Riots in France: who benefits?

Although the violent protests have largely subsided, the shooting of 17-year-old Nahel M. by a police officer during a traffic check and the ensuing riots are still a big topic in France and Europe. At a meeting attended by 220 mayors, President Emmanuel Macron pledged to pass legislation aimed at reconstructing damaged infrastructure as quickly as possible and providing long-term solutions to the problem. Commentators are worried about the far right capitalising on the crisis.

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Karar (TR) /

Far right wins, migrants lose

For Karar, the winners and losers of the protests in France are clear:

“The main beneficiaries of this crisis are far-right as well as anti-immigration parties in France and elsewhere, including Turkey. The losers will be the ethnic and religious minorities from the former colonies living in the suburbs of French cities. Then there are the migrants, future refugees who try to cross the Mediterranean in makeshift boats with the label 'irregular' attached to them. Frontex will no doubt remain silent while more and more migrants drown and there will be more humanitarian disasters.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Don't listen to extremists or rioters

The situation in France demands a return to European values, writes El Mundo:

“All this is happening in a country that is politically fragmented. Emmanuel Macron lacks the deep roots of a traditional party. The crisis is also benefiting his main rival Marine Le Pen, while at the other end Jean-Luc Mélenchon is fuelling the class struggle. In Spain, [far-right] Vox is trying to capitalise on the events in France by reviving an anti-immigration discourse that borders on demonisation. In the face of such populist attempts to find simple solutions to complex problems it is crucial to reaffirm European values such as coexistence and respect. These are also the values of the French Republic, which are currently being undermined by unjustified violence.”

Interia (PL) /

Success for Le Pen not in Poland's interest

Historian and publicist Jarosław Kuisz says the way Polish politicians are gloating over France's integration problems is short-sighted. On Interia news portal he writes:

“The most incisive commentary on the riots was published by an influencer from the suburbs, Riadh Senpai. ... He warned that the riots would be used politically against people in the suburbs. Implicitly this means: Marine Le Pen will win. ... I don't know what our politicians are happy about, because the influencer is right. ... If Le Pen comes to power, which is quite possible, we will soon remember how Russian money once flowed into her party's accounts and how she later 'accidentally' confirmed the Kremlin's claim to Crimea.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

Macron could make up lost ground

Unlike certain sections of the opposition, President Emmanuel Macron has done quite well in this latest wave of unrest, L'Opinion puts in:

“These critical events are causing the country to shift a little further to the right. Clearly, Marine Le Pen will benefit from this, but the left, under the control of the Nupes alliance, has delivered a pitiful performance marked by division and ambiguity towards the rioters. By contrast, the restraint with which Emmanuel Macron has managed the crisis together with his interior minister Gérald Darmanin, could give him a new lease of life.”

Český rozhlas (CZ) /

Violence on the streets hard to contain

Český rozhlas sees the French government facing the tricky question of

“how to stem the tide of violence that is forcing authorities to shut down public transport and impose night-time curfews for fear of further damage. An approach focused solely on security is of limited use, because a lot of frustration has accumulated over the last few economically difficult years. The political path is not easy either. President Macron is not only being accused of committing the same sins as his predecessors. He has also made himself highly unpopular, for example by pushing through the pension reform despite mass protests.”

Válasz Online (HU) /

Listen to the voice of reason

Nahel's grandmother could be a role model for the public, says Válasz Online:

“What would be needed to prevent even bigger problems? In the short term, certainly more voices of reason like that of the grandmother of the boy who was shot during the police check. The grieving relative called on the mob not to use Nahel's death as an excuse to attack authorities, schools and public transport. And although the grandmother is understandably angry with the arrested police officer, she trusts the justice system to do its job and also to punish those who commit crimes now.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Protesters want to be heard

According to Aftonbladet, the riots show that for the French state, a boy from the suburbs is not worth much:

“What the demonstrators want to hear is that the life of Nahel - an inhabitant of the Banlieues - is just as important as that of a mayor, a fireman or a policeman. Because it is. Nahel's death is not an isolated incident. Last year, 13 people met a similar fate. The majority of those shot were non-white. For them, there is no liberté, égalité or fraternité. Instead there is a police force. And a president who claims to stand for liberty, equality and fraternity.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Reverse the dynamics of division

The rifts are deeper than many are willing to admit, Berlingske comments:

“One section of the French population refuses to be part of the republic that others dream of settling in. ... You can't explain away the violence with poverty or structural racism, as politicians on the extreme French left do. Nor can you blame social media or video games, as President Emmanuel Macron has suggested. The French need to figure out how to reverse decades of division and parallel societies. It's not just the republic that needs to come back together. It's the French nation.”

Efimerida ton Syntakton (GR) /

Learn from the UK

Efimerida ton Syntakton looks across the English Channel:

“France has a colonialist mentality towards immigration, essentially demanding that African immigrants show national loyalty to the French flag. The cosmopolitan British model, by contrast, seems to have integrated immigrants far more smoothly into society and domestic political life (witness the many MPs who are descended from immigrants). ... To sum up: the gap between citizens and politicians must be narrowed for the benefit of everyone, not widened for the benefit of a few groups or elites. Let us bear this in mind for Greece as well.”

Večernji list (HR) /

No one addressed the problem

At the latest since the 2005 riots France has been aware that this problem must be dealt with, Večernji list points out:

“Although France has had several different presidents and governments since then, and the country has survived a major economic and financial crisis and then also the European refugee, security and health crises, the situation in the suburbs of the big French cities seems to have remained the same or very similar to what it was two decades ago. ... The violence in the suburbs confirms the failure of the integration policies and testifies to systematic racism within the police force, which no French government has seriously addressed.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Don't dismiss this as an isolated incident

The French police force must be subjected to systematic scrutiny, Dagens Nyheter demands:

“Several studies have identified ethnic discrimination in the French police force. There has also been criticism at the international level for some time now - for example of the use of excessive violence in connection with the demonstrations against the increase in the retirement age, but also of racial profiling, religious intolerance and attacks on immigrants. ... It is, of course, tempting for France to declare that this is about a single policeman and his actions. But that would be a mistake. The whole system needs to be examined and purged, right down to its darkest corners.”

The Times (GB) /

France is colour-blind

Officially ignoring ethnic origin can also be seen as a state cover-up, The Times notes:

“In a republic dedicated to egalité no racial differences should ever be officially acknowledged. They have even adopted an English neologism: 'colour-blindness'. ... More crucially, no French institution may collect ethnicity data. For example, everyone knows that the grandes écoles from which the French elite is drawn discriminate against people of colour; but they are forbidden to collect data that would prove it. ... Viewed from the banlieues, 'colour-blindness' is nothing less than a state cover-up.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

Neglected police force

Kleine Zeitung is very critical of the French police:

“It is no coincidence that being a police officer is a problematic profession in France. Poorly trained and equipped police officers are sent into action at record speed - there are now seven times as many as before the 2015 attacks. Police are poorly paid and burnt out. For years now, the suicide rate among the French police has been alarming. There is little talk about this. As much as President Emmanuel Macron likes to vaunt France's strong police force: he, too, has neglected this professional group.”

Público (PT) /

Risk of contagion is real

Público compares the situation with the riots in the US after George Floyd's death:

“It's the same bipolarisation and the same age-old sin: the lack of social responses or public action aimed at addressing the concrete problems of the most disadvantaged sectors of society. There is a problem in France and the risk of contagion for other European countries is real. As long as those in power believe that the real problem is the thousands of cars set on fire, the hundreds of arrests and the social networks, the protesting youth will not put down their arms.”

Der Standard (AT) /

France's George Floyd moment

The feeling of being second-class citizens is at the heart of most banlieue riots, explains Der Standard:

“This was already the case with the 'historic' riots of 2005, when two teens in Clichy-sous-Bois were killed while fleeing from the police. The situation is aggravated today by the fact that, unlike in 2005, a video is now circulating that leaves little room for doubt. Its emotional impact in the French banlieue neighbourhoods is as powerful as the video of George Floyd's death. ... And in France, whose republican foundation is the revolution of 1789, which was also fought out in the streets, it is never a long way from passionate emotions to popular upheaval.”

Le Temps (CH) /

No organised political pressure

The angry outcries in the banlieues are at a disadvantage compared to other protests in France, analyses Le Temps:

“The protests there are taking place against the backdrop of an economic and social crisis that closes off any and all prospects. But unlike other social outcries in France, the anger in the banlieues has a hard time organising itself and creating lasting political pressure, meaning that it will no doubt remain unheard in the long term. And remain sporadic. Until the next drama.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Too little has changed

Marine Le Pen is likely to benefit from the unrest, Die Welt believes:

“The next presidential elections take place in 2027. ... If Le Pen has a chance of coming to power, it's also the result of frustration over how little has changed since 2005. The problem neighbourhoods have been the target of expensive urban development programmes, but unemployment and crime there are still far above the national average. And anyone who thinks these problems only exist in France should remember the New Year's Eve riots in Berlin [in which police and rescue services were attacked with fireworks] and the debates that ensued.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

No one should die in a traffic check

La Vanguardia calls for moderation on both sides:

“The tensions faced by the police in the aggressive context of the banlieues should not be played down. But clearly France needs to rethink the conditions under which the police are allowed to use their weapons. No one should die in a traffic check. But that does not justify young people from an immigrant background taking the law into their own hands and unleashing their resentment and anger in riots and acts of violence.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

A bad old tradition

For the Süddeutsche Zeitung, France clearly has a problem with police violence:

“It's practically impossible to keep track of the number of cases documenting clearly abusive behaviour by the security forces. To make matters worse, the police have been armed with rubber bullets and other controversial weapons. ... In line with their bad old tradition, the police in France do not primarily protect the citizens. They protect the state. This basic attitude permeates all units, from the special forces to the traffic police. De-escalation is alien to many. As long as nothing changes, incidents like this will keep happening. And the violence will not stop. On either side.”

Libération (FR) /

Legitimate anger

We should show understanding for the protest movements, Libération urges:

“The point is not necessarily to approve of the protests but to understand them. For some, they seem to be the only way to draw attention to the double injustice of brutality and impunity. If the law allows the security forces to use their firearms even when they are not acting in self-defence, society must at least recognise the right to legitimate anger.”

La Tribune de Genève (CH) /

Black and white thinking no good

La Tribune de Genève criticises the unproductive debate on the subject:

“There is no denying it: police violence exists and it often eludes the law. ... But on the other side is the victim, young Nahel, whom footballer Kylian Mbappé called 'a little angel'. ... The 'little angel' was, at least on that morning, an offender who deliberately chose to take a risk. He paid far too dearly for it, but if he hadn't got behind the wheel he would still be alive. If he had obeyed the police, he would still be alive. In the political debate in France, these two truths are never considered together. It's a pathetic, sad debate that fuels further violence because each side only sees the other side's violence.”