French politicians worry about surge in pre-election violence

The head of France's main political parties are among those concerned about a surge of violent incidents in the run up to April's presidential election. A poll in November showed that one in ten French people said they approved of violence towards lawmakers.

Some analysts claim that the radicalisation of the anti-vaccine movement in France is leading to a surge in political violence
Some analysts claim that the radicalisation of the anti-vaccine movement in France is leading to a surge in political violence (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

French ruling party lawmaker Pascal Bois was at home asleep a few days after Christmas when firefighters banged on his front door to tell him his garage was in flames.

Startled by the noise in the early hours of the morning, Bois stumbled out of bed and went to inspect the damage, seeing the outside structure consumed by fire with his electric vehicle inside.

“I realised very quickly that it was a deliberate act,” said the married father of two, who had been on alert after receiving a bullet in the post in November.

“There’s a moment of shock, of course, but I got over it fairly quickly and did my best to keep calm.”

As well as the fire, graffiti had been daubed on the outside wall of his home in Chambly, 35 kilometres (21 miles) from Paris, saying: “No to the pass” and “It’s going to explode”.

The attack came as parliament was debating legislation to create a mandatory “vaccine pass” that meant only people jabbed against Covid-19 could enter bars and restaurants.

Bois, along with other members of parliament from President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move party, was in favour.

With France less than three months from the first round of presidential elections, to be followed by parliamentary polls in June, concern is growing about an increase in attacks against elected figures, particularly ruling party lawmakers.

Explanations range from the radicalisation of the anti-vax movement and a long-term trend of declining faith in the French democratic system to Macron’s policies and personality.

Increased protection

Since the attack on Bois’ home and a separate assault on an overseas island lawmaker who was pelted with seaweed on his doorstep, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has ordered greater police protection for parliamentarians.

In addition to the physical attacks, anonymous death threats in writing or over social media have exploded in numbers.

In the first 11 months of 2021, a total of 1,186 elected figures including 162 lawmakers lodged complaints for threats made against them, a rise of 47 percent compared with 2020, interior ministry figures show.

“Unfortunately over the last few years, there has been an increase in offences against elected figures,” Darmanin told RTL radio, adding that anti-vaxxers were lately responsible for “huge numbers of complaints about threats”.

A recent survey showed that, for a significant minority of French people, such offences were justified.

In a poll published by the Jean-Jaures Foundation think-tank in November, more than one in ten people said they approved of “violent behaviour towards lawmakers and their staff, at their offices or homes”.

A total of 40 percent of people thought that the directly elected lower house of parliament was of “little use” or “no use at all” — a huge increase from a comparable study in 1985 that showed only 13 percent felt this way.

Last Tuesday, all the heads of the main political parties in parliament entered together along with the speaker Richard Ferrand in a rare show of unity to denounce what they called “the rise in hatred.”

“When it comes to representatives of the people being assaulted on the basis of their opinions or their votes, it is the heart of democracy that is attacked,” they wrote in a public letter.

‘Yellow Vest’ movement

Isabelle Sommier, a specialist in political violence at Paris’ Sorbonne University, says attacks against elected figures have increased significantly since the election of Macron in 2017.

Some parliamentarians have had their office windows smashed, others have been victims of arson. In certain cases, they have arrived at work to find that protesters have bricked up their doors overnight.

Attacks on homes, like the one experienced by Pascal Bois on the morning of December 30, are still rare.

“We’re seeing an increase in the phenomenon in terms of absolute numbers but above all in the level of violence,” said Sommier, who co-authored the book “Political Violence in France” earlier this year.

“Over the last few months and weeks, it’s been accelerating.”

Part of the explanation can be found in the so-called “Yellow Vest” anti-government movement, composed mostly of protesters from rural areas and small towns, whose often violent demonstrations shook the country from 2018.

The anti-vax movement appears to overlap with the “Yellow Vests” in many respects, geographically and socio-economically, Sommier notes.

Sommier said that Macron had radicalised this fringe of the French population through his pro-business policies, as well as his highly centralised way of governing, and his abrasive personal style.

The 44-year-old leader, who was slapped in the face during an impromptu walkabout in southeast France in June, declared earlier this month that he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated.

Sommier emphasised that France is less violent than in the volatile post-war period that saw major social unrest, as well as several assassination attempts on former president Charles de Gaulle.

But after the murder of two lawmakers across the Channel in Britain since 2016, many French elected figures are feeling jittery.

“I’m a bit more watchful of things around me,” Bois told AFP.

“And I keep a look out to make sure I’m not being followed in my car. All of us have become used to doing the same thing.”

Member comments

  1. The “hatred” is not abstract, it is hatred for the pass vaccinale – and all that this oppressive measure implies. The French people are rightly angry about this… I do not ever advocate violence but I am not surprised by it. The media call it an “anti-vaxx” movement, but it is not, it’s an anti-pass and pro-freedom movement.

    1. Eh? The pandemic problem is neither the vaccine nor the Pass, but the Virus!

      The Pass is massively popular, and has done much of what was intended (encourage most of the dubious and doubters to get vaccinated). Unfortunately, there is a still too-large residue (c.10% of adults) who can be vaccinated but refuse to, universally for no sensible or coherent reason at all. Some of them (and probably a handful of others) have resorted to using a fake “Pass”.

      The revised Pass builds on the success of the original: It increases the desirability (motivation) to get vaccinated, now with appropriate booster, tries to crack down on the fake “Pass”, and closes the testing loophole (with some exceptions, such as those who have a VALID medical reason they cannot be vaccinated).

      There IS one annoyance with the revised Pass: The MANAGER of an establishment who doubts the validity of the presented Pass can now ask for ID. That is very unfortunate, but it’s a case of the stooopid polluting the well: Those using a fake “Pass” (specifically, someone else’s Pass). Those eejits are in favour of the Virus, supporting the biohazard enemy, as are also the voluntarily vaccinated.

      However much anger or protests there are at the Pass — probably very little (especially by French standards) — it’s completely misplaced. The problem is the Virus. The enemy is the Virus. What should be attacked is the Virus. The supporters of the Virus (the voluntarily unvaccinated) are both unhelpful and deluded; their actions are why the Pass exists (both in its original and now revised form).

      1. (Typo correction, sorry!) Those eejits are in favour of the Virus, supporting the biohazard enemy, as are also the voluntarily vaccinated ⇒ …voluntarily UNvaccinated.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.