Two thirds of French people do not trust the president or government on terrorism, with half believing that France is at war, and the majority wanting more “effective” responses to terrorism including an increase in military and policing personnel, harsher prison sentences, and greater surveillance and policing powers.
According to a survey conducted for Le Figaro the day after the Bastille Day attack in Nice, 67 per cent of respondents said that they do not trust President François Hollande and his government to fight terrorism. This is a sharp decline in confidence in the government, where between January 2015 and January 2016 the same survey showed that nearly one half of those surveyed trusted the government on matters of national security.
A staggering 99 per cent of respondents believe that the threat of attack is either “high” or “very high”, and half believe that France is at war, compared to 37 per cent in December 2015.
Distrust in the executive was felt highest among those on the right who vote Républicains and Front National, with just 17 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively, saying that they trust the government to effectively fight the war on terrorism.
However, confidence in the police, gendarmerie, and French intelligence services remains high at 84 per cent, that figure changing little since a similar survey was undertaken in January 2015 immediately following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. But the results also showed that 77 per cent believe that the intelligence and policing forces do not have enough legally-granted powers, and 69 per cent said that the police and gendarmerie are not sufficiently staffed.
One significant find of the survey is that the French want to see a more effective fight against Islamic terrorism, including more extreme measures that would give precedence to national security over individuals’ freedoms.
Eighty-one per cent of respondents were willing to accept more controls and limitations on their freedoms.
Sixty-eight per cent were favourable that those flagged as a threat to national security should not only be arrested but imprisoned. Those flagged on the French terror watch list, known as “Record S”, the “s” short for “Sûreté de l’État’ (State Security), allows for surveillance of suspects but is not immediate cause for arrest.
The French public do not believe that members of terror cells are punished enough (88 per cent), and 91 per cent are in favour of a ‘life’ prison sentence that lasts the duration of the convicted person’s life without the possibility of sentence adjustment – even after thirty years’ imprisonment.
Jérôme Fourquet, director of Ifop, the French Institute of Public Opinion, who undertook the survey said of the strong sentiments expressed through the results: “In exceptional circumstances, there are exceptional responses.
“The attack in Nice has deeply marked people’s spirits and has reinforced the pre-existing views that France, at war with determined enemies, should authorise measures that the authorities had not considered before. ”
Mr. Fourquet went on to remark that the figures are at record level in the 15 years of the survey’s existence.
These findings come as Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France and potential presidential candidate for the 2017 elections, criticised Mr. Hollande’s government for not doing more to tackle terrorism, saying: “Everything that could be done against terrorism in the past 18 months has not been done.”
Mr. Sarkozy called for a series of measures to fight terrorism including shutting down Salafist mosques, expelling extremist imams, opening de-radicalisation centres, and even on-the-ground military intervention in Iraq and Syria and a Franco-Russian alliance.
In response to Mr. Sarkozy’s accusation, on Sunday 17 July French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Minister for the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve attempted to defend the government’s counter-terrorism measures and issued a joint statement saying:“No government has done so far to fight against terrorism,” recalling “the need for national unity”.
On Monday 18 July Mr. Valls was booed at a memorial event in Nice for the Bastille Day attack after telling the French public to “learn to live with terrorism”.