President Nicolas Sarkozy, responding to a recent spate of riots and violent crimes in France, called for stiffer penalties for first-time offenders and suggested that violent criminals with foreign origins be stripped of their citizenship.
Speaking to local leaders in the Alpine city of Grenoble today, he said crime was driven by permissiveness and uncontrolled immigration. “No housing project, no street, no stairwell should escape from the order of the republic,” Sarkozy said as he inaugurated a new prefect to replace one he fired last week after a riot by local youths.
Sarkozy, faced with near-record low approval ratings, a stuttering economy and allegations of campaign finance irregularities, has this week been stressing security, his signature issue from his May 2007 election. Even if official figures show no increase in the overall crime rate, polls show the French public thinks the country is getting less safe.
“Security was one of the main issues Sarkozy was elected on and it’s what he’s built his credibility on,” said Jerome Fouquet, head of studies at Paris-based polling company Ifop. “Sarkozy first launched his crime crackdown as interior minister in 2002, so it’s a seven-year record that he’s being judged on, not just his three years as president. It’s not a good thing for him if people don’t think things have gotten better.”
Sarkozy said in his Grenoble speech that he wants mandatory sentencing, which he introduced for repeat offenders in 2007, extended to first-time violent offenders, and that he’s asked Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to study new penalties for crimes committed by minors.
“The principal cause of violence is leniency,” Sarkozy said. “Negligent parents could find themselves pursued on criminal charges.”
The president also said that “French nationality should be stripped from any person of foreign origin who voluntarily tries to take the life of a policeman, gendarme, or other figure of public authority.” He said undocumented aliens should be expelled.
Over the weekend of July 17-18, youths rioted in a Grenoble suburb after police killed a 27-year-old man of North African origin suspected of robbing a nearby casino. About 50 cars were burned, a tramway was smashed up and live shots were fired at police.
Sarkozy fired the prefect of the Grenoble area, Albert Dupuy, July 21 and replaced him with Eric Le Douaron, a former director of the municipal police force.
Grenoble’s mayor, Michel Destot from the opposition Socialist Party, said there was no need to dismiss Dupuy and criticized Sarkozy’s speech for being too focused on repression. “I’m always suspicious of these big security pronouncements made to have an impact on public opinion,” Destot said to reporters after the speech.
The same weekend as the Grenoble riots, migrant workers in central France burned cars and a police station after a 22-year old member of their community was shot dead by police when he didn’t stop his car during a night-time identity check.
Sarkozy responded by announcing July 28 that as many as 300 camps used by French travelers will be shut and that some members of the Roma community of Gypsies from eastern Europe will be deported.
In 2005, there was rioting across France after two teenagers were electrocuted when they hid in a power station to escape a police identity check.
A poll for France Soir newspaper two days ago said 59 percent of the French think security has gotten worse in recent months, compared with 43 percent who thought so in February 2007, just before Sarkozy’s May 2007 election. The Ifop poll questioned 957 people on July 22-23. No margin of error was given.
The number of crimes fell 1 percent last year, while violent crimes rose 2.8 percent, the Interior Ministry said Jan. 14.
“Even if the official numbers don’t show an overall increase, there have been enough spectacular cases to give people the impression that things have gotten worse,” said Ifop’s Fouquet.
A policeman was killed by ETA Basque separatists in March, a policewoman was killed by gang of robbers during a car chase in May, and in June a motorist was beaten to death in front of his family when an altercation after a car accident degenerated.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy is pushing through legislation to push the retirement age to 62 from 60, unemployment is at 9.9 percent, and several members of the government have been enmeshed in alleged misuse of state funds and alleged cases of irregular campaign finance.
In an Ifop poll released July 18, Sarkozy’s approval rating was 34 percent, the same as the previous month. His popularity reached a record low of 30 percent in March. Ifop polled 946 people in July. It didn’t give a margin of error.