Eye on France: Politics and polemics as Strasbourg murder manhunt continues

Benjamin Griveaux, French government spokesman, 24 November 2017.
Benjamin Griveaux, French government spokesman, 24 November 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The French dailies continue to be preoccupied by the Strasbourg Christmas market killings, and by police efforts on both sides of the Rhine to apprehend Chérif Chekatt, the man suspected of carrying out those murders. In the absence of any concrete developments, since the police have more pressing concerns than keeping journalists and, in this age of internet instantaneity, Chérif Chekatt himself, informed of their activities, the papers have turned to analysis and polemic.


Central to the political debate is the question of the usefulness of the so-called fiches S or security files, the list of the 26,000-or-so people who are believed to pose a danger to France and who are subject to special attention by the security services.

The problem is that the Strasbourg suspect, like many of those behind earlier attacks, was already on that security watchlist.

Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the conservative Republicans party, has been asking how many attacks by those listed as security risks it will take before France adapts its laws to the struggle against terrorism. Wauquiez also wants the government to reimpose the state of emergency which followed the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, he wants the most dangerous of those on the S list put in preventive detention, and he says those listed who are not French nationals should be expelled.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the National Rally is also in favour of expulsions, and she wants the government to “attack Islamic organisations.” Le Pen has also called for the establishment of a national anti-terrorist prosecutor. She says fundamental changes are necessary since the current policy is clearly not working.

The authorities have simply let it be known that now is not the time for this sort of political point-scoring, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux complaining that a right-wing twitter competition is hardly appropriate while the nation is in shock.

French yellow vest crisis refuses to go away

The other key political concern has been the on-going “yellow vest” protests.

Should such demonstrations continue at a time when the forces of law and order are under extreme pressure to capture a dangerous suspect, especially considering security at hundreds of other Christmas markets has had to be reinforced?

The government has called for calm and responsibility, without imposing any special measures.

The hard-left has complained that the tragic events of Strasbourg are being instrumentalised in order to deflect the social and political anger of the gilets jaunes.

On other pages, and briefly . . .

An opinion poll in today’s Le Figaro suggests that Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally has profited most from the yellow vest crisis and will beat the ruling Republic on the Move party in next year’s European elections.

Le Pen’s rally is credited with 24 percent of voting intentions, against 18 percent for Emmanuel Macron’s marchers.

The mainstream right-wing Republicans come next with 11 percent, followed, in declining order, and all with less than ten percent, by the hard-left France Unbowed and the eco-friendly Green party. The struggling Socialists will, according to this poll at least, struggle to collect five percent of votes.

Paris makes the planet a greener place

The frequently criticized mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has struck a big blow for the environment, and for the lungs of her fellow citizens. Hidalgo took the European Commission to the European Union tribunal, complaining that the levels of nitrogen pollution which the commission has allowed the big car companies to get away with for diesel engines are, in actual fact, “a license to pollute”.

Le Monde reports that the Paris mayor’s case has been upheld by the tribunal, which basically decided that the commission was talking through its collective bum in setting the original limits, has no competence in the matter, and came up with legislation which would be impossible to test. The constructors have been told to go back to their drawing boards.

European leaders meet to consider their options

Business daily Les Echos says the other 27 nations in the European Union as currently constituted are now being held hostage by Great Britain because of the Brexit process which is getting beyond the control of anyone.

The 28 heads of state and government are meeting today and tomorrow in Brussels, under the imposing shadow cast by the imminent departure of London.
But Les Echos says that’s only the melting tip of the iceberg. French President Emmanuel Macron has serious domestic concerns. Germany’s Angela Merkel is literally on the way out. Theresa May is hanging on by the seat of her trouser-suit. Belgium and Spain currently have minority governments and no safety net. Italy and Hungary are unlikely to compromise on the crucial question of immigration. And don't mention Latvia!

On Theresa May’s chances of getting her 27 fellow leaders to show sufficient flexibility to soften the hearts of, for example, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, one Brussels diplomat offered what could well be the punch-line of a dodgy joke: “There’s no question of renegotiating the Brexit agreement,” he laconically observed, “but everything else is open to discussion.”

Theresa May probably didn’t find that very funny either.

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