France’s mainstream Right-wing presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse has pledged to “hose down” crime-wracked urban areas in a bid to depict incumbent President Emmanuel Macron as a soft touch on crime.
Ms Pécresse’s decision to wield the word “Karcher”, the brand name that has come to be equated with power hose in France, was a clear nod to former president Nicolas Sarkozy, her political mentor.
The conservative ex-French president famously used the expression while interior minister in the Chirac administration in a pledge to clean out crime-infested housing estates in tinderbox banlieues, or suburbs, which exploded into riots in 2005.
While the Left slammed the term as brutal and divisive, it helped boost his popularity leading to his successful presidential bid in 2007.
“We need to get the Karcher out again because it has been stored away in the cellar… for the last 10 years,” Ms Pécresse, the 54-year-old Republicans party candidate told journalists in the southern town of Salon-de-Provence.
“We’re going to need to clean up these neighbourhoods that have become areas without laws and sometimes without France,” the head of the Paris region added.
“In my Republic, there will not be areas where drug dealers have the upper hand.”
Security and immigration are among the most pressing concerns of French voters ahead of presidential elections in April, behind worries about the cost of living and wages.
When asked if she could do better than the tough-talking Mr Sarkozy during his 2007-2012 term in office, Ms Pécresse replied: “I’m an Iron Lady. Ask people in my region.”
The irony is that Mr Sarkozy, recently convicted for corruption and who is close to Mr Macron, has not officially thrown his weight behind Ms Pécresse.
A new poll published on Wednesday evening by the Ifop-Fiducial survey group showed Mr Macron extending his gains slightly over his challengers including Ms Pécresse, as well as far-right rivals Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour.
The centrist Mr Macron, 44, is seen as easily winning the first round. Should Ms Pécresse pip the far-Right rivals to reach the second round, she would go on to lose the runoff with 45 per cent of the vote to Macron’s 55 per cent.
But analysts caution that the election race remains highly unpredictable.
The Republicans are convinced that law and order could be one of Mr Macron’s Achilles heels in the run-up to the election.
Ms Pécresse’s security adviser is hard-Right MP Eric Ciotti who has called for a French Guantanamo for people released from prison but still considered a terror risk.
Ms Pecresse could be Mr Macron’s nearest rival, but analysts warn that the election is still unpredictable. Credit: PASCAL GUYOT/AFP
In her interview, she called for “shock brigades” to deal with urban crime using “digital means, the tax authorities but also the army” to secure incursions into no-go areas.
Given France’s overcrowded prisons, she wants to create temporary detention centres to house prisoners serving short-term sentences while building 20,000 more permanent cell places.
Sensing the danger, Mr Macron will next Monday travel to Nice to discuss crime and insecurity.
Ms Pécresse’s power hose comments came just as Mr Macron stirred up a major controversy on Tuesday evening after telling the Parisien newspaper that he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated with more restrictions.
The use of vulgar slang word “emmerder” (literally, “to put someone in the s—”), was condemned by his opponents including Ms Pécresse, who said it was “not the president’s job to divide the French people into good and bad people”.
However, commentators say the incumbent president’s outburst helped him hog the media spotlight, forcing Ms Pécresse to employ shock tactics to rekindle interest in her campaign. “How to exist when you’re in mid-presidential campaign and the only subject is Covid-19?,” asked BFMTV on its website.
“Macron is using diversion tactics with his phrases but when the French open their eyes on his record, they will see a total crisis of authority,” she claimed.
“We have a president who waxes jabbers on all the time to insult or to seduce… The French know me less because I act,” she said.
Jean Castex, Mr Macron’s prime minister, hit back on RTL: “If there is no judicial follow-up, you can have all the power hoses you want, it won’t work.”
Ms Pécresse, who is bidding to be France’s first woman president, unveiled her campaign team this week, which included all her Republicans party rivals for the nomination.
Among her highest-ranking aides is former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.