Fear has returned to France—and it has always been the Front National’s best fuelby Christine Ockrent / December 4, 2015 / Leave a comment
People are buying flags. Young men are enlisting in the armed forces at an unprecedented rate. Fresh flowers are brought every day to the locations of the massacres, joining the piles of withered leaves covering bloodstains. Before it became too cold, people in the neighbourhood made it a point to have their drinks on café terraces. Soldiers and police in bulletproof vests are on patrol, weapons in sight. Paris has become less boisterous.
Since that frightful evening on 13th November, the French have shown resilience and a rare spirit of unity. President François Hollande’s actions—extending the national state of emergency for three months and embarking on retaliatory strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria—have received massive support, with 91 per cent of the French approving of his response. His own popularity rating, which throughout his tenure has been lower than any of his predecessors, has risen by 10 percentage points, reaching 50 per cent, his best post election score.
Ten months after the Charlie Hebdo killings, the socialist President has emerged strongly from the latest bloodbath. Ever the tactician, he stunned Parliament on 16th November by calling for a change in the Constitution to give the police exceptional powers, switching overnight from an emotional response to a political one. His status has been enhanced by the performance of his two most able ministers: Bernard Cazeneuve, the Minister of the Interior, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Defence Minister. Whatever the failures in intelligence, their handling of the fallout from the attacks has won praise on all sides.
How will these dramatic events translate into political terms? The conservative opposition is in disarray. Its traditional monopoly over police and security issues has been swept away. The Republican leader Nicolas Sarkozy, normally boastful, has not performed well. Out of sync with the public mood, he first supported the Elysée’s response only to criticise its shortcomings the next day and encourage his MPs to attack the government in Parliament. The official mourning period was still in effect and the scene, broadcast on national tele-vision, did not go down well. The confusion among Les Républicains heightened when Alain…