Why The Riots In France May Push Macron Further To The Right
The riots and looting continue after the police shooting death of a 17-year-old in the outskirts of Paris. Already embattled over labor reforms, French President Emmanuel Macron's hopes to make peace with center-left allies are getting pushed aside by demands for law and order.
– Analysis –
PARIS – After surviving multiple strikes and street protests this spring against his reform to raise France's retirement age from 62 to 64, Emmanuel Macron was counting on something of a truce. The French President, who was reelected last year on a centrist platform, told aides to plan on a period of 100 days, leading up to the July 14th Bastille Day national holiday, to bring calm to the country and kick-start the projects of his second term that had been slow to take off.
Any such plans have been shattered by urban riots and a sudden surge of violence following the death of young Nahel M last Tuesday, killed by a police officer at a traffic stop.
For the past five days, the riots have continued, accompanied by looting, fires and attacks on public buildings. According to the Association of French Mayors, 150 mayors’ offices or other municipal buildings have been attacked since Tuesday, an unprecedented number.
The riots and looting have affected not only low-income neighborhoods on the outskirts but also the upscale centers of major cities, such as Marseille. With 45,000 police officers deployed every night, the government is implementing an unprecedented mobilization that even surpasses the measures taken during the 2005 riots.
This firmness seems to be paying off. A slight and fragile calm was observed the past two nights. However, the situation is far from being under control. A new threshold of violence was crossed Saturday night with the attack on the residence of Vincent Jeanbrun, the mayor of L’Haÿ-Les-Roses, near Paris, with the intention of setting his house on fire while his wife and two young children were inside.
Macron’s schedule has been disrupted with one urgent priority: restoring calm. After returning earlier than planned from the European summit in Brussels, he then had to cancel his state visit to Berlin. Last March, social tensions related to the pension reform had already led to the cancellation of the visit to France by King Charles III of England.
The government is doing everything possible to avoid giving the impression that the situation is slipping out of control despite the shocking images circulating on social media.
Olympics on the horizon
“Everyone has mobilized so that we can quickly get out of this situation,” government spokesman Olivier Véran said on French public radio Sunday. The declaration of a state of emergency has been strongly demanded by Macron's opponents on the right and the far right, but is not currently on the agenda.
Still, Macron is seeking to get out ahead on the situation, meeting on Monday with the President of the National Assembly, Yaël Braun-Pivet, and the President of the Senate, Gérard Larcher. On Tuesday, he will meet with mayors from more than 220 municipalities affected by the riots.
Images of violence are circulating worldwide and raising legitimate concerns one year before the Olympic Games are scheduled to be held in Paris, The crisis is undermining the head of state. While he spoke of appeasement, he is now confronted with a security situation that has not been seen since the ‘yellow vest’ protests. “There are no more intermediary bodies, so there is no release valve. When there is a spark, it explodes,” notes an advisor.
Macron was attempting to broaden his majority.
Macron was attempting to broaden his majority to find pathways in the Assembly after the pension reform, but now he faces fierce criticism from the left, right, and far right.
The left reproaches him for not devoting enough attention and resources to marginalized neighborhoods, with the far-left France Insoumise going further by even refusing to call for calm.
Instead, the right accuses Macron of weakness in the face of rioters, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen demanding that the President receive the political forces represented in the Assembly to “discuss the serious situation in the country”.
A staff member works near burnt buses at the Fort d'Aubervilliers bus terminal, in north of Paris, France, June 30, 2023.
Led by Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti and Interior Minister Gérard Darmanin, the discourse of firmness is confronted with the reality that law enforcement forces are facing as they deal with unprecedented violence.
Playing both sides is over.
“The French people realize that the law is often not enforced,” notes one presidential advisor. Their frustration is becoming increasingly palpable, as shown by the virulent tract from the police unions Alliance and UNSA Police. “Tomorrow we will be in resistance, and the government will have to be aware of it,” they wrote before toning down their remarks in response to the outcry.
The remainder of Macron’s presidency will proceed differently. “The approach of playing to both sides is over – too bad for the left wing," says a presidential advisor. "We must embrace a rightward turn to meet the expectations of the French people."
Despite the government’s assurance that the schedule ahead continues as planned, including this week’s important Ecological Planning Council, the riots will inevitably change the situation. After the ‘yellow vests’, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine, Macron's presidency finds itself once again pushed and pulled by the force of events.
Another top Macron advisor put it this way: “He must now face up to the message sent during the presidential and legislative elections, something he has never done, that includes a strong demand for order and security.”
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