French shootings and the presidential elections

French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace (21 March 2012) Mr Sarkozy said terrorism would not be able to "fracture our national community"

After the killings at the school in Toulouse, French candidates suspended their election campaigns. That did not, of course, suspend politics.

All the campaigns have been busy making their calculations. What impact will the shootings have on the first round of voting in the presidential elections on 22 April?

In the short term it is likely that President Nicolas Sarkozy will benefit. Very quickly he took charge. He rushed to the scene. He suspended his campaign. He spoke as the president of the republic.

He called for a minute's silence. He brought together Jewish and Muslim leaders. His interior minister has been on the ground at the siege in Toulouse directing operations and briefing the media. In a crisis, incumbent leaders often have the advantage.

'Untested' Hollande

The shootings also play into a narrative that the Sarkozy campaign have been stressing; that the president is a man of experience, of crisis management while his main opponent, Francois Hollande, is untested.

The background and motive of the suspect, however, has changed calculations. There was a presumption in most French papers that this was a racist attack carried out by a gunman from the far right.

Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in Toulouse (19 March 2012) Francois Hollande visited the Jewish school where three children and a teacher were murdered

It led the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou to criticise the tone of the campaign and what he called the "growing climate of intolerance".

This was seen as a reference to President Sarkozy's remarks about the failure of integration and his demand that there be no special treatment for minorities. He had made an issue over slaughtered halal meat, calling for all halal or kosher meat to be labelled.

His critics accused him of pandering to the far right in a bid to take votes away from Marine Le Pen. The far left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, urged people to "choose their words and their quotations more carefully". The Socialist candidate Francois Hollande also spoke about the risk of "words that influence".

But today the script changed. It emerged that the suspect was 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, a French national of North African origin.

Start Quote

National Front leader Marine Le Pen (17 Mar 2012)

We have minimised the rise of radical Islam in this country... we did not want to look it in the face”

End Quote Marine Le Pen French National Front leader

He has apparently claimed a connection with al-Qaeda and has visited Pakistan and Afghanistan. He told negotiators that the killing of the Jewish children and the attacks on French soldiers of North Africa origin was "revenge on behalf of Palestinian children".

The revelations have altered the political fall-out. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who might have been damaged if this had been an extreme right attack, came out and said "we have minimised the rise of radical Islam in this country... we did not want to look it in the face".

She said that France should wage war against "these fundamentalist political and religious groups that are killing our children".

Almost certainly, France will again debate immigration and the failures of integration.

This is territory that usually benefits candidates from the right and centre-right but after the killings the tone of the campaign is likely to soften.

The incident has enabled Nicolas Sarkozy to play the role he likes best, a man of action and decision in a crisis. Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate, will want to try and get attention back to taxes and the economy.

So will the tragic events in Toulouse change the course of the election? Probably not.

The first round of voting is over a month away and France's national focus on these attacks will fade. The election will turn on leadership, the economy and whether voters want another five years of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

Europe in 2014: Ghosts return

History came back to haunt Europe in 2014, not least with Russia's intervention in Ukraine, the BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt writes.

Read full article


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    If you want to discuss discrimination, the BBC is a prime example.
    It's actual policy is that it is OK to mock Christianity, Jesus is almost used as a swear word.
    If Christians are offended they have to pay the license fee and put up.
    They would not dare to mock Mohammed,

  • Comment number 179.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    176. "hat is simply not true. Christianity does not put christians above non-christians."

    anyway, my main point is that discrimination is far too common, and it exists independent of religion too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    It probably doesn't matter who gets elected President of France, it's going down the tubes regardless. And there will be sharp recriminations between the French and Germans when it happens, each blaming the other. But to an outside observer they were both in it together from the start. There didn't seem to be much objection from the peanut gallery of secondary and tertiary EU members either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    @173 TV_As_Eyes

    that is simply not true. Christianity does not put christians above non-christians. This is even more true for Buddhism.
    And when was the last time either of both religions lead some fanatics to fly into a skyscraper or kill dozens of people during a suicide attack?

    As for discrimination of other religions in christian or buddhist countries: examples please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Could Merah have been Israeli trained = false flag operation?
    Remember Naeim Giladi, Israeli Agent late 1940’s?
    May 10, 1950: grenade at Jewish-owned Beit-Lawi Automobile Company;
    June 3, 1950, grenade from speeding car in El-Batawin, Baghdad where rich Jews & middle class Iraqis lived. Following explosions, Israel upped immigration quota from Iraq.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Initial reports from SITE Intelligence (good indicator of “planted news”) with endless contradictions: Merah in Afghanistan, his capture by Americans who aided his return to France though he had been arrested as a “Taliban bomb maker”. Israeli press reported French gunman Mohamed Merah had been on a trip to Israel in the past. Merah’s passport had Israeli stamps in it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.


    what's new? virtually all major religions are based on them-and-us. also, discrimination is not confined to religions -- unfortunately.

    '..there is no country with a xyz majority in which non-xyz's are not harassed or at least discriminated against.'

    as you can see, one even could insert 'white' (if we were to talk about the US of A, for example) and get the same statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Re #171

    Cf. Christians in Malaysia, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Nigeria, etc.

    Zoroastrians and Bahaists in Iran. Ad nauseam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    @157 powermeerkat
    "Cf. Sudan. Atrocities in S. Sudan were largely ignored for a long time because the victims were Christians, etc., but murderers - Muslims."

    It is a true phenomenon how western MSM manage to separate Islam from the fact (while mostly ignoring it altogether) that there is no country with a muslim majority in which non-muslims are not harassed or at least discriminated against.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    168 Simple.Beware who your friends aren't.Be suspicious of everyone.Nations don't have friends, only interests.Never trust so called allies, even seemingly close NATO allies.Some will sell you out in a heartbeat if there's money in it.The Japanese who depend on the US to defend them sold us out to the USSR compromising the very weapons systems we use to defend them with.France has spies in the US

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    #122 PMK "Marie Le Pen's electorate has no way to go, but to vote for Sarkozy in the 2nd round (if it comes to that)"

    They will go fishing, as ~20% of Le Pen's voters did in 2007.

    #168. This story was about Japanese milling machines controlled by Norwegian computers.

    What has this to do with France and Merah ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    166"True, but it did not make Soviet nuke subs like "Kursk" any safer,
    did it?"

    It did make them quieter & much harder to detect.That's the point, if you have military secrets & want to protect them keep them in the US.Cost per unit may be lower outsourcing to the UK but total cost to the US taxpayer would be offset by lower UI payout and more tax revenue from US workers.Bad move outsourcing

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    French PM answering cirticism that the self-described al-Qaida terrorist was no apprehended earlier:

    "We do not have the right in this country to permanently monitor someone when they have committed no crime, without the decision of a judge."

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Suilerua: " Technology to produce very quiet US submarines was outsourced to Toshiba who sold it to the USSR.

    True, but it did not make Soviet nuke subs like "Kursk" any safer,
    did it?

    Just like stealing Concorde's blue-prints didn't exacly make TU-144 a success story.

    [forget "Buran": back enginerering is hard]

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Re #164

    Agree with you on principle. However, due to anticipated high costs of R&D Pentagon agreed that NATO countries which contributed most financially, would be among the first to obtain F-35s.

    With mass production significantly lowering costs per unit for USAF.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    163 I don't think US military technology should ever be outsourced to overseas suppliers.First you never know how the political winds will shift in the future.Second you never can trust outsiders, even in the US there's a risk.Technology to produce very quiet US submarines was outsourced to Toshiba who sold it to the USSR.Added cost of US production is offset by fewer unemployed here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Weapons save family lives?

    BAE Systems is to open a new £150m facility later to increase US F-35 jet fuselage production by extending its site in Samlesbury, Lancashire.[...]

    Earlier this month workers at Samlesbury voted to lose a day's pay each month to help save jobs"

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    158"So when exactly are you planning to take on the 'terror nation' of Russia?"

    The US took on Soviet Russia and destroyed it. It cost trillions of dollars, took almost 40 years, and Europeans had to be dragged along kicking and screaming.I think we should sent Pershing IIs to Europe as monuments just for old times sake.Europe will never acknowledge our triumph or forgive us for it. Tough

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Re: strict gun cotnrols (for law-abiding citizens, not for thugs]

    'PM Cameron said [that by increasing a price of alcohol] the government wanted to reverse a drinking culture that last year contributed to one million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2 million hospital admissions." (BBC)

    Do you believe if you were allowed to purchase a Beretta or a Glock you'd increase death stats?


Page 1 of 9



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.