The rising tide of violence against France's local mayors

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The rising tide of violence against France's local mayors
French mayors play a vital role in society. Photo: AFP

As one French town said farewell to its mayor, who was killed while tackling fly-tippers, new figures have revealed the extent of violence and threats against local officials.


Jean-Mathieu Michel, 76, died after he pulled up and ordered two workers who were dumping rubble by the side of the road to take it away in the southern town of Signes, where he had been mayor for 36 years.

Now figures from the Ministry of the Interior reveal that in 2018, 361 mayors and their deputies were attacked.

Mayors at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel. Photo: AFP

The death of Signes' mayor has revived the feeling of abandonment of many local elected officials.

The role of mayor comes with many powers and responsibilities, and even village mayors are responsible for a bewildering array of tasks, from planning permission for home improvements to organising elections and preparing budgets.

READ ALSO Why village mayors are so important in France

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the trend is likely to increase with 317 attacks in 2016 and 332 in 2017.

Of the 361 mayors and deputy mayors who were victims of "wilful bodily harm" in 2018, 261 received threats or were victims of blackmail, 145 of "non-criminal physical violence" and 178 of verbal threats.

In a message read at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel by Jacqueline Gourault, Minister of Territorial Cohesion, Emmanuel Macron promised to "personally ensure that in the face of incivilities and the disintegration of the meaning of the State and the Nation by some, the answer is always firm, exemplary and without complacency".

There are more than 35,000 mayors in France and while jobs like the mayor of Paris come with a multi-million pound budget and a team of staff, just over half of French mayors oversee communes with less than 500 people, and take a very hands-on role in the community.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel, who was described as a "lovely man, devoted to his town".

Speaking after the funeral, Marie-Jeanne Beguet, mayor of the eastern French town of Civrieux, told French online news site 20 Minutes: "I think that citizens allow themselves to say or do things they would never have done before.

"Like for example insulting a mayor and using inappropriate terms. It happens very easily, there are no barriers anymore."




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