A day after 12 people were killed in an attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, National Front leader Marine Le Pen called for a referendum over reviving capital punishment in France. But while such a call may resonate with the shock and outrage among many citizens, it could also be a path to achieving another long-time goal of her party: withdrawing France from the European Union, which forbids member states from using the death penalty.
“I have always said that I needed to offer the French people the option of expressing itself on the issue by means of a referendum,” she told broadcaster France 2 on Thursday.
Capital punishment, she said, should be at the disposal of any jury as punishment for “the most heinous of crimes,” adding that — framing her proposal in the language of retaliation — “fundamentalist Islam causes thousands of deaths every day in the world.”
Le Pen is a longtime supporter of stricter border patrols and more resources for law enforcement — demands that arise out of her concern about “the infiltration level of radical Islam on our territory.” She said she would address these worries during a meeting with French President Francois Hollande on Friday, where the attack and strategies to prevent future tragedies will feature prominently on the agenda.
But reinstating the death penalty won’t be one of those strategies. France outlawed capital punishment in 1981 — using the guillotine for the last execution — and enshrined the ruling in its constitution. Besides being a party to various human rights treaties under which capital punishment is anathema, France is also a member of the European Union.
And EU membership is contingent on adherence to treaties that explicitly forbid member states from adopting capital punishment.
France’s exit from the EU — which Le Pen views as the only way to solve the issues of rising unemployment, inflation and immigration — has long been on the wish list of her far-right party. And though critics have been alarmed by the rising xenophobia and Euroskeptic sentiment that drive Le Pen’s immense popularity, her party saw unprecedented gains in the 2014 municipal elections, gaining seats in 11 cities. A referendum on capital punishment, however, would amount to a stealth fast-track mechanism for achieving the party’s EU-phobic goal. That’s not a proposal Hollande is likely to entertain any time soon.
With Agence France-Presse