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Security major issue in French regional election campaigns after Paris attacks

Les Republicain Paris region candidate Valérie Pécresse (2nd from right) surrounded by party leaders, who hope to beat the Front National in regional elections. AFP /Dominique Faget

The 13 November terrorist attacks in Paris have put the issue of security into the campaign for the upcoming regional elections, even though regions technically have no control over security. Even before the attacks, the election was being seen as a national referendum on President Francois Hollande and the Socialist government, and a test for the rising popularity of the far-right Front National. Security issues have boosted the FN even more.

“These regional elections are totally nationalized, so the candidates have to talk about security issues and immigration,” political scientist Romain Pasquier told RFI. “But concretely, regions have no competency in these areas because regions in France are weak.”

Municipal governments have control of local police, he says. Regions manage economic development plans, cultural and social institutions and regional transport networks, among others.

“The main issues of the campaign before the terrorist attacks were social-economic: about the incapacity of the government to create jobs, which was part of the competencies of the regions, in terms of economic development and employment and so on,” says Pasquier.

This has been showing up on the campaign trail, notably from candidates on the right, from former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Republicains party, which is facing stiff competition from the FN in the Nord Pas de Calais region in the north, and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in the southeast.

They have been proposing reinforcing security where they can: putting metal detectors at the entrances of cultural institutions and high schools, for example.

That’s what the Les Republicains candidate in the Paris region, Valerie Pecresse, proposed after the attacks. Monday she said she would put in place a secularism charter that anyone receiving subsidies from her region would have to sign.

This echoes what FN leader and the candidate in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, Marine Le Pen said last week: “City halls, departments and regions have sometimes financed associations without verifying what they were doing, and Islamic fundamentalists have used the associations to develop their ideologies.”

Xavier Bertrand, who is running against Le Pen, for the Republicains, brought up the issue of making everyone feel secure.

“There’s a difference between voters in cities and rural voters,” he told RFI. “People say it’s not because there is less danger in rural areas that we should not also be protected, and we must respond to that.”

Pasquier says that candidates can talk about security, but it is just that: talk.

“I think it’s more of a discursive strategy, to make a link between regions and security issues,” he says, dismissing it as “not very strategic in terms of terrorist attacks.”

And yet, candidates have to make the connection, as that is what voters appear to be asking for.

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