Analysis

Is Macron’s Law and Order Offensive Justified?

Some crimes are up. The French believe prison sentences are too light.

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Renaud Muselier, president of the Regions of France, in Paris, November 15, 2019 (Elysée/Kadidia Nimaga)

French president Emmanuel Macron has proposed to hire an additional 10,000 cops before his term expires in a year, tighten laws against online hate speech and revise laws on criminal responsibility that allowed the killer of an elderly Jewish woman to go free.

In an interview with the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, the liberal head of state warns that “everyday violence” is on the rise and vows to “push back delinquency everywhere.”

The law-and-order offensive has inevitably been framed abroad as Macron’s attempt to take the wind out of Marine Le Pen’s sails. This isn’t wrong per se; he is likely to face the far-right leader in next year’s presidential election. But it substitutes for an analysis of whether the measures are justified.

Crime rates

The French think so. Seven in ten believe crime has increased, according to an Ifop survey.

They are half-right. Burglaries and car thefts haven’t gone up since Macron was elected in 2016, but (sexual) assaults and fraud have.

French homicide rates are still low by international standards. America has four times as many murders per year, adjusted for population.

French murder rates spiked in 2015 and 2016, when Muslim terrorists killed 130 and 86 people in Paris and Nice, respectively. But the fact that two attacks could have such an impact on the statistics underscores how few murders are otherwise committed in France.

Lax

A survey in March found that 81 percent of voters believe the punishments meted out by French judges are too lax; a perception that will have been reinforced by the acquittal of Kobili Traoré.

Traoré, a Malian immigrant, broke into the flat of his retired Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, and killed her by throwing her off a third-floor balcony, yelling “God is great!” Various courts, up to the Court of Cassation, refused to convict Traoré, arguing heavy cannabis use had put him in a state of “psychosis”.

Macron has proposed to change the law, saying, “Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should, not in my view, remove your criminal responsibility.” This, too, has been framed as an outrageously reactionary statement in left-wing media.

Crime figures do not suggest there is a crisis of antisemitism in France, but opinion polls and the emigration of French Jews to Israel do. It is another issue on which Le Pen — whose father and predecessor as party leader, Jean-Marie, notoriously and repeatedly downplayed the Holocaust — is taking Macron to task.

She has also sided with twenty retired generals who warn of “civil war” in a letter to the right-wing magazine Valeurs actuelles. The former officers accuse France’s elected politicians of cowardice in the face of “mortal danger”, including Islamist terror and violence against police.

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