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CRIME

ANALYSIS: Are crime rates really spiralling in France?

A spate of recent violent attacks has pushed crime and security on the top of the political agenda in France. But is French society really more violent than ever or is this just all political grandstanding?

ANALYSIS: Are crime rates really spiralling in France?
French President Emmanuel Macron and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin paid visit to the police station in Montpellier, southern France, on April 19th to talk about security. Photo: Guillaume HORCAJUELO / POOL / AFP

One year ahead of the presidential elections, for which he is expected to run for a second term, President Emmanuel Macron has toughened up his talk on crime.

In a long interview with the right-wing French newspaper Le Figaro, published on Sunday, Macron warned that “everyday violence” was on the rise in France and vowed to “push back delinquency everywhere”.

It came after a spate of high profile crimes – including gang brawls, murders and kidnappings – that has caused alarm in France. Critics of Macron claim the country is becoming more dangerous by the day under his rule.

But is this true?

What the experts say

“I don’t see any evidence that the situation has deteriorated significantly,” criminologist Sébastian Roché told The Local. 

Roché is one of France’s leading researchers on police and crime. One of his specialities is youth delinquency, which has been a main topic in France of late following several reports of gang brawls, sometimes involving teenagers as young as 15.

“There are problems, which are real,” Roché said, but “if we back up a bit historically, France remains a relatively safe country.”

Homicides

The most secure way of measuring insecurity, Roché said, is the homicide rate. The reason is simple: the rate does not depend on reporting trends. Police have to register all homicides whether they are reported or not. This makes it the best measurement of crime levels in a country, and it is also comparable with other countries.

France’s homicide rate – which varies between 1 and 1.5 per 100,000 inhabitants – is in line with the European average. The most comparative rates show France at 1.2, the UK’s rate is also 1.2, while the rate in the United States is around four times higher that of France: 5 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data from 2018.

The below graphic from Our World in Data illustrates the difference.

The number of homicides in France has remained quite stable in recent years, with the exceptions of two notable spikes marking the terror attacks in Paris (2015) and Nice (2016).

The graphic below shows the number of total homicides registered in France between 2014 and April 2021.

Graphic: French Interior Ministry

The graphic shows that there has been an increase in homicides in 2021, but it is one that aligns itself with the broader trend of fluctuations than an unusual spike and follows a low rate in 2020 (when most types of crime fell during the two periods of lockdown).

Looking back a bit further, the general trend has been a steady fall. Until the 1990s France had over 1,600 murders a year, nearly double the around 850 recorded in most recent years. When it rose to 970 in 2019, some French media alerted that the homicide rate was on a “worrying” rise, by 8 percent in a year. But in 2020 the tally dropped back to 863.

Reading the news can give a different impression than these statistics. Back in February, far-right magazine Valeurs Actuelles ran an article with the headline: “Between 2000 and 2020, the number of homicides has spiked by 90 percent in France.” 

The claim, later debunked by French media as false, was based on another interview with Le Figaro, in which a criminologist warned that a “discrete epidemic” of crime was spreading in France.

But the criminologist in question was talking about “homicidités“, an umbrella term that muddles homicides and attempted homicides, and which officials warn could be greatly increased by a general increase in the tendency of reporting crimes, particularly domestic abuse.

Other types of crime

“With phenomena as sensitive as fear of crime, you need to be as careful as possible when looking at statistics,” Renée Zauberman, a sociologist at the French Scientific observatory for crime and justice (OSCJ), told The Local.

“You cannot draw conclusions from every short-term survey.”

Another important factor is that, when French police collect data of different types of crimes, these only include those crimes that were reported to the police.

Some crimes – like sexual violence – are more likely to go unreported than others – like a burglary or car theft – where the victim needs to report the crime to get claim their insurance.

To improve its crime statistics, France has, like several other countries have, begun incorporating citizen reports that include crimes that went unreported.

These reports, known as enquêtes Cadre de vie et sécurité (CVS), are considered to more accurately reflect the reality than the number of crimes reported to the police.

The graphic below shows the number of violent attacks on over-15s in France from 2014 until April 2021. The blue line is the incidents recorded by police, the red line reflects numbers reported in the CVS surveys.

Since 2014, the trend has been a steady increase in this form for violence, interrupted by a steep drop during the lockdown in the spring of 2020. However this rise could also reflect an increase in people reporting the crimes.

ANALYSIS: Is youth crime in France really ‘out of control’?

When looking at car thefts and burglaries – the two types of crime that alongside homicides are the most credible statistics – both are declining.

This graphic shows the number of car thefts registered since 2014 and until April 2021.

Graphic: French Interior Ministry

This graphic shows the same for burglaries:

Graphic: French Interior Ministry

Sexual violence, on the other hand, has seen quite a steep rise since the 2014. This rise is, at least partially, due to more victims reporting sexual violence.

READ ALSO: Domestic violence and rape cases on rise in France as lockdown causes other crimes to fall

Graphic: French Interior Ministry

So why is everyone talking about violence and crime?

But even if the general trend is a relatively stable one, this does not mean that France doesn’t have any problems with crime or the fear or crime.

When Macron travelled to Montpellier this week to show that he was cracking down on drug trafficking, it was in response to inhabitants raising the alarm that the southern city has become infested with drug-related crime since the first Covid lockdown last spring.

READ ALSO: ‘Young people are more armed’: Macron warned about rise in violence

Other cities such as Dijon have struggled with brutal gang rivalries that have traumatised locals.

However the gap between the reality and what people perceive it to be, is jarring.

“Seventy percent of the French population consider that criminal activity has increased a lot in recent months,” Jérôme Forquet, a political scientist at the polling institute IFOP, told France Info on Monday.

He added that “70 percent consider crime to be equally important” as the coronavirus pandemic. It was perceived to be more pressing than climate change, “at the same level of unemployment.”

Knowing that his main challengers will come from the political right, Macron wants to silence criticisms that he is too soft on crime. This is a common political strategy in France, criminologist Roché explained, adopted by presidential hopefuls in several previous elections.

“There is a tendency to dramatise the situation and then frame yourself as the one who will come to the rescue,” he said. “Like a white knight.”

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

The potential emergence of a far-right government in Italy has put the European Union on alert for disruptions, with fears that unity over the war in Ukraine could be jeopardised.

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni and the League’s Matteo Salvini are slated to be the big winners in Sunday’s general election on a firmly “Italians First” agenda, in which officials in Brussels largely play the role
of the bogeyman.

The biggest worries concern the economy.

Italy’s massive debt is seen as a threat to European stability if Rome turns its back on the sound financing championed by outgoing prime minister, Mario Draghi, a darling of the EU political establishment.

A victory by Meloni and Salvini would follow fast on an election in Sweden where the virulently anti-migration and eurosceptic Sweden Democrats entered a ruling coalition, just months before the Scandinavian country is due to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

But officials in Brussels said they would not jump to conclusions about Italy, cautiously hanging on to reassurances made by key right-wing players ahead of the vote.

Giorgia Meloni delivers speech at party rally

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni (Rear C on stage) delivers a speech on September 23, 2022 in Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

“This is not the first time that we risk confronting governments formed with far-right or far-left parties,” said European Commissioner Didier Reynders, a veteran of EU politics.

“Let voters choose their elected representatives. We will react to the actions of the new government and we have instruments at our disposal,” he added.

That was echoed by Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, who warned that Brussels had “tools” to deal with errant member states.

“My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we’re working together,” she said.

Anti-immigration League leader Matteo Salvini condemned the EU chief’s comments on Friday, calling them “squalid threats”.

READ ALSO: How would victory for Italy’s far right impact foreigners’ lives?

‘Benefit of the doubt’

Italy has huge amounts of EU money on the line. It is awaiting nearly 200 billion euros in EU cash and loans as part of the country’s massive share of the bloc’s coronavirus recovery stimulus package.

In order to secure each instalment, the government must deliver on a long list of commitments to reform and cut back spending made by previous administrations.

“To do without the billions from the recovery plan would be suicidal,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors institute.

“We will give them the benefit of the doubt,” said an EU official, who works closely with Italy on economic issues.

and right-wing parties Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the League (Lega) and Forza Italia at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, ahead of the September 25 general election.

(From L) Leader of Italian far-right Lega (League) party Matteo Salvini, Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italian far-right party Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni, and Italian centre-right lawmaker Maurizio Lupi on stage on September 22, 2022 during a joint rally of Italy’s coalition of far-right and right-wing parties. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

“We will judge them on their programme, who will be the finance minister. The names being mentioned are people that we in Brussels are familiar with,” the official added.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

However, when it comes to Russia, many fear that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will find in Italy a quick ally in his quest to water down measures against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A longtime friend of the Kremlin, Salvini has promised that he will not try to undo the EU sanctions. But many believe that his government will make the process more arduous in the coming months.

Whether the war or soaring inflation, “what we are facing in the coming months is going to be very difficult and very much test European unity”, said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive at the European Policy Centre.

The likely election result in Italy is “not going to help in making some of these hard decisions”, he added.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens on election day and when do we get the results?

France’s European affairs minister, Laurence Boone, pointed to the headache of the far-right’s unpredictability.

“One day they are for the euro, one day they are not for the euro. One day they support Russia, one day they change their minds,” she told French radio.

“We have European institutions that work. We will work together. But it is true that it is worrying,” she added

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