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French President reinstates historic policy toward Quebec sovereignty

Quebec Prime Minister Pauline Marois, left, is accompanied by France's President Francois Hollande after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012.

Francois Mori/Associated Press

Premier Pauline Marois got what she came to Paris for, as French president François Hollande reinstated the historical policy governing diplomatic relations between France and Quebec.

After referring to the "closeness of the ties" and the "fraternity" that exists between France and Quebec, Mr. Hollande explained that the principle of "non-interference, non-indifference" in the future of the province that has prevailed since 1977 will remain his government's policy, although he did not repeat the formula itself.

"This formula has been in place for more than 30 years. It has been carried out by all the successive [French] governments, so this formula still prevails today. I am for continuity," he said during a short press conference after meeting for more than 50 minutes with Ms. Marois at the Elysée presidential palace.

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Mr. Hollande did not mention the controversy his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy sparked in Quebec when he dramatically broke with that tradition by dismissing Quebec sovereigntists' goals as bygone sectarianism.

The "non-interference, non-indifference" policy, or "ni-ni" as it is known in French, establishes that France would remain neutral in a referendum on Quebec independence but support Quebeckers should they democratically decide to leave Canada.

Asked if she was disappointed that Mr. Hollande had not used the "ni-ni" expression coined by former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Ms. Marois retorted that she had always said Mr. Hollande can pick his own words. "He chose his words by telling you that [France] will always be at our side," she said.

A smiling Ms. Marois said her meeting with Mr. Hollande was "very cordial." The French President walked down the stairs of the presidential palace to greet the Quebec Premier in the Elysée's courtyard under the watchful eye of the Republican guard. The two had met just a day before in Kinshasa, where Francophonie leaders gathered over the weekend.

One of the Quebec Premier's goals at this meeting was to inform the French President of the policies the new PQ government will carry out.

Ms. Marois briefed Mr. Hollande on the powers that she hopes to reclaim from the federal government. "We will rapidly try to repatriate the sums of money that are within our jurisdictions, and we will open talks on the repatriation of certain powers," she said, adding that she is aware the minority status "imposes certain limits."

Mr. Hollande and Ms. Marois discussed free trade, youth, culture, education and technical training during their meeting. "There are similarities between our objectives and in the means that we have chosen to reach them," Ms. Marois said.

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Both these newly elected leaders have chosen to tax their richest citizens more heavily to attain their deficit reduction targets, although the Marois government had to backtrack last week on applying the fiscal measures retroactively.

The Quebec mission in France continues on Tuesday and Wednesday. After addressing the French institute for international relations, Ms. Marois will meet Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Economy and Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici.

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