19th Mar 2018


One year after attacks, French emergency persists

  • People gathered around a plaque commemorating the 90 people killed in the Bataclan concert hall. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

France commemorated the attacks on Sunday (13 November) that killed 130 people a year ago in Paris and opened an era of fear and doubt in French society.

Small crowds came out under a drizzly sky to put flowers, candles, photos and drawings in front of plaques unveiled on Sunday morning at the seven sites of the attacks.

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  • A commemorative wreath on one of the seven sites of the attacks. "I'm still standing, for you," says a handwritten note. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

People were silent, some with the same sad and disbelieving gazes, as they looked at the names written on the marble.

President Francois Hollande and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo led the ceremonies but made no declarations, as the families of victims has requested "restraint" from politicians.

Ceremonies started on Friday night with a minute's silence before a football match at the Stade de France, where the first bombs had exploded on 13 November 2015.

On Saturday evening, the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people were killed, reopened with a emotional show by English singer Sting in front of an audience that included survivors.

Some of the bars and restaurants that were targeted last year were open, with people sitting on the covered terraces, in a sign of the resilience the city has tried to show.

Posters displayed on the streets summarised the spirit of the weekend. Under Paris's Latin motto, Fluctuat Nec Mergitur (Tossed by the waves, but she does not sink), were messages like "Paris Remembers" or "Paris United".

But Paris, and the entire country, is still feeling the shock of the attacks, with an impact that is likely to influence the presidential and legislative elections that will take place between April and June next year.

Half of French people still think about the attacks at least once a week, according to a poll published on Friday.

"We are not any more as we were before," president Francois Hollande said on Friday. "We have to be stronger than before."

The state of emergency that was established in the hours following the attacks is still in place. Prime minister Manuel Valls told the BBC on Sunday that the measure was likely to be extended until after the elections.

“It is difficult today to end the state of emergency,” he said, pointing out at the risks for meetings and public gatherings during the campaign.

"We may face attacks of the kind that we saw in Nice,” he said, referring to the attack on 14 July when a man drove in a crowd with a lorry and killed 86 people.

France had already been shaken by the killings at Charlie Hebdo magazine and in a Jewish supermarket in January 2015.

The attacks in Paris were a bigger shock because of the number of victims, their young age and the fact that they were killed while having fun.

The Nice attacks left all French people feeling that terrorism could strike anywhere and at any time, even under a state of emergency.

Deep impact

The series of attacks left "a very deep impact" on a French society that was already fragile because of the economic crisis, Bruno Cautres, from the Sciences Po political research centre, told EUobserver.

"People fear for the future, their security. They are worried about borders, national identity. These are the themes we'll find in the campaign," he said.

"It is not a superficial feeling and it will not go away soon," he said, adding that "whoever is the next president will be confronted by that, at least until the economic situation gets better".

He said that the next president, who will be elected in May, "will have to embody a feeling of protection".

Alain Juppe, a former prime minister and one of the leading contenders to become the centre-right presidential candidate, is doing well in opinion polls because "he is here to calm, protect and not deepen divisions".

But French voters could choose a more strong-arm approach.

Juppe's main competitor in the Republicans' primary election is former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants to jail all people suspected of terrorism and stop migrant family reunification.

And far-right leader Marine Le Pen is ahead in all opinion polls for the first round of the presidential election.

With political debates centred on security, national identity and the place of Islam in French secularist society, "it's not by chance that Le Pen is so high", Cautres said.

Donald Trump's election in the US also makes Le Pen "more credible as the voice of the silent majority, of the France of the forgotten", he said.

Le Pen herself said that Trump's election "has made possible what was presented as impossible".

But in the post-attacks debate, Le Pen's ideas are not the most extreme.

"Some on the right propose a French Guantanamo or to reopen the Cayenne penal colony," in the French Guyana, Vanessa Codaccioni, a political scientist at Paris 8 university, told EUobserver.

Security consensus

Codaccioni and Cautres pointed out that politicians from the far-right to the centre-left now agree on the need for extraordinary measures against the terror threat.

"The more attacks, the wider the consensus," said Codaccioni, noting that only six MPs voted against the state of emergency last year.

Codaccioni, who has written a book on exceptional justice, said that the state of emergency would have a long-lasting impact.

"The danger is that you get used to it despite threats on liberties," she told this website, noting that "a large majority of the population supports the state of emergency it separates people branded as domestic enemies from the others".

The state of emergency, she said, has led to house arrests for people who have done nothing wrong, and discrimination against Muslims. It has also been used to arrest environmental activists and ban demonstrations.

She noted that laws passed since last year had introduced in common law measures that are part of the state of emergency.

"These measures will stay," she said.

Hollande's plunging ratings

She said that Hollande, who is the president who has faced the biggest attacks in recent French history, "has given more powers to non-judicial authorities, such as police, administration and prefects."

"We've introduced these measures but we don't know how they will be used in the future," she noted, suggesting that they could be used in a malevolent way by Le Pen if she became president.

The national unity that prevailed after Charlie Hebdo was shattered by the 13 November attacks and calls for more security, Sciences Po's Bruno Cautres noted.

A consequence of the consensus for strong measures is that neither left nor right can appear to be weaker or not doing enough to protect the French people.

 The feeling that Hollande could not prevent the Nice attacks explains his descent to less than 15 percent of approval, Cautres said.

Now, a year after the attacks, "lifting the state of emergency would not be understood by public opinion", Codaccioni said.

"Who would take that risk? That's the problem with extraordinary measures: it's very difficult to backtrack."

In Paris under shock, all feel attacked

In the wake of the terror attacks that killed at least 129 people Friday, Parisians pay homage to the dead and, 10 months after the January killings, wonder what will come next.

France seeks answers to security challenge

Police raids in France and strikes in Syria after the deadly Paris attacks show French authorities have to find internal and external strategies against terrorism.

EU split on semi-automatic weapons

Co-legislators disagree with EU commission plans to ban semi-automatic weapons that resemble their military grade counterparts.

Fillon leads French right primary as Sarkozy falls

The former French president came third in the first round of the centre-right primary election on Sunday. Francois Fillon, a pro-Russia conservative, is the new favourite for next year's presidential vote.

German ministries were at war over CO2 car cuts

Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel was not the only German government official trying to water down an EU draft bill on CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles last year. In fact, three Berlin ministries were contradicting each other behind the scenes.

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