Hate speech trial begins for far-right French pundit Éric Zemmour

French far-right pundit Éric Zemmour, who is widely expected to run for the presidency next year, went on trial on Wednesday charged with racist hate speech over a televised tirade against unaccompanied child migrants.

Far-right pundit, Éric Zemmour, gives an icy stare to the camera. He is facing charges of using racist hate speech.
French far-right pundit, Éric Zemmour, faces charges of racist hate speech. It is unclear how this could affect a potential campaign going into the 2022 presidential election in France. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / POOL / AFP)

His incendiary comments were made on French news channel, CNews, back in September. 

The 63-year-old did not appear in person, saying in a statement that he refused “to accept that a political debate takes place in a courtroom”.

Even if he were convicted, he would almost certainly appeal, and his electoral prospects would be unlikely to suffer as his contempt for “politically correct” speech is part of his appeal.

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

Around 20 members of his Generation Z support group gathered in front of the Paris court building and unfurled a French flag.

The case was ‘nothing other than another attempt to intimidate me’, his statement said under the headline ‘they won’t shut me up’.

The journalist, author and TV pundit has two previous convictions for hate speech and has been investigated 16 times in total for his incendiary remarks on immigration and Islam.

This most recent trial was for comments made several days after a Pakistani man had attacked two people with a meat cleaver at the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had recently republished cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

READ ALSO Zemmour’s fake French history has a dark and long-term motive

The 25-year-old assailant, who was unaware that the magazine had changed location, had arrived in France with false papers to claim asylum as an unaccompanied minor.

Immigration is a major theme of early presidential campaigning, with Zemmour and other right-wing hopefuls promising to address fraud in the asylum system and the difficulty of returning people if their claims are rejected.

In 2011, he was fined €10,000 for claiming on TV that “most drug dealers are black and Arab”, and in 2018 he was ordered to pay €3,000 for stigmatising comments about a Muslim “invasion” of France.

READ ALSO French poll predicts Zemmour-Macron showdown in 2022 presidential election

Polls have shown a surge in support for him over the last two months, with some at the end of October putting him ahead of the veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

In the latest surveys ahead of the first round of the election on April 10, he was shown winning 13 to 15 percent, with Le Pen on around 18 percent and President Emmanuel Macron on around 25 percent.

Macron is tipped to win the second-round run-off irrespective of his opponent, but analysts warn that the election remains highly unpredictable.

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Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

If you're expecting to see French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris over the summer you're likely to be disappointed - he and his wife Brigitte are at Brégançon, the official Riviera 'holiday home' of the presidents of France.

Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

The Fort of Brégançon, which stands on a rock 30 metres above the sea, has been offering privacy and sunshine to French presidents for decades, although its history goes back much further than that.

The fort is perched on a tiny island – just 4.5km long – connected to the French mainland by a causeway and has been a strategic site since the 6th century, acting as a seigneurial residence, a Crown estate property and a military site equipped with artillery including 23 cannons under Napoleon Bonaparte.

It was Charles de Gaulle who gave it the status of official presidential residence in 1968 and it’s usually used for presidential holidays – similar to Camp David in the USA and Chequers in the UK.

It has since been transformed into a pleasant residence while maintaining what remained of the ancient fortress, giving presidents the opportunity to take advantage of the sunshine of the Riviera.

French presidents have their main residence and offices in the Elysée Palace, the beautiful 18th century residence in the heart of Paris. In addition to Brégançon, presidents also have the use of La Lanterne, a former hunting lodge in the grounds of Versailles, and although they can’t stay in the sumptuous Palace of Versailles they do sometimes hold events and meeting with foreign dignitaries there.

It’s Brégançon’s offshore location that was the key for De Gaulle, who considered it the only place in the south of France secure enough to receive foreign heads of state, particularly from Mediterranean countries in the geopolitical context of decolonisation. 

While it remains secure, it is these days within long-lens range for photographers, as several presidents have discovered. 

But through the years of the Fifth Republic, French presidents have had quite varying attitudes to this undoubted perk of the job.

De Gaulle’s successor Georges Pompidou seemed to love it and spent his weekends in the Fort both in summers and winters. He opened its doors to the media, letting himself be photographed with his spouse in more relaxed clothing and playing pétanque with his bodyguards.

Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude in August 1969 pose in the gardens during their summer holiday. Photo by AFP

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who regularly stayed there with his family, brought the national spotlight on the Fort by letting paparazzi venture around the residence, snapping pictures of him in swimsuit and tennis shoes, but also installing CCTV inside the residence.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing poses for photos with his wife Anne-Aymone in 1979. Photo by AFP

When socialist François Mitterrand won the election, he declared: “the Republic doesn’t need a secondary residence.”

He limited his visits to work meeting – the SNCF strikers in 1987 and two heads of state the Irish Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – although he took no steps to sell off Brégancon. 

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was hosted by François Mitterand in August 1985. Photo by PIERRE CIOT / AFP

His successor Jacques Chirac particularly appreciated the fort because of its location in the Var département where he lived as a child.

With his spouse Bernadette, they regularly attend mass at the local church and greeted residents and tourists. In 2004, the President received Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to appease tensions. The Brégançon presidential desk was photographed for the first time.

Jacques Chirac and Brigitte leaving the local church in May 1999 Photo by VANINA LUCCHESI / AFP

During his presidency Nicolas Sarkozy received foreign politicians including Condoleezza Rice, but also took some time to exercise. The pictures of him jogging around the Fort were described as creating a new style of presidential communication. Later, he was photographed on the beach with first lady Carla Bruni during her pregnancy.

Nicolas Sarkozy jogging, followed by his bodyguards on bikes. Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP

François Hollande, who branded himself as a “normal president” felt no particular attachment to the Fort and opened the site to the public for visits, although he did host some work meetings there.

A rather formal looking Francois Hollande meets with his Prime Minister Manuel Valls at Brégançon. Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / POOL / AFP

Since being elected in 2017 Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron seem to have enjoyed the Fort, retreating there during the summers and being photographed on the beach or having fun on jet-skis – they also installed a swimming pool which cost €34,000.

Brigitte Macron owns a property in the northern French seaside resort of Le Touquet, which the couple use for family time. But Emmanuel Macron has also used the Fort for work, hosting British Prime Minister Theresa May in August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2019, on the eve of the G7 in Biarritz, and Chancellor Angela Merkel in summer 2020. 

Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Bregancon in August 2020. Photo by Christophe SIMON / POOL / AFP

This year he declared that he would be having a “pause studieuse” at Brégançon and use the summer to think about how to tackle some of France’s most pressings issues.

With a cost of living crisis, war in Europe and political turmoil at home, let’s hope that his beach reading bears fruit.

By Julie Edde