on two likely key themes of the upcoming contest: security and the economy.
Seven months head of the first round of elections, Mr Hollande appears increasingly isolated after several Left-wing candidates announced their intention to run.
Most recently, the president’s popular and reformist economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, stepped down last week, clearing the way for a presidential bid.
In a sign Mr Hollande may call on the star power of his actress girlfriend to boost his image, Julie Gayet posed on the front cover of Thurday’s Paris Match, the glossy weekly, which said she intended to play her role as a free and committed supporter.
The pair have been careful not to appear in public together since their secret liaison was revealed in January 2014, but commentators said the timing of the magazine appearance – in which friends said she and the president speak on the phone four times a day, take night-time strolls on Paris’ île Saint-Louis and play cards – was no coincidence.
According to Paris Match, Ms Gayet intends to “play a role” in his re-election bid should he run, and on Thursday was named patron of a state-backed anti-sexism campaign.
The magazine cites an Elysée aide as saying she would like to play a more official role, but that Mr Hollande wants to keep his distance, still stung by his disastrous split with Valérie Trierweiler.
His son Thomas is quoted as saying: The split with Valérie, the separation, did him good. He doesn’t want other constraints on his job.
Last month, his son said Mr Hollande would only resort to appearing by her side out of cowardice because it was imposed on him.
News Source TelegraphNews