At more or less the same time this Brief is published, France’s World Cup team will be descending on the Champs-Elysees. They’ll be sending a powerful message against the authoritarian drift and the toxic debates on immigration that currently dominate in Europe and the world.
However, the message from the nation’s beloved athletes is ephemeral and has to be built on.
For the final game on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin sat next to Fifa President Gianni Infantino with France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic nearby.
After France defeated Croatia 4-2, Macron stood inside the VIP box of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, raising his fist in victory while Putin, two seats along, clapped his hands.
One can agree or disagree with Macron’s current political line, but some facts cannot be denied: his campaign for the French presidential election runoff in 2017 was constantly disrupted by Russian cyber incursions, his strong pro-European stance stood contrary to a nation-first discourse, and he celebrated a team that features no less than 15 players with African roots and seven dual-passport holders.
The fact that only Putin was protected by an umbrella from the downpour in the Russian capital was swiftly spotted by the press worldwide.
From a national point of view, the World Cup also proves to work as a formidable mood-lifting remedy against economic pressures, the rise of the far-right and home-grown terrorism.
Let’s not forget, many supporters who celebrated France’s victory belong to the new millennial generation, nicknamed in France ‘génération Bataclan’, after the Paris concert hall that saw 130 dead and many wounded, physically and psychologically, in the terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015.
Indeed, one of the most powerful pictures of last night’s celebrations was the jubilation at the Carillon, one of the bars targeted during the attacks.
However, little attention was given to one piece of information that says a lot about France’s current political line.
On Sunday, users of the Paris public transport network could read a message saying that, at the request of the police prefecture, for safety reasons, there would be no public transport between Paris and the nearby suburbs (the départements of 92, 93 and 94) as of 6pm. Those suburbs are mainly populated by people of African or Arab descent.
“The public authorities will decide when the network will be running again,” the message also said.
What it meant was that inhabitants of the Paris suburbs, the banlieues, were cut off and prevented from taking part in the spontaneous festivities that erupted in the French capital. In other words, this sends exactly the opposite message to the one France wants to celebrate, a message of openness and inclusion.
It also reflects the Parisian political elites’ fears of the banlieues and brings back to mind the weeks of riots in 2005, which broke out after two young men died from electrocution while hiding from the police. In protest, all across France, youths burned cars and buildings in the suburbs. Some 3,000 people were arrested and several injured.
These riots were the sign of the hopelessness of a generation of young people stuck in dismal suburbs, marginalised and jobless because of their address, skin colour or their parents’ immigrant origins. More than 4.4 million people live in the toughest parts of the banlieues, classed as priority zones.
Last night’s celebrations in France also saw burning cars, plundered stores and clashes between youth and the police.
Today, France’s euphoria and effervescence is emotional and positive and shows that sports can work as a catalyst to bring people and nations together.
But, it is also fleeting and has to be built on.
Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev claims that Greek businessmen are using their Moscow connections to sow discord ahead of a crucial referendum in September on the recently brokered name deal.
Donald Trump advised UK PM Theresa May to sue Brussels during his farcical visit to Britain. May has also ruled out another referendum under “any circumstances”. Erstwhile foreign minister, Boris Johnson, has gone back to his journalistic roots.
Trump now ranks the EU among America’s foes, a point refuted today by the bloc’s foreign affairs chief, while the Commander-in-Chief congratulated Finland on its support for NATO, despite not being one of the Alliance’s members.
Look out for…
EU leaders stop off in Tokyo to pen to paper on a trade deal with Japan.
World Cup Roundup
Croatia nearly pulled it off but were outdone by a professional France team on Sunday. Our highlights of the tournament include: Belgium’s Batshuayi winning the Golden Post, Japan’s immense touch of class and Croatia’s amazing fans. In 2022, at the next World Cup, it will have been twenty years since a non-European team won the trophy. Bring it on!
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