Just hours before a truck driver reportedly shouting “Allahu Akhbar” mowed crowds down, killing 84, President Hollande warned it is right-wing populism that threatens France most.
In the interview yesterday, which traditionally takes place annually on July 14, Mr Hollande touched upon the threat of terrorism in France, which has seen several major Islamist attacks in less than two years. The French president took a swipe at Front National voters during the interview as well as underlining that populism is perhaps the primary danger facing the country.
The Socialist head of state said the state of emergency imposed after horrific terror attacks last November would not be extended beyond July 26. After last night’s attack, however, Prime Minister Valls confirmed today that Parliament will next week vote to extend it. Under a state of emergency, police are given additional powers.
During the interview Mr Hollande also defended his performance in office, and his government’s track record on dealing with the economy.
Turning his eye to next year’s general election in France Mr Hollande slammed Front National voters and marked populism as the biggest threat to the nation.
Calling Front National voters “wrong”, the French President said: “The 2017 [General Election] challenge will be much greater than that of 2012. What threatens us is a serious attack on democracy”.
“What threatens us is the rise of populism, but I will not let myself be intimidated by threats”, the President added.
This is not the first time it figures in the French government have seemed to view populism as a far greater threat to France than Islamism. This year the French government launched its first major communications campaign to “fight racism and discrimination”.
The €100 million campaign includes giant billboards and primetime television spots with which it can get its message across.
Gilles Clavreul, head of DILCRA (the “Interministerial Delegate for the fight against racism and anti-Semitism”), the government body overseeing the campaign, said:
“We cannot just sit and watch rising populism, extremism and radicalism in all its forms become a threat in the middle of our Republic.”
A similar attitude was on show just days ago, when the head of France’s security agency called on the France government to allocate more resources on the surveillance of “far right” organisations.
Patrick Calvar stated that while Islamist terror attacks are worrying, he was “more concerned about the radicalisation of society”.
Mr Calvar said he believes “all of Europe is in danger of rising extremism” and warned of key threats he believes the continent is facing:
“The temptations of populism, border closures, the inability of Europe to give a joint response, failure to adopt legislation applicable everywhere; we face enormous problems.”