Macron Appeals to French Safety Concerns as Campaign Looms

President Emmanuel Macron is appealing to French concerns about law and order as he looks beyond the Covid-19 pandemic to his push for re-election.

“Those who attack police forces and elected officials won’t be let off,” Macron said in Paris on Friday in a speech to mark the 150th anniversary of France’s Third Republic. “They must be heavily punished.”

In a somber speech, which emphasized his opposition to efforts to divide French society, Macron sought to rebut attacks from the right that he’s too soft on crime as he lays out battle lines for his presidential campaign in 2022. The 42-year-old was speaking a day after his government unveiled a 100 billion-euro ($118 billion) package to boost France’s economic recovery after months of lockdown.

The president made his case at the Pantheon, a monument rich in French history which contains the remains of philosophers Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as well as the activist Simone Veil and scientist Marie Curie.

Mixed Record

Last week, Gerard Larcher -- the president of the Senate from the Republicans, France’s biggest traditional right-wing party -- said the rule of law was on the decline in France after a riot in Dijon and looting after the defeat of the soccer club Paris Saint-Germain in Europe’s top competition. Public data suggests there is no increase in violence across the country as a whole.

The tactic has a mixed track record in France. In 2002, socialist Premier Lionel Jospin failed to make the second round of voting despite a buoyant economy after building his campaign around issues of safety and security.

Macron’s situation is even trickier, with the economy in a tailspin due to the fallout from the coronavirus and concern about a wave of bankruptcies and job losses. To his advantage, the opposition is divided, and there is no clear challenger for his critics to rally around.

Macron has already pledged to hire more judges and clerks to bolster the criminal justice system. He’s also aims to recruit 10,000 additional police officers by the end of his mandate, renew the force’s car fleet and increase the use of drones.

The government introduced a 200-euro fine for smoking cannabis on Sept. 1 and will introduce an app for people to report drug dealers by the end of this year.

‘Separatism’ Attack

Officials in Macron’s office said Friday’s speech was prompted by different developments, including recent attacks on statues, which Macron said should not be taken down.

In the address, Macron warned against community divisions, which he called “separatism” -- an ambiguous term he’s used previously to refer to Islamism, when he pledged to prevent foreign imams from preaching in France and to control funding to mosques.

“There can be no separatism in the republic,” Macron said, adding that he will introduce a draft bill on the issue this fall.

Underscoring the patriotic themes of the event, the president handed out identification papers to recently naturalized citizens after his speech.

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