A president who rushes without warning towards the crowd, taking his bodyguards by surprise. This image, which precedes that of the slap received by Emmanuel Macron during a trip to the Drôme, Tuesday, June 8, says a lot about the French tradition in terms of the security of heads of state. “In the United States, the president is the hostage of his security officers. In France, it is negotiated”, summarizes for France Télévisions René-Georges Querry, the former head of the anti-terrorism coordination unit. Beyond national security issues, the protection of the highest leaders of this world, moreover during an election period, is an eminently political issue in each country. And the fruit of a particular story.
In France, the security of the president begins to expand after the failed attempt at Petit-Clamart (Hauts-de-Seine) in 1962 against General de Gaulle. Close protection of the Head of State is then provided by four police officers, nicknamed “gorillas” because of their stature. But it was not until 1983 to see the creation of a real service: the GSPR, the grSecurity oupe of the Presidency of the Republic. His mission : face up to “terrorist threats which weighed on the person of the President of the Republic at the time”, relocates on franceinfo its creator, Alain Le Caro.
Another reason, more personal, explains the establishment of the GSPR. It is then a question of protecting two state secrets: the double life of François Mitterrand and the illness of the socialist president. But the freedom of movement of the Head of State remains the priority.
“The originality of the GSPR is also that we did not want to put the president in a cage. It is up to us to adapt to the requirements and needs of the president.”Alain Le Caro, creator of the GSPR
This culture of French protection services continued under Jacques Chirac. Mitterrand’s successor goes even further into contact with the population and hates close security. This is evidenced by his visit to Jerusalem in October 1996 and his famous sentence to the Israeli guards: “This is not a method!” The incident is not personal. “In the name of security, the Israeli police wanted politically to prevent Chirac from having direct contact and from giving the image of a French president popular among the Palestinians. (…) We have a very good example of what ‘close protection can have a political dimension “, analyzed René-Georges Querry.
The very organization of the GSPR reveals struggles for influence. First made up of GIGN gendarmes, it ended up integrating police officers, trained in the protection service (SDLP), in order to respect the balance between the two institutions. But when he came to power in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy placarded the men of the GSPR and surrounded himself with his own close guard, made up of “super-cops” with reinforced resources. According to The Express, the former Minister of the Interior did not forgive “this entirely military fidelity to the instructions of absolute confidentiality given by Jacques Chirac, during his hospitalization in Val-de-Grâce, on September 2, 2005, for a stroke”.
With the accession to the Elysee Palace of the socialist François Hollande in 2012, the GSPR was put back on its feet and led, for the first time, by a woman, Commissioner Sophie Hatt. The one who presents himself as the president “normal” gives him an instruction: the most discreet protection possible, even if it means sometimes giving up his order service.
His successor Emmanuel Macron will also put his paw on the management of his security, by entrusting his supervision to a civilian, Alexandre Benalla. Before being blamed for brutalizing a protester on May 1, 2018, the president’s advisor had worked on a new organization, with the creation of the security department of the Presidency of the Republic. The DSPR, which oversees the GSPR and the Republican Guard, is currently headed by Colonel Benoît Ferrand.
This reform has not fundamentally changed the French spirit of presidential protection. And the episode of the slap will not change anything, slips to franceinfo a source present on the spot: “There is no strengthening of security to be expected, the president wishes to get in touch, to wander, to meet the French in a deinstitutionalized manner.”
“The French presidential tradition, unlike other countries like the United States, Russia or Israel, is that the president does what he wants”, confirms on the air Pascal Bitot-Panelli, former functional commander of the protection service and organizer of presidential trips from 1994 to 2014. “This brings about multifaceted risks, adaptation needs and the need to be much more efficient.“
“It can also happen to advise against when you feel that a move can go wrong but it’s up to the personality to decide.”Pascal Bitot-Panelli, former commander of the protection service
It is the exact opposite on the other side of the Atlantic. “It is the protection services that tell the president what to do and what not to do, who decide what sites and places he can and cannot see.”, emphasizes to franceinfo a senior officer of the French police, who participated in securing Donald Trump’s visit to France in July 2017. Armored limousine, snipers, anti-drone device, cell phone jammers … Considerable security had been deployed and more than a thousand agents from the United States Secret Service (USSS), the US government agency in charge of the US president’s security since 1901, made the trip.
In a country where four sitting presidents – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy – were assassinated and carrying a gun is a constitutional law, the life of the head of state is literally in the hands of his bodyguards. The latter, more visible than their French colleagues, calculate each movement of the president and give their prior agreement for a walkabout session. Their motto: “zero fail “(” zero fault “), reminds The Parisian. A constant demand, greedy in terms of staff (3,200 agents, against 70 at the GSPR in France) and in budget (2 billion euros per year, against 8 million in France).
Between this protection very close to the American and the French compromise, certain European leaders display an insolent freedom, just as skilfully calculated. We remember the photos of Angela Merkel shopping at the supermarket in 2007, a bodyguard in front of the store and two inside. As analyzed then Le Figaro, the German Chancellor seemed to want to show that she could step into the skin of Madam Everyone. Always having “refused to live in the chancellery”, Angela Merkel lives “in a very simple and barely guarded apartment (…) on the banks of the Spree”, note his biographer Marion Van Renterghem, author of Angela Merkel, the political UFO. “It is this very modest, very natural way of life that has earned her the nickname ‘Mutti’, the good mother of a family, even though she has no children”, observed for franceinfo Blandine Milcent, the correspondent of the Swiss Radio Television (RTS) in Berlin.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, re-elected earlier this year, has a similar strategy. Without a driver, he does his shopping in Bermuda shorts at the supermarket, shares a meal with the homeless. Last summer, it was he who played the lifeguard by throwing himself into the sea to help two young tourists dragged by the waves. Proximity to his constituents has become his trademark, so much so that he is always ready to be photographed with his fans for a “marselfie”, a hashtag that has become popular, reports International mail.
In the Netherlands, a photo of Prime Minister Mark Rutte parking his bike in the courtyard of the royal palace before an interview with the king made the rounds on social networks in 2017. A freedom of movement that allows him to promote his policy: promote the country’s infrastructure, health and the environment. More efficient than a program.