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French minister apologises for Champions League chaos

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Tuesday made a partial apology for chaos at last month's Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in Paris, while insisting fake tickets and "delinquency" were mostly to blame.

French minister apologises for Champions League chaos
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (C) attends a meeting with cabinet ministers after the parliamentary elections. (Photo by Thomas COEX / POOL / AFP)

“Should things have been managed better at the Stade de France (stadium)? The answer is yes. Am I partly responsible? The answer is yes,” Darmanin told RTL radio.

“Of course, I readily apologise towards everyone who suffered from this bad management of the event,” he added.

After scenes of fans crowded into tight spaces and being tear-gassed by police caused outrage around Europe, Darmanin poured fuel on the fire by blaming supporters with fake tickets for the disruption.

UEFA events director Martin Kallen last week told French senators investigating the fiasco that the football body’s count of fake tickets was far short of the tens of thousands claimed by French authorities.

“We don’t believe it’s the number mentioned in France,” he said, adding that 2,600 fake tickets were identified at turnstiles — compared with the number of 30,000 to 40,000 people with fake tickets and without tickets suggested by Darmanin.

“It was a question of fake tickets… that created the difficulties we all know about” of large crowds of fans packed into underpasses or outside locked gates, Darmanin insisted Tuesday.

He added that “if there was something that went wrong at the Stade de France, it was the fight against delinquency”, saying he had already ordered a reorganisation of policing around the venue and that three major matches since had passed without incident.

While some supporters did report being victims of crime by gangs of youths before and after the match, there were also many complaints about police treatment of fans.

Disabled Liverpool fans last week told the Senate how officers sprayed tear gas at people in wheelchairs.

The English supporters have reacted with particular fury to Darmanin’s defence of the French police’s actions.

“People’s memories will forever be tarred by the lack of organisation and heavy-handed policing, and then of course the way authorities tried to deflect blame and scapegoat Liverpool fans for their incompetence,” Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram told AFP earlier this month.

CCTV footage from around the stadium has also been deleted despite the Senate probe.

A government report published earlier this month said a “chain of failures” by French authorities has inflicted “severe damage” on the image of the country as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in 2024.

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DISCOVER FRANCE

Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

If you're expecting to see French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris over the summer you're likely to be disappointed - he and his wife Brigitte are at Brégançon, the official Riviera 'holiday home' of the presidents of France.

Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

The Fort of Brégançon, which stands on a rock 30 metres above the sea, has been offering privacy and sunshine to French presidents for decades, although its history goes back much further than that.

The fort is perched on a tiny island – just 4.5km long – connected to the French mainland by a causeway and has been a strategic site since the 6th century, acting as a seigneurial residence, a Crown estate property and a military site equipped with artillery including 23 cannons under Napoleon Bonaparte.

It was Charles de Gaulle who gave it the status of official presidential residence in 1968 and it’s usually used for presidential holidays – similar to Camp David in the USA and Chequers in the UK.

It has since been transformed into a pleasant residence while maintaining what remained of the ancient fortress, giving presidents the opportunity to take advantage of the sunshine of the Riviera.

French presidents have their main residence and offices in the Elysée Palace, the beautiful 18th century residence in the heart of Paris. In addition to Brégançon, presidents also have the use of La Lanterne, a former hunting lodge in the grounds of Versailles, and although they can’t stay in the sumptuous Palace of Versailles they do sometimes hold events and meeting with foreign dignitaries there.

It’s Brégançon’s offshore location that was the key for De Gaulle, who considered it the only place in the south of France secure enough to receive foreign heads of state, particularly from Mediterranean countries in the geopolitical context of decolonisation. 

While it remains secure, it is these days within long-lens range for photographers, as several presidents have discovered. 

But through the years of the Fifth Republic, French presidents have had quite varying attitudes to this undoubted perk of the job.

De Gaulle’s successor Georges Pompidou seemed to love it and spent his weekends in the Fort both in summers and winters. He opened its doors to the media, letting himself be photographed with his spouse in more relaxed clothing and playing pétanque with his bodyguards.

Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude in August 1969 pose in the gardens during their summer holiday. Photo by AFP

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who regularly stayed there with his family, brought the national spotlight on the Fort by letting paparazzi venture around the residence, snapping pictures of him in swimsuit and tennis shoes, but also installing CCTV inside the residence.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing poses for photos with his wife Anne-Aymone in 1979. Photo by AFP

When socialist François Mitterrand won the election, he declared: “the Republic doesn’t need a secondary residence.”

He limited his visits to work meeting – the SNCF strikers in 1987 and two heads of state the Irish Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – although he took no steps to sell off Brégancon. 

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was hosted by François Mitterand in August 1985. Photo by PIERRE CIOT / AFP

His successor Jacques Chirac particularly appreciated the fort because of its location in the Var département where he lived as a child.

With his spouse Bernadette, they regularly attend mass at the local church and greeted residents and tourists. In 2004, the President received Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to appease tensions. The Brégançon presidential desk was photographed for the first time.

Jacques Chirac and Brigitte leaving the local church in May 1999 Photo by VANINA LUCCHESI / AFP

During his presidency Nicolas Sarkozy received foreign politicians including Condoleezza Rice, but also took some time to exercise. The pictures of him jogging around the Fort were described as creating a new style of presidential communication. Later, he was photographed on the beach with first lady Carla Bruni during her pregnancy.

Nicolas Sarkozy jogging, followed by his bodyguards on bikes. Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP

François Hollande, who branded himself as a “normal president” felt no particular attachment to the Fort and opened the site to the public for visits, although he did host some work meetings there.

A rather formal looking Francois Hollande meets with his Prime Minister Manuel Valls at Brégançon. Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / POOL / AFP

Since being elected in 2017 Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron seem to have enjoyed the Fort, retreating there during the summers and being photographed on the beach or having fun on jet-skis – they also installed a swimming pool which cost €34,000.

Brigitte Macron owns a property in the northern French seaside resort of Le Touquet, which the couple use for family time. But Emmanuel Macron has also used the Fort for work, hosting British Prime Minister Theresa May in August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2019, on the eve of the G7 in Biarritz, and Chancellor Angela Merkel in summer 2020. 

Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Bregancon in August 2020. Photo by Christophe SIMON / POOL / AFP

This year he declared that he would be having a “pause studieuse” at Brégançon and use the summer to think about how to tackle some of France’s most pressings issues.

With a cost of living crisis, war in Europe and political turmoil at home, let’s hope that his beach reading bears fruit.

By Julie Edde

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