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‘I have to vomit’: Why France’s new justice minister is so controversial?

When the name of France's new justice minister was revealed, it was the biggest surprise in a government reshuffle that overall contained few big shocks. So who is Eric Dupond-Moretti and why do so many people dislike him?

'I have to vomit': Why France's new justice minister is so controversial?
Eric Dupond-Moretti is a star criminal lawyer. Photo: AFP

As soon as the announcement that Dupont-Moretti would take over the role as France's justice minister was made on Monday, social media filled with comments expressing disbelief.

 

 

It was, analysts said, a sole shock-appointment in a government revamp indicating a general tilt to the right.

Dupond-Moretti insisted on Tuesday that he was standing on the side of the French.

“I am at war with no one,” he said at a press conference.

“I will, together with you, keep the best and change the worst.”

But he has a lot of people to win over. Here's why.

 

1. He's a star lawyer but defends controversial people

At 59, Dupond-Moretti has achieved a reputation as a star criminal lawyer. His record in winning acquittals for his clients has earned him the nickname Acquittator (the Acquitter).

 

But the names on the list of people he has defended are among the reasons some people strongly dislike him.
 
Among the famous personas on the shortlist of Dupond-Moretti's most controversial defenses and acquittals are Patrick Balkany – a right-wing power broker jailed for tax fraud and money laundering in 2019 – Karim Benzema – a French professional football player who plays for Real Madrid, accused of blackmailing a teammate with a sex-tape in 2015 – and Georges Tron – a former public officials accused of rape by two former female colleagues.
 
Not to mention the brother of terrorist Mohammed Merah who launched an attack on a Jewish school and killed French soldiers in 2012.
 
 
 
2. He's a known critic of the #MeToo movement.
 
He belongs to the political left, but is known as a stout and critic of the MeToo movement.
 
Caroline De Haas, leader of the French feminist organisation Nous Toutes, said the decision of making Dupond-Moretti made her “vomit.”
 
“Ladies and gentlemen, our new justice minister,” she tweeted, adding: “I have to vomit, I will be back.”
 

 
Former French Senator and member of the Socialist Party Laurence Rossignol slammed the appointment of Dupond-Moretti – alongside that of rape-accused Gérald Darmanin as interior minister – as a “formidable slap in the face by Emmanuel Macron of all those who have been fighting to end sexual and sexist violence.”
 
3. He's very outspoken

Not only does Dupond-Moretti have controversial opinions, he is also not afraid of speaking them.

He is a “strange mixture of hunter and bullfight enthusiast and left-wing politics,” said political commentator John Lichfield, who writes for The Local.

 

France daily Le Monde compared Dupont-Moretti to the highly divisive persona of Didier Raoult, the world-famous French virologist known for his controversial medical stances and his stout defense of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment. He has become a global symbol of what happens when the paths of science and populism cross.

Dupond-Moretti, the Le Monde article said, had the same effect in the judicial world as Raoult had in the medical world. Giving him the keys to the justice ministry had an immediate effect of “flabbergast” and “disbelief” among lawyers.

4. He's not very popular among other lawyers
 
That brings us to the the next point, as his controversial opinions and candour has made him into a very divisive figure in the legal world.
 
“He is a controversial figure known for his trenchant views and intemperate remarks on the French justice system,” said Jim Shields, professor of French Politics at the University of Warwick,
 
“If Macron wanted a consensual Justice Minister who would not make waves with the legal establishment, Dupond-Moretti looks the wrong man for the job,” Shields told The Local.

 
Monday's announcement immediately caused a chain reaction of disbelief and uproar by French lawyers and magistrates. 
 
“Naming such a divisive personality who despises judges to such an extent is a declaration of war on the judiciary,” said Céline Parisot, president of the French Judge's Union shortly after his appointment.
 
“We are in shock,” Parisot said, “we feel like this is a declaration of war.”

 

5. He wants to ban Marine Le Pen's far-right party

Not only is he despised among many feminists and people belonging to the liberal left, he has also made the French far-right party Rassemblement National (formerly Front National) his enemy by saying they should be banned.

“The FN is not a republican party, we need to ban it,” Dupond-Moretti told France Inter back in 2015.

Five years later, his comment has not been forgotten by the party members, who quickly condemned the decision to make him justice minister.

“A far-left militant who wants to ban RN, the largest opposition party, has been named to (head) the justice (department), tweeted party leader Marine Le Pen.

 

 

 

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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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