Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- So far, it seems that the main contenders in the race of the French presidential elections are Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy. However, Royal, the socialist candidate, who is a mother of four children, and whose husband is the leader of the Socialist Party, has a special quality, namely that she challenges the male-dominated French political traditions, because she is the first woman to compete in this race in France.
In this interview, Royal talked about her plans if she were to achieve the highest office in France with regard to the deteriorating problems of unemployment in her country, what it meant to be the first woman in France who might reach the Elysee Palace, and her stance toward the crisis in Iraq and the peace process in the Middle East. Royal considered that were the electorate to choose a woman for government they would be linking her to prosperity and peace. With regard to Iran she said that she was against Iran’s nuclear plans, including its non-military program. At the same time she stressed the need for withdrawing the US troops from Iraq in coordination with the Iraqis.
The Following is the full test of the interview:
Q: Segolene Royal, Welcome! What’s Segolene? What does it mean? It’s a very special name.
A: It’s a first name originally from the East of France. It’s an old fashioned first name.
Q: You are the first ever woman to run for office in France. Do you remember the exact moment that you decided upon this?
A: It happened progressively. I didn’t decide it. Public opinion did. The French people led me to the front lines and trusted me and at that moment, I became involved in the movement.
Q: Did you understand that by running you would be making history?
A: Yes. From the outset, I’ve been aware of the historic responsibility that I had, and at the same time, I thought about the exceptional convergence between a woman with a hardworking political experience and a historic moment; I didn’t have the right to not run.
Q: India, Turkey, and Pakistan which are supposed to be less developed than America and France have or have had women Prime Ministers. Suddenly, we are so excited about Hilary running for America and you running in France; how do you explain that?
A: I think it is for the same reasons paradoxically. The countries you mentioned need peace, prosperity, education and the people’s vows brought them also towards women in order that they weight for peace, prosperity, and education and environment protection.
Q: Do you believe that politically, you are not treated equally or taken seriously because you are a woman?
A: Of course. I think that all the women who become involved in politics are treated in the same way. They rate their physical aspect and above all, there is a permanent doubt about their credibility and their stature. They do not have the height or the “suit”. So we have to do more; we do not have the right to make mistakes. This is why we go forward and we’re forced to be the best.
Q: What do you think is the biggest problem in France today?
A: The main problem in France is unemployment, especially amongst the youth. I’ve launched a movement called “Desirs d’avenir” (Desires of a Future). I would like young people in France to be able to find jobs because it is from there that France will rise. I can’t stand hopelessness amongst young people, especially amongst the qualified ones who have difficulties finding a job. I would like France to hold out its hand to them.
Q: Last year, there were riots in France. Can you tell us more about these riots? Why did they take place?
A: I think that it is a rebellion from the young people who cannot stand that the Republic does not integrate them. This rebellion started also from a refusal of a government reform. The right wing government tried to impose a reform, the “C.P.E.” which was an insecure working contract, specifically for the young people. The youth who have already suffered from unemployment would not accept their position getting worse.
Q: What do you suggest for this segment of society in your agenda?
A: I think it is the battle for employment. I set up the Suburban States General in order to respond to their concerns about culture, education, scholastic achievement; [addressing] the single mothers to create jobs for parents so that they regain their dignity, and so the children find again the meaning of the scholastic effort, and the fight against employment discrimination. In the suburbs, when a young person has exerted effort to get a diploma, and is unemployed, the younger brothers and sisters do not work hard at school and this is what damages and degrades the trust.
Q: Let’s talk about another painful issue: Iraq. You were in opposition to the invasion but what do you think should be done now?
A: Firstly, the French people were against this intervention like all the European peoples. Today, the situation in Iraq is dramatic. The damages are extensive. It’s now up to Iraq to put in place a process that allows the American troops to withdraw. I think that once again, we hit the deep problem of the economic and social development so the international aid must come in order for economic and social development to bring back peace and trust.
Q: So you think that America should leave?
A: Yes, and at the same time, it is up to Iraq to define the conditions of this withdrawal. I think that the damages have been considerable.
Q: Since the war in Iraq, the relationship between France and America deteriorated. If you are elected, how will you rectify this?
A: I do not mix up Bush’s America with the American people. The American people are our friends, and I hope that the partnership is strengthened in the research field, in culture, and in the exchanges between young people. The American people are the example of the liberty and of the enterprising mind. We have a lot to learn about each other. Therefore, I do not mix up the two. For me, America is not Bush’s America.
Q: With regards to nuclear power in Iran, I read that President Chirac decided to send an envoy there. What is your position?
A: I have a firm position against the Iranian nuclear project, not allowing them access to the civil nuclear [technology]. Because I was Minister of Environment, I oversaw the nuclear installations, and I know by experience that when we have mastered the technology of the enriched uranium for civil purposes, we can then master the enriched uranium for military use. As Iran refuses to be controlled, I am against Iran’s access to civil nuclear [technology].
Q: Turkey has been trying to gain entry to the European Union. Do you support Turkey?
A: The process has begun. We cannot suddenly close the doors to Turkey. We are pleased that countries like Turkey would like to embrace European values. At the same time, I think that we should pause in order to succeed with a European Union with 27 countries. If this works well, Europe could then look over its borders.
Q: Global warming has become a key issue of debate. What do you think about environmental issues and how do you prioritize environment?
A: It is very important for me. I said that I would like France to become the country of environmental excellence. I was Minister of Environment. I am the head of a region; a region that I preside over. I made it the region of the environmental excellence in being involved strongly with the economic networks of the ecological development. I think that it is a chance for France that is already very late. So, Nicolas Hulot’s pact is going to be included in my presidential project. I think that it is very useful because it is about time to give a human meaning back to progress.
Q: Which female figures inspire you?
A: A revolutionary woman called Oleinde Degoude who fought for “women citizenship”. She was not successful. It took a long time before French women obtained the right to vote and was one of the last European countries [to allow women to vote]. She was executed and even though she did not succeed, the following generations of women relit the torch of this rebellion.
Q: Are you a revolutionary?
A: Yes, but I hope that I am not going to have my head cut off…even if some people feel like doing that to me these days!
Q: How you do juggle campaigning and motherhood?
A: First of all by being in good health. I am the fourth child of a family of eight children so I know what it means to be tough, to sort things out, and to get straight to the point. I think that all women are aware of the difficulty to combine family life and professional life. That pushed me in my political activity to create parenthood vacations, to put in place child care centers, to claim the equal salary for women. Because as I had this problem, I want all women to benefit from the progress to allow them to have a clear conscience when they are at work and a good conscience when they are with their children.
Q: You were the first woman in French politics to openly talk about your pregnancy.
A: Yes. There was a period, not so long ago, when women would hide their pregnancy. It was the old idea that a woman who had children had nothing in her head, so women had to hide their maternity so that they would be taken seriously. I claimed my maternity whilst I was a minister to help all the women impose their femininity and so that they are not subjected to discrimination because of the possibility of having children.
Even today, there is a 20% gap or more between the salaries of men and women under the pretext that one day women would have to stop working because of their children. That means from a professional standpoint, that men work more than women so the salary inequalities, which are subconsciously linked to the fact that women bear children, are totally outrageous.
Q: You have visited Lebanon and Israel, where do you stand regarding a Palestinian state?
A: My position is the same as that of France. Israel has the right to its security and the Palestinians have the right to a safe state. I think that the peace efforts have to be absolutely pursued and supported in order to have a good balance very soon.
Q: Would you meet one of the organizations such as Hezbollah or Hamas that Washington describes as terrorist organizations?
A: There have been many problems regarding this subject. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization, so I think that we cannot meet them. If one day we have to comply to accelerate the peace process, it will all depend on the position of these organizations’ representatives. If there was a real peace process within the international organizations, we would have to gather everyone around the same table and that would be a major step. However, unfortunately, today, there is a climate of tension which is getting worse.
Asharq Al Awsat: In London recently, there was much controversy surrounding the Big Brother reality TV show. What is racism to you in one sentence?
Royal: It is rejecting the other because of the difference of skin color.
Q: What does freedom of the press mean to you?
A: Apparently, the media is free in developed countries and in France. But, we have to be very vigilant about the financial concentrations which slowly will allow some groups to control media groups.
Q: What does anti-Semitism mean to you?
A: It is hatred against the one who is Jewish. It is terrible because it is the prolongation of the Shoah [the Holocaust], the biggest crime committed by humans against humans.
Asharq Al Awsat: Tell us about your campaign so far?
Royal: I think that it is when people who have had no voice have begun to speak for themselves that emotion is at its strongest. For instance, two days ago, I was at a town meeting in Roubaix. A woman stood up and said, “I’ve come to this debate, and I’m going to go home tonight because I don’t know where else to go and that is where my children are and my husband is going to beat me. I am an abused wife; I don’t have any way out. What can you do for me?”
Q: What did you do?
A: I promised that as soon as I am elected, the first law I pass will be a law against violence towards women i.e. a law that allows the woman and children to stay in the family home and obliges the abusive husband to leave. At the moment it is the opposite: the wife has to leave with her children, and when she has nowhere to go, she is subject to violence.
Q: What happened to the woman? Did she return to the family home?
A: Yes. We called her to find out what was going on; we let the police know what was happening. These are very strong images. You can see that my way of campaigning right now is to go to see people in these town meetings, to listen to them, to let them have their say in order to build my presidential project.
Q: What kind of role will your husband play if you are elected?
A: That depends on him; he is a very talented politician in his own right. But I don’t want to predict what will come next.
The presidential election in France is about the relationship between one person and the French people. But behind that person, there is a team, a family…
He has organized this whole political organization and that has given the Socialists today and the whole left, a hope of winning. So there is this complementary role. But he is facing a lot of questions and media scrutiny.