segunda-feira, 18 de julho de 2016
Nice upends French politics
Nice upends French politics
Previous solidarity in wake of terrorism disappears as presidential contenders stake out positions.
7/18/16, 6:14 PM CET
PARIS — They all insist they would never, ever use such a tragedy for petty political purposes.
Then the criticism starts. For the first time since the recent string of terror attacks started in France in 2012, the country’s political solidarity in the face of the ISIL threat has broken down. Conservative opposition leaders are now directly taking the Socialist government to task for not doing enough to prevent such atrocities.
French voters agree with them. Also for the first time, they have lost faith in the ability of French President François Hollande and his government to deal with terrorism. That’s a fundamental shift in public opinion that pollsters and politicians alike say will be a major determinant of the French presidential election next year.
Two-thirds of the French don’t trust the government to fight terrorism, according to an IFOP poll published Monday in Le Figaro. Compare that to the reaction after the January and November 2015 attacks, when a majority of the population approved Hollande’s reaction and saw him as a president who dealt with terror threats effectively. His popularity, low as it was, surged on a “national unity” reflex.
Now the hostility is becoming vocal. On Monday French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was booed in Nice after a minute’s silence in honor of the attack victims, as cries of “Resignation!” could be heard from the crowd.
Jérôme Fourquet, the IFOP pollster who directed the terrorism survey, cited several reasons behind what his team predicted would be “the third attack syndrome,” a feeling among the French electorate that enough is enough.
“The number of victims, the fact that there were children, that it happened during the festive Bastille Day celebration, all of this reinforces the emotional charge of the Nice events,” he said.
Add to this that the attack happened in a French province — “so it’s not ‘just in Paris’ anymore” — and the perpetrator’s use of a “mad truck signaling a limitless imagination on the part of terrorists,” and you get a politically explosive combination, Fourquet said.
The message hasn’t been lost on opposition politicians, who are also no longer keeping silent. Ten months before the presidential election, the electoral campaign has started in earnest — even in the heart of summer, when most of France is on holiday and politicians usually go silent.
The government finds itself attacked on two grounds: the specific circumstances of the Nice attacks; and its apparent inability to draw lessons from what happened in 2015.
The Right piles on
Alain Juppé was the first out of the gate. The veteran French politician and former prime minister, who is slightly ahead of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy in the conservative primary race, said on radio the day after the attack in Nice that “if all the measures had been taken, the drama wouldn’t have happened.”
French candidate for right-wing party Les Republicains, Alain Juppe, on July 18, 2016
French candidate for right-wing party Les Republicains, Alain Juppe, on July 18, 2016 | Tobias Schwartz/AFP via Getty Images
But he was quickly overtaken by Christian Estrosi, the conservative president of the Provence region and former mayor of Nice, who has become “the government’s first critic,” as Le Monde put it.
Estrosi — who defeated far-right National Front rising star Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the regional council election a month after the November 2015 Paris attacks — has accused the government of not providing the police reinforcement he had been requesting for weeks. Estrosi even said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve “lied” about the number of policemen that were present Thursday night on the Promenade des Anglais.
Sarkozy, who was on holiday last week and whose only previous reaction to the attack had been on Twitter and in a short written statement, came back from his summer retreat Sunday night to appear on television and pile on the criticism. The government “hasn’t done everything that could have been done in the last 18 months,” he said.
Naturally, the government couldn’t remain silent, so Valls and Cazeneuve put out a lengthy joint statement Sunday night. “No [French] government ever did as much in the fight against terrorism,” they said. They offered a long list of measures taken by the government — including a few demanded in recent days by opposition leaders that are already being implemented.
Sarkozy, for example, suggested in his TV interview that consulting jihad-linked websites should be made a criminal offence – which Valls and Cazeneuve reminded him has been the case since June.
As for Hollande, all his public statements since Friday have been of the predictable kind, calling for “national unity” and seeking to reassure the French that “France is a strong country,” as he has already said several times.
The problem for the French president and his government, however, is that they are caught in a losing battle that is not so much about specifics as about style and confidence.
“People simply have trouble trusting a president who announces at 1 p.m. that he will lift the state of emergency and then has to come at 3 a.m. in the morning to say it will be extended after all,” said Fourquet from IFOP. “You may think that the state of emergency is not the problem — after all Nice happened while it was still on — but voters don’t reason that way. They want someone they feel is in charge at the top. In those moments they want a commander-in-chief.”
Furthermore, Fourquet said, “Valls keeps repeating that we have to be ready for other attacks, that there will be other innocent victims. That may have worked in previous cases. Not any more. People don’t want a government who tells them that such dramas are unavoidable.”
The mood at the top is clear and was best summed up by a depressed Hollande adviser. “With each new terror attack, [Hollande’s] credibility is taking a hit, whatever we do. Meanwhile all the guys on the Right fight each other to out-Le-Pen Le Pen,” he said, referring to National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who has urged the government to aim for the “total eradication of Islamic fundamentalism.”
French far-right Front National party President and member of the European Parliament Marine Le Pen
French far-right Front National party President and member of the European Parliament Marine Le Pen | Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images
Criticism of the government is also one way for conservative primary candidates to demonstrate to their hardcore electorate that they’re the toughest of the lot. A Juppé adviser acknowledged that was his candidate’s prime motivation in coming out swinging so soon after the truck attack in Nice.
“You know that Sarkozy will come up with outrageous proposals that will make him look like a real tough guy, so you want to stake early the position of the reasonable leader who is firm against the government but won’t be drawn into a pissing contest with Sarko,” he said.
The positioning on the Right is important, because the conservative primary is looking more and more like the real contest for the presidential election — which could happen if Hollande loses all hope of making it to the second round of voting because of perceived haplessness in dealing with France’s terrorist threat.
The anger towards Hollande, however, might not necessarily hurt the chances of another Socialist candidate next year.
Fourquet said the whole French political debate has moved to the right on security issues — with the state of emergency, warrant-less administrative house searches, clampdowns on freedom of speech for radical Islam sympathizers, all happening under a Socialist government.
So even if it is plausible that Le Pen might get a bump in the polls, that wouldn’t automatically translate into electoral victory for her, Fourquet said.
Last year, in the regional election that took place one month after the November attacks, the Socialists weren’t trounced as expected and held some of their positions, while the National Front failed to gain control of any French region.
But voters’ reactions after Nice highlight the problem: To win on a law and order campaign the Socialists won’t be able to rely on Hollande.
His dilemma was summed up by conservative French MEP Arnaud Danjean in a tweet last Friday: “It’s not easy to explain that what reassures (i.e. state of emergency) is not what protects best.”
Hollande may try his best at reassuring, but he doesn’t look to the French like the man who can protect them.