France is at war

The speech by President François Hollande of France on November 16 is one that ranks with President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001. Rarely have two statesmen so ill-inclined to be wartime leaders displayed such insight into their times and such resolve to master the enormous tasks they face.

Regretably, Hollande’s address before an extraordinary joint session of Parliament at Versailles has received little attention in Canada or the United States, other than brief mentions of two phrases: France is at war and We must be merciless. In neither case, however, did the punditry care to explore what lies behind the language.

The Vimy Report provides links below to the text of the President’s speech, the original in French issued by the Elysée Palace and an English translation offered by the Foreign Ministry.

Following are extended excerpts from the English text, adding sub-headings and underlining key passages:

France is at war

France is at war. The acts committed in Paris and near the Stade de France on Friday evening are acts of war.  They are an act of aggression against our country, against its values, against its young people, and against its way of life. They were carried out by a jihadist army, by Daesh (ISIL), which is fighting us because France is a country of freedom, because we are the birthplace of human rights. In truth, our democracy has triumphed over much more fearsome enemies than these cowardly murderers. Our Republic is under no threat from these despicable killers.

I shall marshal the full strength of the State to defend the safety of its people. Terrorists believe that free people will allow themselves to be intimidated by horror. That’s not the case, and the French Republic has surmounted many other trials. It is still here, still alive and well. It cannot be said that we are engaged in a war of civilizations, for these assassins do not represent one. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism that threatens the entire world, not just France.

In this war, which began some years ago, we are all aware that we need time, and that patience is every bit as necessary as the endurance and fierceness with which we will fight. The enemy uses the vilest means in its attempts to kill. But it is not beyond capture, and more specifically, it is not out of reach.

So during this sad and difficult time, a time when our citizens have faced such horror, it is important to remain cool-headed. I appeal once again to all our compatriots to demonstrate those virtues that are a credit to our country: perseverance, unity, lucidity, dignity.

Daesh must be destroyed

What the terrorists were attacking was the France that is open to the world. Among the victims were several dozen of our foreign friends, representing 19 different nationalities.

Friday’s acts of war were decided upon, planned and prepared in Syria. They were organized in Belgium and carried out on our soil with French complicity. Their objective was quite clear: to sow fear in order to divide us and to keep us from fighting terrorism in the Middle East.

We are facing an organization, Daesh, which has a territorial base, financial resources, and military capabilities. Since the beginning of the year, Daesh’s terrorist army has struck in Paris, Denmark, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Libya. Every day, it massacres and oppresses populations.

That is why the need to destroy Daesh concerns the whole international community. I have therefore asked the Security Council to meet as soon as possible to adopt a resolution expressing our common will to combat terrorism.

Meanwhile, France will step up its operations in Syria. Yesterday I ordered 10 French fighter jets to launch airstrikes on the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa. We will continue these strikes in the weeks to come. On Thursday, the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier will set sail for the eastern Mediterranean, which will triple our capacity to act. And we will act indefatigably and without respite.

We are fighting terrorism wherever the very survival of States is under threat. That was the reason for my decision to intervene in Mali, and it still justifies the presence of our troops in the Sahel where Boko Haram carries out massacres, kidnappings, rapes, and murders. We are fighting terrorism in Iraq to allow the authorities of that country to restore their sovereignty throughout the entire country, and in Syria, where we are resolutely and tirelessly seeking a political solution, one that does not include Bashar al-Assad.

But our enemy in Syria is Daesh. There is no question of containing it. This organization must be destroyed, both to save the populations of Syria and Iraq, and those of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey – all the neighboring countries. And to protect ourselves, to keep foreign fighters from coming to our country, as was the case on Friday, to commit terrorist acts.

The need for international unity

But we must do more. Syria has become the largest breeding ground for terrorists that the world has ever known, and the international community – as I have noted more than once – is divided and incohesive. From the outset of the conflict, France has called for the unity which is so necessary in order to act.

Today, we need more airstrikes, which we will carry out, and more support for those who are fighting Daesh, which we, France, will provide. But we need all those who can really combat this terrorist army to unite as part of a large, single coalition. That is what we are striving for.

In the next few days, I will therefore meet with President Obama and President Putin to unite our forces and to achieve a result which, at this point, has been put off for far too long.

France is speaking to everyone – to Iran, Turkey, the Gulf States. The Paris attacks occurred just as we were meeting with these countries in Vienna to find a political solution in Syria. Now, all of us – the neighboring countries, the major powers, but also Europe – must live up to our responsibilities.

I have asked the defense minister to take up this matter tomorrow with our European colleagues under article 42 (7) of the Treaty on European Union, the solidarity clause, which states that when one State is attacked, all the Member States shall have the obligation to provide aid and assistance because the enemy is not just France’s enemy, it is Europe’s enemy.
Europe cannot live in the belief that the crises around it have no effect on it.

The refugee issue

The refugee issue is directly linked to the wars in Syria and Iraq. The inhabitants of those countries, particularly those living in territories controlled by Daesh, are suffering hideously and they are fleeing. They are the victims of this same terrorist system.

That is why it is vital for Europe to offer a dignified welcome to those who are eligible for asylum and to send home those who are not. That requires effective protection for our external borders, which is not yet the case. The first to receive help must be the countries of the region: Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. And if Europe does not control its external borders – we are seeing this before our very eyes – that means a return to national borders, when it’s not walls and barbed wire. That will mean the dismantling of the European Union.

We must be merciless

Given the acts of war committed on our soil – coming in the wake of the attacks of January 7, 8 and 9, and in the wake of so many other crimes committed in recent years in the name of this same jihadist ideology – we must be merciless.

It hurts to say it, but we know that these were French people who killed other French people on Friday. Living here in our land are individuals who start out by committing crimes, become radicalized, and go on to become terrorists. Sometimes they leave to fight in Syria or Iraq. Sometimes they form networks that provide training, in certain cases, or which help one another, with a view to carrying out terrorist acts at a time determined by their sponsors.

Friday night, once we knew the terrible toll taken by the shootings, I convened the Council of Ministers. I ordered the immediate reestablishment of border controls and I proclaimed a state of emergency, as recommended by the Prime Minister.

It is now effective throughout France, and I expanded the ability to carry out police searches in every department of continental France.

A new legal regime

But with the acts of war on November 13, the enemy has taken things to a new level. Democracy is capable of responding. Article 2 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen affirms that safety and resistance against oppression are fundamental rights. So we must exercise them.

In accordance with these principles, we will provide the means to once again guarantee the safety of our fellow citizens.

A bill prolonging the state of emergency for three months, adapting its content to the changes in threats and technologies, will be brought before Parliament on Wednesday.

In fact, the law of 3 April 1955 which governs the state of emergency cannot really match the kind of technologies and threats we face today. It includes two exceptional measures: house arrest and police searches. These two measures offer useful means to prevent terrorist acts. I will ensure that they are fully implemented and strengthened. The Prime Minister will therefore propose to Parliament that we adopt a comprehensive legal scheme for each of these provisions. And you, parliamentarians, I invite you to vote on them before the end of the week.

But we have to go beyond the emergency situation. We must develop our constitution to allow the government authorities to take action against terrorism that incites war, in accordance with the rule of law.

Our Constitution currently has two specific provisions that are not appropriate for the situation we are in. The first involves Article 16 of the Constitution. It specifies that the regular functioning of public authorities be suspended. The president will then take such measures as warranted by the circumstances, overriding the distribution of the constitutional powers. And then there’s Article 36 of the Constitution, which relates to the state of siege. This isn’t appropriate either. A state of siege is decreed in situations of imminent peril resulting from a foreign war or an armed insurrection. In this situation, various powers are then transferred from the civil to the military authorities.

Neither of these provisions is suited to the situation we find ourselves in. The regular functioning of the government authorities – and we are proving that today – has not been interrupted. Transferring power to the military authorities would be inconceivable. However, we are at war. But this war is a different kind of war, we are facing a new kind of adversary. A constitutional provision is needed to deal with this emergency. We need to have an appropriate tool to provide a framework for taking exceptional measures for a certain period without recourse to the state of siege and without compromising public freedoms.

Other measures

This revision of the Constitution must be accompanied by other measures. One matter at issue is the deprivation of nationality. The deprivation of nationality should not result in making someone stateless, but we need to be able to strip French nationality from an individual found guilty of a terrorist act or other acts against a country’s fundamental interests even if he was born a French person, if he has another nationality.

In the same way, we must be able to prohibit dual nationals from returning to our country if they constitute a terrorist threat, unless they agree to be closely monitored, as is the case in Britain.

We should be able to expel more rapidly foreigners who represent an especially serious threat to public order or the country’s security, but we should do so in accordance with our international commitments.

I know that other proposals have been made to strengthen the surveillance of certain individuals, especially those who are on file. The government, in a spirit of national unity, will ask the Conseil d’Etat to look at whether these proposals are in accordance with our international commitments and our basic laws. That ruling will be made public and I will draw all the consequences.

Ladies and gentlemen, parliamentarians, I ask you to think about the decision that I have taken. I will ask the Prime Minister to prepare this revision with you so that it can be adopted as soon as possible because we, or you, will extend the state of emergency beyond the 12-day period to three months. But after the state of emergency is lifted, we must observe the rule of law in our efforts to combat terrorism.

Strengthening resources

Since the threat is going to continue and we will be involved in the fight against Daesh for a long time abroad and at home, I also decided to substantially strengthen the resources available to the justice system and the security forces.

First, the investigation services and anti-terrorist judges should, within the context of judicial proceedings, be able to have recourse to the whole range of intelligence techniques offered by new technology, whose use is authorized, within an administrative context, through the intelligence law. Criminal proceedings should also, as far as possible, take account of the specific nature of the terrorist threat.

Secondly, the magistrates should have access to the most sophisticated investigation methods, notably in order to combat the trafficking of arms because terrorist acts are committed with these illegal weapons. Penalties will be significantly increased.

Lastly, in the face of violent terrorism, the self-defense of police officers and the conditions under which they can use their weapons should be addressed within the framework of the rule of law.

But I am also aware that we need to further strengthen our resources because if we are at war, we cannot just use the provisions that we had a few years ago in the law on military planning and other texts, which were aimed at preserving the security of our citizens.

Five thousand additional jobs for police officers and gendarmes will be created within the next two years in order to bring the total to 10,000 security-related jobs over five years. The creation of these jobs will benefit the anti-terrorist services, the border police and, more generally, the country’s overall security. Similarly, the Ministry of Justice will add 2,500 additional jobs in the prison service and the judiciary service. The customs service will need an additional 1,000 employees in order ensure border control.

As for our armed forces, they are increasingly needed for operations abroad, which we will continue in order to ensure the necessary security of our compatriots. So there, too, I have decided that there will be no cutbacks in defense personnel until 2019. And this reorganization of our armed forces will benefit operational, cyber defense intelligence units. The government will, as swiftly as possible, submit a new plan for changes in defense personnel up to 2019.

I also want to make better use of military reservists who are still being underused in our country, while we do have this resource. Reservists form a strong link between the nation and the army. They could in the future form a national guard that is trained and available.

All these budgetary decisions will be taken within the framework of the Finance Law, which is, at the moment, under discussion for 2016. They will necessarily result in extra spending, but under these circumstances, I believe that the security pact will have precedence over the stability pact.

In conclusion

In my determination to combat terrorism, I want France to remain itself. The barbarians attacking it want to disfigure it. They will not succeed. They will never prevent us from living, from living the way we want to, freely and fully, and we must demonstrate that with cool heads. And I’m thinking of the young people. I am thinking of those who feel wounded through all these victims and are wondering whether they can still live in a state governed by the rule of law.

In the face of this new context of war, the Republic must equip itself with the means to eradicate terrorism, while upholding our values and without compromising the rule of law.

We will eradicate terrorism because the French want to continue to live together without fearing anything from their neighbors.

We will eradicate terrorism because we are attached to freedom and to raising France’s profile around the world.

We will eradicate terrorism so that the movement of people and the mixing of cultures can continue and so that human civilization is enriched.

We will eradicate terrorism so that France can continue to lead the way.

Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it.



The mission of the Vimy Report is to inject new information that will raise the quality of public discussion on security and defence issues, to do so with impact, and thereby to educate and influence the ultimate decision-makers: citizens and their elected representatives.

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