Minister of Interior Valls faces Criticism from Right in wake of Train Attack

Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls. Photo: Jackolan1 for Wikimedia Commons

Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls. Photo: Jackolan1 for Wikimedia Commons

Last month, on Saturday, March 16, a group of twenty young people attacked several RER D train carriages – public transportation that links the city of Paris and its outskirts – at the ‘Grigny Centre’ station. The train was headed towards Essonne, a notoriously dangerous part of the Ile-de-France region. At around 10:00 in the evening local time, the group demanded phones and money from the frightened passengers. A dozen people were robbed.

One of the victims of this attack, a young male University student who preferred to speak to the press anonymously, said: “I was fist punched and got tear gas in my eyes. They pulled away my friend’s purse and took my money.” He described the event as “a diligent and very organized attack of the modern era; quick and violent.”

Ten days later, on March 26, fifteen of the people that were suspected of having organized the attack were taken into custody as a result of a police raid in the borough of Grigny 2, in Essonne. Approximately 195 police officers as well as a team of RAID (“Research, Assistance, Intervention, Dissuasion,” the special operations unit of the National Police) were brought into this borough classified as a ZSP, or Priority Zone for Security.

According to a police source, most of the fifteen suspects are minors. Commenting on this investigation, Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls has assured the citizens of Paris that he is “content” with the police operation that took place.

“It goes to show that with camera surveillance and a good knowledge of the investigated area, a quick and thorough inspection can take place. This also shows that the borough of Grigny 2, amongst others, is rightfully classified as a ZSP,” he said.

Although the attack in the RER D line did not result in any serious injuries, it had a major impact on the public psyche and has resuscitated the controversial topic of security within the public transportation system of Ile-de-France. A number of right-wing politicians are accusing the government of being responsible for the violence, citing a lack of concern for security.

Given that the Parti socialiste (PS) has been in power in France for less than a year after almost two decades of right-wing rule, criticism of this kind is indeed inevitable. Minister of the Interior Valls has not been spared from constant comparisons to right-wing politicians from the ‘pre-May 2012’ era, and has been criticized for what is seen by the right as an increase in societal issues since Hollande’s ascent to the presidency.

Ex-Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux explained that Jean-François Copé, president of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), “has set out to demystify Valls who has been very popular within the right-wing party”. Copé has indeed demanded that his party concentrate on opposing the Minister of the Interior, and stated firmly during the party’s Political Bureau on March 20, “Manuel Valls does not deserve any of our praise. Do not make him one of ‘ours’ and we shall not allow a Vallsmania to take place by describing him as an equivalent to Nicholas Sarkozy in this position.”

Critics of the government cite recent data on violence in France to support their accusations. In the first six months of rule by the PS, reports have shown that violent crime had increased by 9% and theft and robbery by 8%, while white-collar crime and corruption increased by 18%. “These statistics are very negative,” Hortefeux stated, and he believes that overall delinquencies are at their highest level in the past ten years.

Eric Ciotti, an expert on matters of security for the UMP, confirms, “Rates of delinquency have never been this high.” Members of the UMP accuse Valls of adopting weak policy measures to combat such increases in crime. Hortefeux observes, “behind the vigor of his words there is an endangering weakness in his actions, which leads to less protection for the citizens of France.”

The UMP has highlighted the related issue of unemployment in addition to its attack on the government’s internal security policies. The party claims, “There are two matters of great concern for the French: unemployment and security.” Xavier Betrand, a member of the UMP who played a major role in Sarkozy’s election campaign in 2007, says Valls is “one of the worst Ministers of the Interior ever seen.”

As a result, on April 4, the UMP devoted their party convention to the topic of security. The political offensive against Valls is said to then recommence by mid-April. Copé insists that his party will continue to agitate, declaring, “There is no way that we will leave the country to face the decisions of the Parti socialiste and the Front national.”

Declining approval ratings for Hollande’s party has resulted in a drastic turnabout in vocalized right-wing opinion on Valls. As recently as November 2012, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, member of the UMP and Prime Minister from 2002 to 2005, had said that Valls “is the most rightwing inclined minister” and the UMP “had better not give him a hard time.” Such sentiments have obviously changed of late.

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