France riot police face beer and wine meal ban

French riot police on the streets of Paris, April 2011 Riot police are sent into warring football crowds, street demonstrations and troubled estates

French riot police are outraged over plans to end a long-cherished tradition of drinking alcohol with their meals.

Under the terms of an interior ministry decree, riot police will no longer be allowed to wash down their lunch with a glass or two of beer or wine.

Officials were angered in 2010 when photos emerged of riot police drinking beer while policing a demonstration.

One police union has called for alcohol to be allowed if meals are taken out of the view of the public.

Articulating the sense of outrage among the rank and file, Didier Mangione, who heads one French police union, wrote to the interior ministry defending the rights of riot police to drink on duty.

Like most other workers in France, officers serving in the Compagnies Republicaines de Securite (CRS) should be entitled to "a small quarter litre of red to accompany meals on the ground", Mr Mangione wrote.

"CRS officers do not have any more or less alcohol problems than anybody else in society. They should be allowed to drink in moderation," he said.

National tradition

According to French law alcohol is banned while employees are at work - with the exception of "wine, beer, apple cider and pear cider".

That has traditionally been taken to mean that a moderate amount of beer or wine is an entirely acceptable way to punctuate a French working day.

Reports suggest the relaxed attitude to alcohol even meant that cans of beer were included in packed lunches issued to riot police while out on the streets.

But images of riot police swigging beer on the sidelines of a student demonstration in late 2010 provoked a strong reaction - and prompted an even stronger reaction from police unions.

In his complaint, Mr Mangione suggested officers should be allowed to continue as before, providing the meal is not eaten in public view.

Paul Le Guennec, of Unite Police SGP-FO, a riot police union, suggested police bosses should look at their own behaviour.

"Does the fact that having a glass of wine while eating prevent any kind of worker from carrying out their job? I don't think the chief of police drinks water when he's having a meal," he told the JDD newspaper.

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