Former investigating magistrate Eva Joly, who holds joint French-Norwegian nationality, provoked outrage after suggesting that the Bastille Day event should be replaced by a civic parade.
But as one politician from the ruling right-wing UMP party suggested she go back to Norway, politicians from the opposition Socialists, while rejecting Joly’s proposal, defended her against the ruling party’s attacks on Friday.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon led the assault on Joly, in comments to reporters in Ivory Coast, where he was visiting for talks with President Alassane Ouattara.
“I think this lady lacks a very longstanding sense of French traditions, French values, French history,” Fillon said.
“If every year we pay homage to our armed forces on the national holiday, it’s because we are paying homage to an institution which assures the defence of the values … of liberty, of fraternity, of equality,” he added.
It was normal to pay homage to the armed forces, which were vital to French democracy, he argued.
“I think there are very few French people who share Madame Joly’s view.”
A special advisor to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Henri Guaino, was even sharper.
He described Joly’s remarks as “pathetic” and “an insult to all those who, for centuries, have died for this country, for its values, for freedom.”
Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire described the remarks as “shocking”, and one UMP deputy, Lionel Tardy, said on RTL radio that Joly should “go back to Norway”.
Joly made her comments on Thursday, as France celebrated its Bastille Day holiday with the traditional military parade down the Champs Elysees.
Sarkozy, who with other dignitaries watched the march-past, had earlier dedicated this year’s holiday to five French soldiers killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan the previous day.
Joly insisted she could not be dismissed as anti-military, having supported the military intervention in Libya.
“I have dreamed that we could replace the (military) parade with a civic parade” where schoolchildren, students and pensioners would march together, “to celebrate the values that unite us,” she said.
Several leading figures among the opposition Socialists also rejected her idea, but in less vituperative terms. And some defended her against the attacks from the right.
“Clearly, it’s not acceptable,” Martine Aubry, one of the contenders for the socialist nomination for the presidency, said of Joly’s idea. “It doesn’t even make sense,” she added.
While she would welcome an event along the lines described by Joly, Bastille Day was the right time to pay homage to the French army, she added.
Segolene Royal, another contender for the socialist presidential nomination, also dismissed the proposal as “a very bad idea”.
Green party leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who has not always seen eye-to-eye with Joly, gave her his unqualified backing.
And Francois Hollande, another Socialist contender for the presidential nomination, while he did not agree with Joly’s position, criticised the tone of the prime minister’s attack.
“It’s Francois Fillon who lacks culture…,” he said.
Leading Socialist deputy Pierre Moscovici pressed the attack, calling on Fillon to apologise for his remarks.
Joly, who as a magistrate once led a probe into one of France’s biggest corruption scandals, hit back at the criticism late Friday.
“I’ve lived in France for 50 years and so I’m French,” said the 67-year-old politician.
At her age, that probably meant she had lived longer in France than Fillon, she quipped.