Horror on the Champs Elysees
Toni Mikec, Foreign Policy Contributor
Four days before the first round of the hotly contested French presidential elections, a gunman opened fire on a police officer on France’s Champs Elysees. Although the gunman, Karim Cheurfi, was neutralized by the French police, two other police officers and a bystander were injured. The outgoing French president, Francois Hollande, called the crime an act of terrorism during a news conference later that same day after the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack. Police are still investigating whether or not there were any accomplices.
In addition, recent evidence has emerged to show that this individual had been arrested in 2003 for the attempted murder of two police officers when he opened fire on them with a gun. He was sentenced to prison for 20 years, but this sentence was reduced to 15 years. He was then released after serving less than half of this period of time. In addition, he was re-arrested in February as a terrorism suspect after making public threats against the French police but was released due to a lack of evidence.
Many political analysts have said that the election is still too close to call between the centrist Emmanuel Macron of Le Marche and Marine Le Pen of the Front Nationale. However, the attack, which occurred just after of the arrest of two men in Marseilles on suspicion of terrorism, could possibly lead to a public shift towards voting for the two candidates that are perceived to be tougher on immigration and crime – Francois Fillon of Les Republicans and Marine Le Pen. If this shift draws votes away from Emmanuel Macron, it would certainly boost the chances of either Le Pen or Fillon winning the first round of votes on April 23. Indeed, even President Trump weighed in regarding the potential impact of the event when he said that “it will have a big effect.”
Such an event, alongside the Bataclan Theatre shooting in 2015 and Charlie Hebdo attacks in the same year, has thrown ever more scrutiny over France’s immigration policies with both Fillon and Le Pen running on a policy of limiting immigration into France. For instance, both have taken a hard line stance on Islam, claiming that it threatens French values, but they plan to address the issue differently.
While Fillon has admitted that many of France’s 4.7 million Muslims want to live in peace with the rest of the French population, Le Pen has gone further than Fillon with respect to national security. She has argued that foreign nationals who have been flagged as potential terrorist suspects should be deported, and if these nationals should happen to have French citizenship, it should automatically be revoked. Fillon, on the other hand, has pledged more cooperation with Washington and Moscow in order to defeat ISIS and has reached out to France’s Muslim community to help France combat the jihadist threat. In fact, he has argued for the creation of an “Islam of France” to help France in this mission.
Both candidates have taken hard line stances on immigration with Le Pen arguing that immigration into France should be limited to only 10,000 a year. Fillon, on the other hand, has also proposed a quota for the number of immigrants that are allowed to enter France in a given year. Fillon and Le Pen have also both attacked the Schengen Agreement, the agreement that allows borderless travel for most (though not all) countries within the European Union, as a danger to national security.
Concurrently, Emmanuel Macron, someone who was up until this point in time the front runner, issued a plea for unity. His campaign has pledged tougher borders on the exterior of the European Union and a more united European policy vis-a-vis the migrant crisis in Syria. Rather, he has supported intervention in Syria to depose the Al-Assad regime. With regards to religion, his party has protested anti-Muslim discrimination in France and has denied the claim that Islam is in and of itself inherently violent.
While some political analysts have predicted a victory for the Front Nationale given the wave of populism and Euro-skepticism that is sweeping Europe, others have questioned this prediction. These doubters have argued that the FN, despite Marine Le Pen’s reforms of its anti-Semitic and xenophobic image that had been formed under the leadership of her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen), still lacks a majority of support amongst the French people. In addition, recent gaffes by Marine Le Pen regarding France’s role in the Holocaust and allegations of financial impropriety have also drawn some ire from groups who have claimed that her version of the FN is no different than her father’s.
Charles De Gaulle once said that “to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.” As these three candidates continue to vie for the support of the French people, the choice that will be made in April and again in May will certainly change not only France but the European Union, just as dramatically as Brexit did. The only question is in what image will France be remade?
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