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French far-right presidential hopeful Zemmour under fire over Bataclan tirade

Eric Zemmour came under fire on Sunday for delivering a blistering attack on ex-president François Hollande's migration policy during commemorations marking the November 2015 Paris attacks.

The Bataclan cafe and theatre in Paris
French pundit and presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour chose the anniversary of the 2015 Bataclan attacks to attack the then-president's migration policies. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Zemmour, an ultra-nationalist TV pundit who has made no secret of his desire to run for president in April’s election, made the remarks during a visit Saturday night to the Bataclan theatre in Paris, where 90 concertgoers were massacred during a series of coordinated attacks across the French capital on November 13th, 2015.

The attacks, which left 130 people dead in total, were carried out by a ten-man Islamic State (IS) cell, mostly French and Belgian nationals, some of whom had travelled to Syria to join IS and returned to France to carry out the attacks.

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Addressing reporters outside the Bataclan, 63-year-old Zemmour accused France’s then-Socialist president Hollande of “criminal” negligence for failing to detect those attackers who slipped into Europe among a huge influx of Syrian migrants.

“He knew there would be terrorists and did not protect the French and took the criminal decision to leave the borders open,” said Zemmour, who is polling strongly on an anti-Islam, anti-immigration platform, despite having yet to formally announce his candidacy.

The veteran former political journalist argued that even those attackers who had French nationality “would have been caught” if France, where jihadists had slaughtered a group of cartoonists 10 months earlier, had shut its borders.

Hollande, who was called to testify this week at the trial of 20 people charged over the bloodshed, including the sole surviving member of the IS cell behind the attacks, Salah Abdeslam, accused Zemmour of an “unsubstantiated, obscene and shameful” attack.

“It’s obscene to be in front of the Bataclan and to be talking about a war of civilisation,” Hollande told a Jewish community radio station, Radio J, referring to Zemmour’s characterisation of the attacks.

Survivors and relatives of the victims of the Paris attacks also denounced Zemmour for playing politics on the anniversary of the massacre.

Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan attack who heads the Life for Paris victims association, accused Zemmour of acting like a “grave desecrator”.

“We are highly outraged by this political exploitation of terror victims,” he said in a statement shared on Twitter, pictured below.

Zemmour is vying with Rassemblement National (RN) leader Marine Le Pen for the leadership of France’s nationalist right.

Some polls show him overtaking her to become Macron’s top rival.

Others show Le Pen, 53, still the most likely to defeat candidates from the mainstream right and the left for a place in the second-round run-off against Macron – as she did in 2017.

All polls currently show 43-year-old Macron, who has yet to announce he is seeking re-election but is expected to do so, winning a second term – although the elections do not take place until April 2022.

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POLITICS

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What’s in France’s 2023 budget?

France's finance minister has unveiled the government's financial plans for the next year, and says that his overall aim is to 'protect' households in France from inflation and rises in the cost of living - here's what he announced.

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What's in France's 2023 budget?

The 2023 Budget was formally presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, before economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced the main details to the press. 

The budget must now be debated in parliament, and more details on certain packages will be revealed in the coming days, but here is the overview;

Inflation – two of the biggest measures to protect households from the rising cost of living had already been announced – gas and electricity prices will remain capped in 2023, albeit at the higher rate of 15 percent, while low-income households will get a €100-200 grant. The energy price cap is expected to cost the government €45 billion in 2023.

EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Property renovations – the MaPrimeRenov scheme, which gives grants to householders for works that make their homes more energy-efficient, will be extended again into 2023, with a budget of €2.5 billion to distribute.

Income tax – the income tax scale will be indexed to inflation in 2023, so that workers who get a pay increase to cope with the rising cost of living don’t find themselves paying more income tax. “Disposable income after tax will remain the same for all households even if their salary increases,” reads the 2023 Budget.

Pay rises –  pay will increase for teachers, judges and other civil servants as inflation is forecast to reach 4.3 percent next year after 5.4 percent in 2022. Around €140 million is assigned to increase the salaries of non-teaching staff in schools. 

New jobs – nearly 11,000 more public employees will be hired, in a stark reversal of President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign promise to slash 120,000 public-sector jobs – 2,000 of these jobs will be in teaching. 

Small business help – firms with fewer than 10 employees and a turnover of less than €2 million will also benefit from the 15 percent price cap on energy bills in 2023. The finance ministry will put in place a simplified process for small businesses to claim this aid. In total €3 billion is available to help small businesses that are suffering because of rising costs. 

Refugees – In the context of the war in Ukraine, the government plans to finance 5,900 accommodation places for refugees and asylum seekers in various reception and emergency accommodation centres. The budget provides for a 6 percent increase in the “immigration, asylum and integration” budget.

Cigarettes – prime minister Elisabeth Borne had already announced that the price of cigarettes will rise “in line with inflation”.

Ministries – Le Maire also announced the budget allocation for the various ministries. The Labour ministry is the big winner with an increase of 42.8 percent compared to last year, coupled with the goal to reach full employment by 2027. Education gets an increase of €60.2 billion (or 6.5 percent more than in 2022), much of which will go on increasing teachers’ salaries, while the justice and environment ministries will also see increased budgets.

Conversely, there was a fall in spending for the finance ministry itself.

Borrowing –  the government will borrow a record €270 billion next year in order to finance the budget. “This is not a restrictive budget, nor an easy one – it’s a responsible and protective budget at a time of great uncertainties,” said Le Maire. 

The government is tabling on growth of one percent, a forecast Le Maire defended as “credible and pro-active” despite an estimate of just 0.5 percent GDP growth by the Bank of France, and 0.6 percent from economists at the OECD.

The public deficit is expected to reach five percent of GDP, as the EU has suspended the rules limiting deficit spending to three percent of GDP because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Parliament

The budget plans now need to be debated in parliament where they are likely to face fierce opposition. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party and its allies lost their majority in elections earlier this year.

Macron also plans to push ahead with a pension reform that would gradually start pushing up the official retirement age from 62 currently, setting up a standoff with unions and left-wing opposition parties.

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