Socialist member of parliament Pierre-Alain Muet kicked off the incident by challenging Baroin over an “absence of courage” in the most recent austerity plans announced by the government.
A clearly irritated Baroin responded by listing a series of issues where he claimed the Socialists had lacked courage themselves. These included promises to reinstate 60,000 jobs in the education system and to reverse the government’s proposed reforms to the retirement age.
The Socialist were then infuriated when Baroin went on to say that they and other left-wing parties had seized power in the 1997 parliamentary elections through “breaking and entering” (in French, “par effraction”).
“Is it courageous to lie, to resort to electioneering, to hide the truth and to cling to outdated Socialist ideas that led you to power, through breaking and entering, in 1997?” he said.
Outraged Socialist MPs booed the finance minister as he continued speaking. Some rose from their seats while others started to leave. Balls of paper were thrown at Baroin, one of which he managed to catch, and stewards of the chamber even blocked the aisles to prevent a more serious incident.
The president of the chamber, Bernard Accoyer, called for order but eventually gave up and suspended proceedings.
The parliamentary elections of 1997 were held after right-wing President Jacques Chirac called them one year ahead of schedule.
A left-wing coalition made up of Socialists, Communists and Greens won a majority of seats and Chirac was forced to appoint a left-wing prime minister, Lionel Jospin. A difficult period of “cohabitation,” with a right-wing president and left-wing prime minister, followed for the next five years.
Leader of the Socialists in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said “François Baroin is perhaps tired and under pressure…but he went too far.” He demanded an apology, saying the finance minister had insulted “French citizens” and had made a “political error.”
Fellow Socialist MP Vincent Peillon suggested that Baroin “spend less time with Mr Sarkozy” who “creates lots of agitation, annoyance and violence in political life.”
The leader of the governing UMP party in parliament, Christian Jacob, tried to downplay the incident, saying that Baroin wanted to point out flaws in the proposals of the Socialist’s presidential candidate for the 2012 elections, François Hollande.
“Our Socialist colleagues have a very thin skin at the moment and François Baroin wanted to remind them of the electioneering proposals that François Hollande is currently proposing,” he said. He also compared the incident to the “torrent of insults that they dump on the president of the Republic.”
The president of the chamber, Bernard Accoyer, called the remarks “inappropriate” and said he would present the demands for an apology to Baroin.
Clip of François Baroin in parliament and the reaction of left-wing MPs
Translation of clip:
“Mr Muet, you ask about courage. Is it courageous to satisfy certain parts of the electorate by proposing the creation of 60,000 jobs in the education system? Is it courageous to propose in the same vein creating 300,000 jobs financed by public money when no left-wing party in the world is currently proposing the creation of public sector jobs? Is it courageous not to revisit the 35-hour working week law? Is it courageous to say you will return the retirement age to 60 when you will never do that? Is it courageous to lie and resort to electioneering, to hide the truth and cling to outdated Socialist ideas that led you, through breaking and entering, to power in 1997 and you did nothing with the growth that came from outside during the internet bubble….”