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Black French minister warns of ‘tide of racism’

France's Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, the country's most prominent black politician, has received widespread plaudits after issuing an extraordinary warning that France is under threat from a rising tide of racism, of which she herself has been the victim.

Black French minister warns of 'tide of racism'
Christiane Taubira has voiced alarm over what she described as the collapse of a long-established social taboo on the use of overtly racist language in public debate. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Speaking out for the first time over monkey taunts and other abuse she has suffered since taking office last year, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira on Wednesday voiced alarm over what she described as the collapse of a long-established social taboo on the use of overtly racist language in public debate.

"It is not about careless little slips of the tongue, it is much more serious than that," Taubira said in an extraordinarily frank interview with left-wing daily Libération. "Inhibitions are disappearing, dykes have been breached."

In the last month alone, Taubira has twice been publicly compared to a monkey, once by a group of children whose parents had taken them on a protest against gay marriage and once by an electoral candidate of the far right National Front, who wrote on her Facebook page that she would prefer to see the minister "swinging from the branches rather than in government." 

And later that month, France's far-right National Front (FN) announced it would take legal action against Taubira over disparaging comments she made in response to the comments.

Taubira said those well-publicized incidents were only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the hostility she has encountered since she was named as one of the four most senior ministers in the Socialist government that took office last year.

"I've been getting monkey and banana insults for a long time but there is also something more subtle going on that nobody has highlighted," she said.

SEE ALSO: Far-right candidate likens black minister to monkey

By way of example, the minister noted how the opponents of gay marriage had targeted her personally rather than the government as a whole and had emphasized the "Frenchness" of the protest movement.

She also pointed to the outspoken reactions that her initial appointment had provoked. These included Jean-Francois Cope, one of the leaders of the main opposition party, warning centre-right voters that: "If you vote for the FN, you get the Left and you get Taubira."

Responding to Taubira's comments on Wednesday, President Francois Hollande said everyone had to be more vigilant about the threat of racism, but Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault played down suggestions of a sea change in public attitudes.

"I'm convinced the vast majority of the French do not accept racism," Ayrault said.

Speaking in the National Assembly later on Wednesday, Taubira publicly singled out Ayrault and Hollande, thanking them for their support.

The French Guiana-born justice minister then received a rare standing ovation in France's National Assembly, as shown in this video.

Concern over rising racism shared by others Taubira's concern over a perceived increase in racism — or the acceptability of racism — in French society, echoes warnings issued recently by various rights groups and social commentators.

They fear a section of society is backing away from the vision of a multicultural France most famously embodied in the jubilant celebrations of the black-brown-white make-up of the 1998 World Cup winning side.

"There is something unprecedented about a government minister being attacked purely because of the colour of her skin," said Aline Le Bail-Kremer, a spokeswoman for the watchdog group SOS Racisme.

"The whole country should have stood up against it, but in reality the reaction has been lukewarm."

Figures compiled by the Interior Minister point to a sharp rise over the last year in the number of acts or threats deemed to be of a racist, anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim nature.

As always with such figures, it is not clear to what extent they represent an actual increase in racist incidents or an increased willingness of members of ethnic minorities to report them.

But both anecdotal and survey evidence point to a hardening of attitudes in the wake of this year's bitter debate over gay marriage, which divided France down the middle and introduced a new, virulent tone to the country's social and political debate.

SEE ALSO: France has become more racist, say the French themselves

A poll published last month to mark the 30th anniversary of a landmark march for the rights of second-generation Arabs found that 59 percent of the French believed racism had become more common in the intervening three decades.

The front page of Wednesday's edition of Le Parisien asked bluntly: "Is France becoming racist?"

Yes, the tabloid replied in an editorial. "A rancid odour is floating over France," it said. "Words, phrases and gestures that we thought belonged to another age are making a comeback."

Harry Roselmack, a black TV news presenter, agrees. "What pains me is how racism has been able to resist both time and the best of intentions, not just in the FN (National Front), but at the deepest levels of French society," Roselmack wrote in Le Monde this week.

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POLITICS

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers – French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

From coffee runs to rugby tickets and professional photos - France's election financing body has revealed some of the items it has refused to reimburse from the 2022 presidential race.

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers - French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

Spending on the election trail is tightly regulated in France, with maximum campaign spends per candidate as well as a list of acceptable expenses that can be reimbursed.

In France the State pays at least some of the election campaign costs, with the budget calculated according to how many votes the candidate ends up getting. 

READ MORE: 5 things to know about French election campaign financing

On Friday, the government body (la Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques – or CNCCFP) released its findings for the 12 candidates who ran in the April 2022 presidential campaign. 

All of the candidates had their accounts approved, but 11 out of the 12 were refused reimbursement on certain items. Here are some of the items that did not get CNCCFP approval;

Rugby tickets 

Jean Lassalle – the wildcard ‘pro farmer’ candidate who received about three percent of votes cast in the first round of the 2022 election – bought “19 tickets to attend a rugby match” according to the CNCCFP’s findings. The organisation said it would not be reimbursing the tickets and questioned “the electoral nature of the event”. 

The total cost of the tickets was €465 (or €24.50 each).

Too many coffees

Socialist candidate, and current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo reportedly spent at least €1,600 on coffee for her team during the campaign.

According to the CNCCFP, however, the caffeine needed to keep a presidential campaign running did not qualify under the country’s strict campaign financing rules.

Too many stickers

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s was told that the 1.2 million stickers that were bought – to the tune of €28,875 – to advertise the campaign would not be reimbursed. Mélenchon justified the purchasing of the stickers – saying that in the vast majority of cases they were used to build up visibility for campaign events, but CNCCFP ruled that “such a large number” was not justified. 

Mélenchon was not the only one to get in trouble for his signage. Extreme-right candidate Éric Zemmour was accused of having put up over 10,000 posters outside official places reserved for signage. The same went for the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, who decided to appeal the CNCCFP’s decision not to reimburse €300,000 spent on putting posters of her face with the phrase “M la France” on 12 campaign buses.

Poster pictures

Emmanuel Macron – who won re-election in 2022 – will not be reimbursed for the €30,000 spent on a professional photographer Soazig de la Moissonière, who works as his official photographer and took the picture for his campaign poster. 

The CNCCFP said that Macron’s team had “not sufficiently justified” the expenditure.

Expensive Airbnbs

Green party member Yannick Jadot reportedly spent €6,048 on Airbnbs in the city of Paris for some of his campaign employees – an expense that the CNCCFP said that public funds would not cover.

Translating posters

The campaign finance body also refused to reimburse the Mélenchon campaign’s decision to translate its programme into several foreign languages at a cost of €5,398.

The CNCCFP said that they did not consider the translations to be “an expense specifically intended to obtain votes” in a French election.

Best and worst in class

The extreme-right pundit Zemmour had the largest amount of money not reimbursed. Zemmour created a campaign video that used film clips and historic news footage without permission and also appeared on CNews without declaring his candidacy – because of these two offences, CNCCFP has reduced his reimbursement by €200,000. He has been hit with a separate bill of €70,000 after he was found guilty of copyright infringement over the campaign video. 

The star pupil was Nathalie Arthaud, high-school teacher and candidate for the far-left Lutte Ouvriere party, who apparently had “completely clean accounts”. A CNCCFP spokesperson told Le Parisien that if all candidate accounts were like Arthauds’, then “we would be unemployed”.

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