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by Adrien Rouchaleou and Emilien Urbach

Social Equality – Prime Minister Valls’ neglected priority

Translated Saturday 14 March 2015, by Philippa Griffin

Yesterday, Manuel Valls unveiled his battle plan against the terrorist risk posed to France. On the menu: increased surveillance and a reinforcement of nationwide security forces. Yet he proposes nothing to tackle problems at their roots, both in France’s cities and in her most deprived urban areas.

Fewer job losses in the Ministry of Defence and recruitment of “volunteers” to provide extra support in schools were among the strategies announced yesterday by Francois Hollande and Manuel Valls to minimise the terrorist risk in France. Nonetheless, the strategies fall far short of an adequate response to the associated social problems lamented by Valls himself. The Ministry of Education will this Thursday present further measures in a vein of defence rather than one of addressing intense urban unrest. As l’Humanité has again been able to verify (this time in the article on Grigny), residents of France’s most deprived urban areas have simply had enough of being “insulted”, and are clamouring for greater social equality together with an increase in public services to levels not seen for many years. The political left is likewise demanding a vigorous “shifting of the sands” in the manner of the PCF, the French Communist Party. On the surface, Valls appears to reinforce this sentiment: “Let us act with a politically changed vision. Let us act urgently with a communal budget, on behalf of these deprived areas and of France’s young people today. Let us act for Equality and Fraternity to put an end to these unjust political sentiments, which shoulder significant responsibility for fostering the terrorist outlook.

But yesterday morning, Valls announced the package of measures agreed to in the Council of Ministers to bolster the fight against terrorism. “France is at war”, was his declaration. Troops must be buttressed, better armed and with stronger intelligence forces, both at home and abroad. In the press room of the presidential palace, the scene dictated the tone of address. The prime minister was atop his dais, and the background sported a projected photo of a soldier on patrol with the inscription: “universal mobilisation against terrorism”. Adjacent to the President stood the Ministers of Justice, of the Interior, of Defence, of Foreign Affairs....yet no observer could fail to notice the absence of Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and of Fleur Pellerin, responsible for national education and culture respectively, and also the absence of Patrick Kanner and Myriam El Khomry, Minister and Secretary of the State and the City.

In his media address the day before, the prime minister had, in a hitherto unseen, thundering manner, referenced an onerous and longstanding collective national responsibility for having created “a territorial, social and ethnic apartheid”. Waxing lyrical, he had spoken of “our ghettos, and the relegation of our minorities to the outer suburbs”, problems which are “compounded by everyday discriminations based on the fact that one doesn’t have the ‘right’ family name, the ‘right’ skin colour or because one is a woman.” On Wednesday, however, it seemed as though these words had never left his lips; his strategies were focussed entirely upon the police, with none upon the social issues.

François Asensi condemns the abandonment of deprived urban areas by the state
Nothing was said, for example, about urban areas. A close colleague of the socialist mayor in one of France’s larger towns expressed her surprise at the government’s political contradictions. “Valls has condemned a territorial apartheid in France, yet the government is stripping support from our country’s most deprived urban communities. Additionally, the nation has voted for urban policies which deny outright the unique nature of its most deprived areas and the problems which they face, treating these in the same way as medium-sized cities”. François Asensi, the socialist mayor of Tremblay-en-France, in Seine-Saint-Denis, further condemns segregation: “These days, it’s only too easy for politicians to use the strongest language in their discourse. In reality, these deprived urban areas have been abandoned by the state. We have a duty to establish responsibilities for what has happened: for forty years, we have facilitated a transformation of certain urban areas into ‘working class, problematic, dangerous parts of the city.” Asensi knows his urban landscape inside out, and casts his mind back over the last decades. “We have renovated the physical infrastructure, but we have failed to address the social, the human aspects. And yet, there is no greater need than for measures to promote social cohesion, public education and good citizenship.”

The government, however, appears yesterday to have adopted the opposite approach: one of surveillance and repression. Alain Dru, general secretary of the CGT of the PJJ (protection judiciaire de la jeunesse, the young people’s legal protection unit) is outraged in equal measure by the willingness of Manuel Valls to create a formal unit of observation and information to monitor radicalisation at the heart of the PJJ and also by the idea to create an inspection programme of its services and institutions. “Monsieur Valls has completely misunderstood the situation”, he expounds. “The real issue here is the marginalisation of young people in these deprived areas. I have no intention of controlling young people’s text messages, or of analysing the discussions that they have between themselves. I don’t take an interest in the length of their beard or in the religious nature of their clothing choices. We must dilute our discussion of ‘Islamisation’ and prioritise health, housing and education. The measures announced by the prime minister in no way boost the provision of proactive youth work or of support for to integrating into French society, which these young people so badly need.”

Even amongst law enforcement officials, dissatisfaction regarding Wednesday’s announcements is rife. Nicolas Comte, general secretary of the national police union ‘Unité SGP-FO’, believes that the prime minister’s proposals are “surprising”. “The creation of extra jobs is of course beneficial, but it pales into insignificance when compared with 13,000 police force redundancies from 2008 to 2012.” A police civil servant gives his opinion: “entering into social contact with our citizens takes time, and is not simply solved by adding extra numbers. It is not possible to form an equation to say that ‘more resources equals better prevention of problems’. A policeman who aims to work closely with a particular urban area is not motivated by having more colleagues on the beat. As a police force, we do not have the resources for a true local police presence, where policemen are able to situate themselves in specific urban areas and understand them, thus providing a real state presence. We have the resources only for urgent action.”

But what if the best solution, rather than to feel flustered and threatened, is to take the time to understand these deprived areas and to collaborate with social workers, local people and citizens?

Since Tuesday, the word ‘Apartheid’ has set the political world on edge. Manuel Valls’ declaration on Tuesday evening to the media that “there exists a territorial, social and ethnic apartheid” has not only surprised the world, but unleashed a new wave of controversy. For François Asensi on the left, “the statement of an ‘ethnic apartheid’ is irresponsible.” Closer to the prime minister, his deputy Jean-Jacques Urvoas himself called the word “a clumsy choice: not one that I would have chosen, due to its obvious historical and geographical connotations.” Finally, François de Rugy, co-president of the EELV (Europe Ecologie Les Verts), a network of European Green parties, suggested that “ghetto” would have been “much more appropriate, but our prime minister enjoys coining new terms and expressing his regret that, for example, after the riots of 2005, we acted a little too quickly to cover up the severe problems in our society.”

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