On Tuesday, the French National Assembly voted 346-148 to extend for three months application of the 1955 law invoked by the government to control violence that has now affected French banlieues for nineteen consecutive nights.[1] -- Earlier in the day, before addressing the National Assembly, Prime Minster Dominique de Villepin had visited an area affected by the rioting for the first time, going to Aulnay-sous-Bois in the Seine-Saint-Denis department. -- He reported that conditions remain "difficult in a large number of neighborhoods." -- Police are reporting "a return to an almost normal situation" on the ground, Le Monde reported. -- But Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that "'nothing has been settled for sure' despite 'a progressive return to calm.'" -- Sarkozy called for a "vigorous national response," but spoke only in general terms about what needs to be done: "We are in the presence of one of the most acute and most complex urban crises that we have ever had to face. It requires firmness, this has been demanded from just about every bench in the National Assembly. This demands a lot of sang-froid," he said. -- Sang-froid, however is a quality that has so far been somewhat lacking on the right. -- On Tuesday, France's employment minister blamed, of all things, "polygamy as one reason for the rioting in the country," London's Financial Times (UK) reported.[2] -- "Mr. Larcher's comments could further fuel the debate and are likely to outrage Muslim and anti-racism groups in France," wrote reporter Martin Arnold. -- And the week before, hotheaded neoliberals like Nicolas Baverez, the author of La France qui tombe (Perrin, 2004), weighed in, trying to take advantage of the crisis to advance their own pet ideas. -- Baverez, who has lost all sense of sang-froid, exclaims that a "pre-revolutionary situation . . . prevails in France" with "the contours of a civil war," and that France is "the sick man of Europe."[3] -- This claim is as silly as is impractical his recommendation that France embrace "a true 'cultural revolution' with the drastic rejuvenation of the ruling class; encouragement of mobility, and social mixing (notably wider access to university courses and to business opportunities); the abandonment of Malthusian economics; and the rediscovery of productivity and work" together with the introduction of "a culture of efficiency in public services." -- Baverez is dreaming: Timothy Garton Ash refuted the notion that the problem is uniquely French in the Guardian (UK) on Nov. 10, and history has demonstrated again and again that Baverez's neoliberal program is extremely unpalatable to the majority of French opinion....

[Translated from Le Monde (Paris)]

(With AFP.)

Le Monde (Paris)
November 15, 2005 -- 8:52 p.m.


On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the National Assembly passed a three-month extension of the application of the 1955 law establishing a state of emergency, in order to respond to the crisis of the banlieues. The bill was approved 346-148, with 4 abstentions. The bill will be considered by the Senate Wednesday afternoon.

In the afternoon, the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, appeared before the National Assembly to argue for the extension of the state of emergency before the deputies summoned to vote. The situation remains "difficult in a large number of neighborhoods," he said.

"We cannot accept that more than two hundred cars" continue to "burn every night," the prime minister said, who had gone earlier in the day to Aulnay-sous-Bois, in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, one of the Paris banlieues most affected by the rioting that broke out on Thursday, Oct. 27. This is the first time that the head of government has visited an affected area since the beginning of the urban violence.

"I have therefore proposed to the president of the Republic the extension of the 1955 law for three months," he said to the National Assembly, where the governmental UMP party holds the majority. "This is a precautionary measure that allows the prefect, with the agreement of the mayor, to have at his disposition instruments needed for the reestablishment of order should circumstances require it," added M. de Villepin. "This is also a protective measure for the populations affected by the violence," used "with great care," and "the government can bring it to an end through a decree as soon as a lasting calm is reestablished," he emphasized.


The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, followed him to the tribune. He spoke more virulently, calling for a "vigorous national response." "We are in the presence of one of the most acute and most complex urban crises that we have ever had to face. It requires firmness, this has been demanded from just about every bench in the National Assembly. This requires a lot of sang-froid," declared the interior minister.

"It also requires a vigorous national response in which all persons must feel they have a stake," he added, appealing to deputies' "sense of the general interest and national unity." For Nicolas Sarkozy, this "general interest" requires the vote for the extenstion of the state of emergency, a "necessary" measure. This extension is fixed for a period of "three months at most beginning on Monday, Nov. 21," for "nothing has been settled for sure" despite "a progressive return to calm," added the minister.


According to his analysis, the acts of violence seen in France in recent weeks can be imputed to "the will of those who have made of delinquency their principal activity." The interior minister recalled that "75 to 80%" of the persons arrested are "already known for many misdeeds." But "the problem of the banlieues is also the reflection of a broader and deeper malaise that is none other than the French malaise," he added.

With respect to the application of the state of emergency, Nicolas Sarkozy specified that it "was, is, and will be applied with care and proportionality by the government . . . only in places where it is necessary." He promised a "fair balance" between "the requirements of public order and those of respect for individual liberties." And he specified that searches ordered by the administration, which are foreseen by the law on the state of emergency, would be under the control of judicial authorities.

The vote takes place as the police report "a return to an almost normal situation" on the ground. And France's strictest curfew, imposed on both adults and minors in a troubled part of Evreux, will be lifted beginning Wednesday, the prefecture announced.

(With AFP.)

Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to the Assembly that ten expulsion procedures for foreigners who participated in the riots had been "opened." He communicated his intention to open procedures to expel foreigners involved in the urban violence several days ago.

"It's not a matter of having a big turnover, it's a question of principle," explained the minister in reference to the number of persons affected by the measure. "All those who may be expelled under the law will be expelled because they participated in rioting," the minister added.

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
Web page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



French riots

By Martin Arnold

Financial Times (UK)
November 15, 2005


France's employment minister yesterday fingered polygamy as one reason for the rioting in the country.

Gérard Larcher said multiple marriages among immigrants was one reason for the racial discrimination which ethnic minorities faced in the job market. Overly large polygamous families sometimes led to anti-social behaviour among youths who lacked a father figure, making employers wary of hiring ethnic minorities, he explained.

The minister, speaking to a group of foreign journalists as the government stepped up efforts to improve its image with the foreign media, said: "Since part of society displays this anti-social behaviour, it is not surprising that some of them have difficulties finding work . . . Efforts must be made by both sides. If people are not employable, they will not be employed."

The riots, and the government's slow reaction to the violence, has led to widespread criticism that France's ruling class is out of touch with the rest of the country. Mr Larcher's comments could further fuel the debate and are likely to outrage Muslim and anti-racism groups in France.

They also come as the government considers tightening visa-granting rules and a possible clampdown on polygamous families already living in France.

Although polygamy is illegal in France, visas were granted freely to family members of immigrants until 1993, when visas were banned for more than one spouse. Many wives continued to enter illegally, however and a clampdown, if enforced, could affect families that entered the country before 1993.

Politicians estimate there are 10,000-20,000 polygamous families in France, most from North and sub-Saharan African countries such as Algeria, Mali, and Senegal, where the practice is legal.

Polygamy is a taboo subject for most mainstream French politicians. Far-right groups, however, have seized on it to argue that immigrants abuse the French social security system by collecting state benefits for several wives.

The government has also been criticised for refusing to closely analyse demographic patterns in France in order to better integrate minorities. But Mr. Larcher said France was so traumatized by the Vichy government's expulsion of French Jews to German concentration camps during the second world war that it still found it unpalatable to allow information to be collected on people's ethnic origins.

He acknowledged that the unemployment rate among young people in France was twice the national average, but said other European countries faced similar problems. He also pointed the finger at the U.S., where he said the unemployment rate among blacks aged 16-19 was twice that of their white counterparts.

His comments came as Dominique de Villepin, prime minister, made his first visit to the poor Paris suburbs since rioting erupted almost three weeks ago.

Although the unrest has abated substantially in recent days, the French parliament on Tuesday approved a law prolonging by three months the life of a controversial 1955 curfew law.


By Nicolas Baverez

Financial Times (UK)
November 13, 2005

The riots that have swept 300 French towns and cities in the past two weeks constitute a new and dramatic illustration of the pre-revolutionary situation that prevails in France. The latest violence comes in the wake of street protests in 1995, the shock of the 2002 presidential election, and the electoral revolt of the May 2005 referendum on the European Union constitution.

On one side, desperate youths, prisoners of the housing estates, deprived of training and employment, lock themselves into delinquency and pursue a nihilistic violence that excludes all forms of representation or political expression. On the other side, an absence of leadership translates into a disproportionate official response, with recourse to the 1955 law governing states of emergency and curfews. This hardens the contours of a civil war -- the only antecedents being Algeria in 1955 and New Caledonia in 1985 -- and contrasts sharply with the weakness of government proposals for integration: for example, lowering the age of apprenticeship to 14; extra housing subsidies; creation of a “national cohesion and equal opportunity” agency; and assigning government officials to equal opportunity duties.

The intifada in the suburbs is not a matter of class struggle, nor -- for the moment -- of religious confrontation: it is a war of race, generation, and caste, inseparable from France’s big national crisis. Admittedly, all European countries confront problems integrating immigrant populations, aggravated by the threat of fanaticism and Islamist terrorism. But while many national models are in crisis, the severity of France’s troubles is explained by four specific reasons.

First is the concentration of the population of foreign origin in some 750 urban ghettos and official tolerance of large-scale clandestine immigration. This enables people to benefit from a quasi-official status that guarantees access to certain social assistance and most public services.

Second is the entrenchment of unemployment affecting 10 per cent of the active population -- but 38 per cent of young people from immigrant backgrounds and up to 70 per cent of people in certain ghettos.

Third is the disintegration of the French model, with the failure of urban policies that aggravate social segregation, despite the government’s investment of more than 34bn euros ($40bn) since 2000. This failure also encompasses the education system, which every year disgorges 161,000 young people who lack training, and the over-regulated labor market, which reinforces protection for a limited core of the active population while transferring risk and insecurity to the most vulnerable, and setting impassably high entry barriers for young immigrants.

Finally, and above all, is the dysfunction of a Malthusian economy and society which, under the cover of an abstract concept of “equality,” practices a pitiless form of apartheid in which the state willingly -- and indiscriminately -- pours out cash transfers and assistance while the route to society and citizenship remains closed.

The current insurrection cannot fail to worsen France’s crisis, widening the gulf that separates the country, as defined by its laws, from the reality, and separating those who exercise public power from the rest of society. This reinforces extremist passions and xenophobia, undermines public confidence, degrades the country’s competitiveness, and breaks apart the body politic and the nation. It could, however, help to show French people that there is no solution to their current difficulties without a change to the system.

This urban violence is not an aberrant tumor on a healthy body; it is a tumor grafted on to a country that is the sick man of Europe. The outcome of this crisis cannot simply be a new arsenal of repressive measures and social assistance. Resolution of this crisis requires a true “cultural revolution” with the drastic rejuvenation of the ruling class; encouragement of mobility and social mixing (notably wider access to university courses and to business opportunities); the abandonment of Malthusian economics; and the rediscovery of productivity and work -- which along with education, is the key to integration. It also involves introducing a culture of efficiency in public services and refocusing the state-as-provider on the economic inclusion of the excluded.

The suburbs thus hold up a mirror to the true face of France in 2005 which, because it has let itself be diverted from necessary reforms by a populist and irresponsible political class, finds itself in a state of insurrection, combining civil war with diplomatic failures that sets it apart from the world and the Europe of the 21st century.

--The writer, a historian and economist, is author of La France qui tombe (Perrin, 2004).