OPINION: French politicians must stop slavishly protecting the police

Footage of French police tear-gassing football fans at the Stade de France has caused shock around the world, but the use of tear gas against crowds is far from a rare event in France. John Lichfield examines the troubled relationship between the French and their police.

OPINION: French politicians must stop slavishly protecting the police
French police at the Stade de France. Photo by Maryam EL HAMOUCHI / AFP

In 25 years in France, I’ve often found myself battling against the media tide to defend my adopted country from inaccurate criticism. What on earth can I say about events at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis during Saturday’s Champions League final?

Four days after the event the French government persists in blaming the principal victims – the supporters of Liverpool FC. Yes, there clearly were some fake tickets in circulation, maybe as many as 2,800, but nothing approaching the “mass, industrial fraud” alleged by the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin.

As a supporter of Manchester United for nearly 70 years, I’m programmed to regard Liverpool fans as the hereditary enemy. From what I can see, they behaved with exemplary patience and calm on Saturday, despite being penned into dangerously dense spaces by administrative incompetence; attacked by gangs of thugs from nearby estates; and casually tear-gassed by police who failed to guide or protect them.

Who is really to blame? 

Darmanin says that it was the 30,000 to 40,000 extra Liverpool fans who turned up with false tickets or no ticket. French media investigations have proved in the last few days that there is a fantasy or a red-herring. In other words, a lie.

Darmanin also blames the fact that a rail strike closed one of the two RER stations that Liverpool fans could have used. He omits to mention that the police parked trucks under an autoroute underpass to narrow the already dangerously crowded remaining access to what is always a very awkward stadium for 80,000 people to reach.

The French police blame poor planning by UEFA, the European football body. UEFA blames the French government and the French police. Several investigations are under way.

I wasn’t in Saint-Denis for the European Champions League Final on Saturday. I have to rely on what may turn out to be partial or inaccurate accounts.

But the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that the French police lost control of events; took decisions which made a dangerous situation worse; and then attacked some of innocent victims with tear gas, either accidentally or deliberately. Police leaders, in the shape of Interior Minister Darmanin and the Paris police prefect, Didier Lallement, then tried to cover up their failings by blaming the Liverpool fans.

The story of the Stade de France is many things but it is, at least partially, a story of deeply-ingrained police incompetence.

French police are not trained in “crowd control”. They are trained to “maintain public order”. They are poor at reacting to fast-moving events because they have rigid command structures. Junior officers are not trained to make their own judgements; more senior officers are slow to change plans which were laid down by even more senior officers.

Sebastian Roché, of Science Po Grenoble, is one of the foremost academic experts on French policing. 

He told Le Monde this week:  “French police are not expected to talk to the public. They are not trained to send information up the line to their superiors to change plans according to developments on the ground. They are poor at explaining to the public what they are doing and why.”

As a result, he said, French police tend to regard large crowds as single entities. If something goes wrong, if public order is threatened, the whole crowd is treated, or mistreated, in the same way. Hence the disturbing footage of French police officers casually resorting to pepper sprays and tear gas against peaceful Liverpool fans on Saturday night.

In other words, France’s police problem is a structural problem; it’s not just a question of occasional excesses or failings. This is the third time I have written about this issue in this column in the space of three years. Nothing much seems to change.

The former interior minister, Christophe Castaner, was forced out of that job in 2020 for several reasons. One of them was that he had lost the confidence of the police and gendarmerie. He was one of the few interior ministers in my time in France to dare to criticise the police publicly.

His successor, Gérald Darmanin, never makes that mistake. Hence in part, I believe, his unjustified criticism of Liverpool fans.

Unlike in Britain or Germany, the French police and gendarmeries are national forces under national, political control.

They regard themselves, and are regarded by others, as protectors of the state and the government in power, rather than as servants of the people. Sebastian Roché says that they are “wired to be insulated from society and to respond only to the executive”.

France does have a problem with public order. Politics goes rapidly to the street. Successive French presidents and governments know that they need the police to protect them. They have therefore tended to protect and flatter the police (but not always to fund or train them properly).

After a couple of serious police excesses in 2021,  President Macron instructed Darmanin to improve relations between police and public and to ensure that the French police were, in future, “irreproachable”.  A conference was called. Not much has been heard since.

On Saturday, France’s persistent policing problem was broadcast live to the world. The rugby world cup is in France next year and the Olympics are in Paris in 2024 – with the Stade de France in Saint-Denis as the main stadium.

It is time for the French government to stop protecting the police. It is, after all, the police who are supposed to protect us.

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Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.