Sunday

4th Dec 2022

Exclusive

France pushes 'European way of life' amid Macron re-election bid

  • French president Emmanuel Macron (l) with EU Council president Charles Michel in Paris in January (Photo: consilium.eu)
Listen to article

France has doubled down on EU action against Islamist radicalisation, in a test of European appetite for French president Emmanuel Macron's domestic politics.

"Jihadist terrorism remains the most widespread and deadly phenomenon within the member states of the European Union," the French EU presidency said in proposals on "Countering Radicalisation", which were sent to EU states on 1 February and seen by EUobserver.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • EU migration commissioner Margaritis Schinas, whose original title was 'Protecting our European way of life' (Photo: eppgroup.eu)

Officially, the measures were aimed at curbing all "extremist ideologies - whether of Islamist, far-left, or far-right inspiration".

But France drew special attention to alleged Islamist threats, such as Middle East funding for European mosques and a recent social media campaign "affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood," a transnational Muslim group.

That social media campaign, relayed last year by the Council of Europe, promoted respect for women who wore the hijab but it was taken offline after a backlash from Paris.

And some of the French EU presidency's language sounded like the declaration of a culture war.

France portrayed the hijab campaign as an example of "ideological projects that are foreign to the fundamental values of the European Union".

And its EU memo warned of the dangers of "an insider culture" in some communities in Europe "that leads to rejection of the European way of life and values".

Officially, the French EU presidency has denied taking any special interest in Islam.

"Our approach targets all extremist ideologies which call for violence," a French presidency spokesperson told EUobserver.

"We wish to raise awareness in the [EU] Council on the issues posed by certain individuals and entities who contribute to radicalisation" and "invite member states to take measures to hinder their activities, including financial activities", the spokesperson added.

EU talks on the French ideas are yet to start in earnest.

But the latest proposals come after France, last month, also warned the EU about an "Independent jihadist threat" in Europe, touching on the "extremely sensitive nature of the notion of blasphemy".

The push comes against the background of French presidential elections in April, where Macron is trying to fight off two right-wing challengers.

And for Olivier Roy, a French scholar of politics and Islam at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, France's rhetoric at the EU table was becoming increasingly larded with Macron's secularist views.

"The 'European way of life' is here [in France's radicalisation memo] identified with a strict secularism (laïcité) which gives as little room as possible for any religion," Roy wrote in an email to EUobserver.

Macron was fighting what he has dubbed wider "Islamist separatism" in France as part of his re-election bid.

But for Roy, the "main target of the 'fight against separatism' is not terrorism ... but Islam first, and secondly any visible religious practice from any religion."

Roy also called out the French EU presidency's radical portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood as a canard.

Canard

The Muslim Brotherhood "have never been involved in terrorism in Europe or in jihad since the 1950s," Roy said. "The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe has a multicultural approach - the right to wear the veil for women who wish to do it, the right to have halal food in schools or state canteens," he added.

Meanwhile, European values and Muslim scarves have been major campaign issues for the far right in rallies ahead of the French elections.

Immigrants "must submit to this country's [France's] values", French far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen said in a speech in the French city of Reims last weekend.

"We don't see many skirts anymore, but we see many niqabs," Eric Zemmour, another French far-right presidential contender, claimed at a rally in Lille.

The French EU presidency's rhetoric on the "European way of life" was described as "unhelpful" by Jessica White, a terrorism expert at Rusi, a London-based think-tank.

"European identity and associated fundamental values should not be based on religious affiliation," she told this website.

"Attempts to retain an antiquated and closed sense of collective European identity can actually be more effective in driving radicalisation than countering it," she added.

And France sounded behind the curve in its focus, said White. A greater danger could yet prove to be far-right radicalisation, she said.

"After two years of global crisis driven by political and social polarisation ... the umbrella of ideological perspectives that falls under the far-right is actually more widespread in Western democracies, it has just not (at least not yet) produced the same level of violence," she said.

Exclusive

Blasphemy and jihad: Macron launches EU debate

France has launched an EU debate on the "extremely sensitive" issue of blasphemy and jihadist violence, in a move that risks further alienating European Muslims.

Macron promises strong EU borders

Obligatory detentions, more security-screening, and faster deportations - these are the French EU presidency's migration priorities.

Erdoğan whips up Muslim hate against Macron

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has put himself at the forefront of a Muslim backlash against France's handling of the recent Mohammed cartoons killing.

Opinion

Macron has delivered for his supporters

To his opponents, Emmanuel Macron is a "president of the rich" or a panderer to Islamophobes. If the polls are right, and he nevertheless wins reelection this month, they'll insist it was due to the weakness of his opponents

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals
  2. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  3. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  4. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  5. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  6. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  7. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  8. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us