How to put an end to the attacks on elected officials

Opinion polls have shown for years that they are the French’s preferred elected officials. And yet, mayors – and thus all other elected officials at local or national level – are now victims of more and more attacks by their voters. Offensive markings on the walls of their homes, searches of their offices, death threats, physical attacks, social media abuse, even intimidation … In 2020, elected officials were the target of 1,276 attacks, a 200% increase from 200% in 2019 , according to figures recently published by FranceInfo. This is “about a quarter of the insults and written threats and the same proportion of attacks on the private property of elected officials,” said the interior minister in Figaro. In the past year, more than 500 mayors or MPs were physically assaulted, 68 houses of elected officials were targeted and 63 private vehicles were destroyed.

Judicial answer

The Association of Mayors of France (AMF), which notes that the phenomenon has been increasing for several years, estimates that physical and verbal violence against locally elected officials will certainly be more numerous unless many mayors systematically file a complaint. With the support of the 103 departmental associations, the AMF has just set up the observatory for attacks on elected officials.

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“This new tool should allow each elected official to witness exactly the physical or verbal attacks he has experienced and to complete his statement throughout the judicial process,” explains the association, chaired by LR Mayor of Troyes François Baroin.

Under pressure from increasingly concerned elected officials on the ground, the executive issued an initial reply in a circular last September. Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti calls on the public prosecutor to step up judicial surveillance of perpetrators of crimes against elected officials on the ground. Thus, the insults against them, which until then were considered insults, are now classified as contempt. This circular also opens up the possibility of punishing violent criminals with civil service sentences (TIG) and of forbidding persons who have attacked elected officials from “appearing or staying” on the territory of the municipality. For more serious facts, she recommends appearing immediately. Finally, the circular called for a personal welcome to be set up for chosen victims.

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A first step that makes elected officials doubtful for the time being. “We need an awareness that goes beyond that. We do not have the impression that law enforcement measures are initiated systematically. We need action, if we undermine the integrity of an elected official, we need a punishment adapted to the reaction,” the Senator of the estimates public senate LR Ardèche Mathieu Darnaud.

“To do nothing means to support. Today we have to wake up in France and understand that politicians have to be shown a minimum of respect”, analyzes Patrick Rauscher, Mayor of Saintry-sur-Seine (Essonne).

Learn de-escalation techniques

Beyond the criminal response, the problem of training elected officials in conflict management and de-escalation techniques has become critical.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and the President of the AMF wrote to the 35,000 mayors of France on March 25th. Nearly 350 negotiators from the gendarmerie have been trained by the GIGN negotiating unit so that they can supply the elected officials with everything they need to ease the pressure of attacks.

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“The aim is to enable mayors to use all the keys to understanding in order to disarm conflicts, facilitate dialogue and restore communication with the person or persons involved,” explains the ministry. “The sessions consist of a theoretical component and a practical component through scenarios. The number of elected representatives per session is limited to twelve in order to ensure a high level of pedagogy and facilitate exchanges between elected officials and speakers. Elected officials become evident reminded If there is an impending danger, the emergency number 17 must be dialed immediately, ”said the AMF.

The national police will soon offer training with the same vocation. These are developed within the National School of Police.