France Debates the Right Answers
After a week of riots, France is grappling with finding answers. While President Macron seeks unity with mayors, there is a fierce debate in parliament over the right measures.
It is the mayors themselves, with their mobile phone footage, who first transmit images from the magnificent hall of the Elysée Palace to the waiting journalists outside.
In the footage, Macron, in a shirt with a microphone in hand, reassures, "We must be cautious, but I believe the peak of the riots is behind us. We all want to restore the republican order now. That is the top priority. And then, together with you, I want to find a profound answer."
An answer to 240 damaged schools, kindergartens, and libraries, to 1,000 destroyed businesses, dozens of burnt buses, and thousands of torched cars. An answer also to frustration, anger, and the feeling of being marginalized.
"Not the Same Old Recipes"
Macron says, "We will not be able to dig up the same old recipes to find an appropriate answer. Even if the worst is over, I do not want to pretend that this is just a footnote in history. We must find answers together that are commensurate with the events."
Macron insists that the nationwide massive police presence should be maintained as it acts as a deterrent. If this is not sufficient, security forces should take an offensive approach.
The meeting is also a form of mea culpa because, at the beginning of his first term, Macron called on mayors to contribute proposals for the development of difficult neighborhoods. However, he then quietly put these proposals aside.
Now, the President wants to find a long-term strategy. But first, he promises a law for the rapid reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure. Public buildings, transportation, as well as benches, bicycle stands, or surveillance cameras, should be quickly restored. The state will provide the necessary funds.
Some mayors expressed disappointment with the meeting with Macron, comparing it to group therapy.
Borne Wants to Hold Parents More Accountable
Just one kilometer away, on the other side of the Seine, members of the National Assembly are currently debating short-term measures.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announces that parents of rioters will be held accountable, even if their children are only involved in minor offenses. "There will be fines and mandatory courses so that they learn to fulfill their legal responsibilities."
What some mayors dismiss as "trivialities" receives applause from the right. Conservative Olivier Marleix of The Republicans would go even further, saying, "The time for apologies and impunity is over. Our criminal code provides for prison sentences and hefty fines for parents. If you allow your 14- to 15-year-old children to be out during a night of turmoil, you are violating your duty of supervision. That's what the law states; apply it!"
Outrage from the left. The debate about punishments is completely misguided, according to Mathilde Panot, the leader of the left-wing LFI party. She urges the government to address the question of what the police can and cannot do.
She says, "Only a political response can bring peace to the country. Peace cannot be mandated. Face the situation! Will you reverse the law that allows killing during traffic stops? Will you establish a truth commission to transparently address cases of police violence?"
For hours, the atmosphere remains heated in the afternoon. Mikael Taverne from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) calls for the expulsion of foreign troublemakers.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin responds passionately, "Ninety percent of those arrested are French and not foreigners. This is simply about delinquent youths, not foreigners. Many of us in this room, including myself, come from immigrant families. And we love our country. We do not want hatred towards the police or hatred towards foreigners. We want love for the Republic!"
In the heated atmosphere, Taverne from the RN seizes the microphone again and declares, "The only one who can provide an answer to the security problem in this country is Marine Le Pen! What this country truly needs is a change in government!"
Even a week after the death of Nahel due to a police officer's shot, France is still restless. The riots are subsiding, but the political turmoil in parliament is in full swing.