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POLITICS

The least PC comments from French politicians

After a French politician recently said "France is a country of white race", we take a look at some other less-than-PC statements made by French politicians over the years.

The least PC comments from French politicians
What did you say? A 1968 photo of former president Charles de Gaulle. Photo: AFP

MEP Nadine Morano is just the latest in a long line of French politicians to cause a minor storm with their comments.

Morano's insistence on a French panel show that France is a “country of white race” made her the biggest news story of the week and was enough to get her thrown off her party's list for the upcoming regional elections by leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

But she is far from alone when it comes to French politicians making politically incorrect comments, many of which surround the sensitive subjects of race, religion and in particular Islam.

Here are some more examples from across the years, starting with another outburst from Morano herself. 

Nadine Morano

“A person wearing a full veil and carrying a suitcase is, for me, a sign of potential danger,” she told French channel BFM TV in Februrary.

The comments came after she reported a women wearing a veil to police at the Gare de l’Est train station in Paris.

Morano's attempts to disprove accusations of racism didn't help, after she said “My best friend is Chadian, so she is more black than an Arab.”

She also went on the record saying liked couscous to try to prove she wasn't racist. 

Her position in the Republicans Party is now being questioned.


(Nadine Morano. Photo: AFP)

Jean-Marie Le Pen

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder and leader of the Front National far-right party from 1972 to 2011, has had a number of convictions for hate speech during his lifetime.

In 1987, amid growing hysteria about AIDS, Le Pen proclaimed: “A person with AIDS is contagious from their sweat, their tears, their saliva, their contact. They are like lepers.”

He also claimed that the “gas chambers were a background detail of WWII,” comments he has stuck by as recently as this year.

Le Pen was hit with widespread disdain when in 2014, at a public meeting in Marseille, he said to Canal+ journalists:

“Immigration? Mr Ebola can sort that out in three months.”

The disease has killed nearly 6,500 people in Sierra Leone and Guinea alone this year.

'It's dirty to kill your daddy': Le Pen senior
(Controversial daughter and father Marine and Jean-Marie Le Pen. photo: AFP)

Marine Le Pen

The daughter of Jean-Marie and the current leader of the Front National Party has proven the apple does not fall far from the tree.

In 2013, after violence erupted at the celebrations of football team PSG winning the French championships, Marine Le Pen attacked both immigration and people from poorer areas of the city simultaneously

“The trouble makers were obviously delinquents of immigrant origin, and from the suburbs… The diagnosis is that we are confronted by the failure of immigration policies,” she said.

Le Pen has recently been ordered to stand trial for comments she made in 2010 which compared Muslims praying on the streets to the Nazi occupation.

“I'm sorry, but for those who really like to talk about World War Two, if we're talking about occupation, we could talk about that (street prayers), because that is clearly an occupation of the territory,” she said.

MP Gilles Bourdouleix

This MP, who is also mayor of the nearby town of Cholet, was handed a €3,000 fine for a rant in which he said “Hitler didn't kill enough Roma”.

His comments caused a storm and led the PM Manuel Valls to demand he be severely punished.

The lawmaker had made controversial remarks about Roma in the past, including in November 2010, when he threatened to drive a truck through one of their caravan camps, and last November, when he said France was facing a “new invasion” from the community.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy is also guilty of revealing his class prejudices. At an official visit to an agricultural show in 2008, he said “Get lost, you poor idiot!” when someone refused to shake his hand.

In another incident of being caught out by spying press, Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama were overheard exchanging sore words about Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, during the G20 summit of 2011.

Sarkozy told the President, ‘I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar”, to which Obama replied, ‘You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him even more often than you.”

Race: Lines blur between French right and far-right
(Sarkozy together with Nadine Morano. Photo: AFP)

Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac once famously spoke of the British at a G8 summit:

“You can't trust people who have such lousy cooking. The only thing they have done for European agriculture is 'mad cow' disease”.

In 1988, during tense European negotiations with Margaret Thatcher, Chirac was caught saying “What more does this housewife want from me? My balls on a plate?”

Arnaud Montebourg

The ex-French Minister for Industrial renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, also tarnished Franco-USA relations with his reputation for getting into gritty cat-fights with some big businesses.

He told Lakshmi Mittal, a UK business boss, that he was “no longer welcome in France” following the threatened closure of some factories.

Politicians on gay marriage

The 2013 gay marriage law provided ripe feeding ground for provocative statements from French politicians who opposed the laws. Two notable Republican (UMP at the time) politicians, Serge Dassault and Francois Lebel, were decidedly vocal about the issue, with the former predicting:

“We will become a land of homos, and in ten years, there’ll be no one left. Look at the Greeks – [homosexuality] was one of the big reasons for their decline,” said Dassault.


(Serge Dassault. Photo: AFP)

Lebel, who officiated at the wedding of Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni in Februrary 2008, said:

“If we get rid of the timeless tradition of heterosexual marriage, who or what will stop other traditions falling? For example, how could we oppose polygamy in France tomorrow? Why would we hold on to the legal age of marriage, or continue to ban marriage between close relatives, or paedophilia or incest, which are still common currency in the world?”

Charles de Gaulle

The French president from 1959 to 1969 was yet another figure who seemed to court controversy, and seemed to have no qualms in offending almost every other race but his own.

He once said: “Arabs are nothing, We have never seen Arabs build roads, dams or factories…They are clever politicians, clever like beggars”, while in 1962 he proclaimed ‘I don’t like Zionist yids!”


(De Gaulle, here in 1945, awarding Moroccan Moulay Hassan the French “Legion d'Honneur” in Paris. Photo: AFP)

Jean-Francois Copé

The ex-President of the UMP Party was accused of breaching Front National territory when he said in his latest book, “I know I'm breaking a taboo by using the term anti-white racism, but I do so intentionally, because it's the reality some of our fellow citizens live with, and remaining quiet about it only aggravates their trauma.”

In 2012, at a UMP meeting in Draguignan, Copé attacked Muslims by claiming, ‘there are some areas where I understand the exasperation of some of my countrymen, mothers and fathers who come home from work in the evening to hear that some hoodlum has robbed their son’s pain au chocolat and telling him he shouldn’t be eating during Ramandan.’

Francois Hollande

And lastly who can forget the hullaballoo after claims that Hollande refers to the poor as the “toothless” (les sans-dents)?

The claims come from his ex-partner Valérie Trierweiler in her recent kiss-and-tell book, where she wrote that Hollande “portrays himself as a man who doesn’t like the rich. But in reality, the president does not like poor people.
 
“Him, a man of the left says in private: “les sans-dents”, very proud of his humour.”
 
The president has firmly denied ever-making the comments. 
 
 
By Ellie O'Driscoll

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

As energy prices soar around Europe, France is the notable exception where most people have seen no significant rise in their gas or electricity bills - so what lies behind this policy? (Hint - it's not just that the French would riot if their bills exploded).

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

On most international comparisons of rising energy prices, France is the outlier – but the government control of energy prices is not in fact a new policy and was in place well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent gas and electricity prices soaring.

At present prices for domestic gas are frozen at 2021 levels and electricity prices can only increase four percent per year. According to economy minister Bruno Le Maire, without these measures French bills would have risen by 60 percent for gas and 45 percent for electricity.

Both these measures – collectively known as the bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield) – are in place until at least the end of 2022, and could be extended into 2023.

The extension of the price shield was confirmed by parliament earlier in August – part of a €65 billion package of measures aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis – but had been in place for much longer.

Tariff shield

The reason that gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels is that the freeze came into effect on November 1st 2021 – well before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The measure was initially put in place to help people deal with the economic after-effects of the pandemic, but was extended in the spring of 2022, when electricity prices were also capped at four percent.

Price regulation

But although prolonged price freezes are unusual, the French government involvement in price-setting is completely normal and during non-freeze periods, a rate is set each month.

If you read French media (or The Local), you’ll notice regular articles on ‘what changes next month’ which include gas and electricity prices, usually expressed as a month-on-month percentage rise or fall. This refers to the maximum rate that utility companies are allowed to increase their charges per month.

The government-set rate refers to the basic price plan from EDF. Some people are on special deals or time-limited tariffs, so if their deal or payment plan ends and they go back onto the basic rate, they can see a rise above the government rate.

Around 85 percent of households in France get their electricity from EDF. 

READ MORE: Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%

State-owned utilities

So, why is the government involved? Well, it’s the majority stakeholder in EDF, the country’s largest electricity supplier, and owns Gaz de France (Engie). 

At present EDF isn’t completely state owned – although there are plans to fully nationalise it – but it owns 84 percent.

The French state owns a lot of service and utility companies including the country’s rail provider SNCF, postal service La Poste and France Télévisions. One notable exception is the country’s autoroutes, which are run by private companies, although the government sets limits on toll charges. 

Nuclear 

France is less exposed to energy shocks than some other European countries because of its nuclear sector.

It is unusual among European nations in the size of its nuclear industry – around 70 percent of electricity comes from its own domestic nuclear power plants, although during the heatwave several plants have had to lower output as rivers have become too hot to effectively cool the reactors. There are also ongoing technical issues that have seen some of the older plants shut down or forced to lower output.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear?

France is usually a net exporter of electricity, but at peak times it has to import electricity, usually via the high-priced international spot market.

It does, however, import its gas, mostly via pipeline – in 2020 its biggest supplier was Norway, followed by Russia.

The French government has launched a sobriété energetique (energy sobriety) plan to cut its total energy consumption by 10 percent this year, which it hopes will allow it to get through the winter without Russian gas. 

Riots

Even before the recent €65 billion aid package, the French government was taking a pro-active role in helping people deal with rising prices – from the price shield to fuel rebates for drivers, €100 grants for low-income households and financial aid for industries such as agriculture and logistics so they could avoid passing prices on the consumers.

Cynics say this happened for two reasons – because there were elections in April and June and because the French would riot if their utility bills suddenly doubled.

There’s a kernel of truth in both – cost of living became a major issue in the April presidential elections and one that far-right leader Marine Le Pen very much made her own from early in the campaign, leaving Emmanuel Macron slightly on the back foot, although in truth his government had already introduced several measures to ease the burden on ordinary voters.

It’s also true that the French have a robust approach to holding their government to account, and high living costs have previously inspired noisy and sometime violent protests – the ‘yellow vest’ movement of 2018 and 19 began as a protest over living costs.

But it’s also true that the French State is generally quite involved in people’s everyday lives – as evidenced by those monthly gas and electricity price rates – and taking a laissez-faire approach such as that seen in the UK would be unusual for any French government, even outside of election season.

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