Hollande 'ni, ni' on Quebec

2012-10-15 18:04

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Paris - President Francois Hollande said on Monday that France would return to its policy of "non-interference, non-indifference" on the question of the independence of the Canadian province of Quebec.

Meeting with Quebec's new separatist premier Pauline Marois, Hollande said France was going back to its longstanding position, after his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy dramatically broke with the tradition.

"This formula has been in place for 30 years. It has been carried out by all the successive [French] governments. So this formula prevails today," Hollande said. "I am for continuity."

First laid out in 1977, the "ni, ni" policy - as it is known in French - makes France officially neutral on the question of Quebec independence but indicates support to Quebeckers should they choose to separate from the rest of Canada.

The formula has allowed France to continue what many see as its subtle support for Quebec independence - embodied in ex-president Charles de Gaulle's 1967 "Long Live a Free Quebec!" speech in Montreal - without sparking a diplomatic row with Ottawa.

Sarkozy, defeated by the Socialist Hollande for the presidency in May, angered Quebec separatists with repeated attacks on the independence movement, sneering at what he called "sectarianism" and "self-confinement".

Following the talks with Marois, Hollande also praised "the close links" between France and Quebec and the feelings of "partnership, fraternity and solidarity" between the country and the province.

Marois hailed the French president's remarks.

"President Hollande chose his words this morning by telling us he was still standing at our sides and that our relationship based on solidarity would continue," she said.

She said her three-day visit to France was taking place in a "very cordial" atmosphere and that French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who she is to meet on Tuesday, would travel to Quebec next spring.

As well as Ayrault, Marois will on Tuesday meet with Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici and on Wednesday with French business leaders.

Marois's Parti Quebecois, the standard-bearer of the mostly French-speaking Canadian province's independence movement, won control of Quebec's National Assembly last month, trouncing the federalist Liberals who had ruled since 2003.

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