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‘Lovers of nature’ – Why French politicians are courting hunters

It's an increasingly controversial practice with concerns raised about both safety and animal welfare - but the hunting lobby is being enthusiastically courted by France's 2022 presidential hopefuls.

'Lovers of nature' - Why French politicians are courting hunters
Photo: Thibaud Moritz/AFP

There are four million card-carrying hunters in France, the largest contingent of any country in Europe – and a vital electorate for the candidates in the French presidential vote in April.

France’s love of the land runs deep, even though the number of farms has dwindled in recent years and large parts of the countryside have emptied out, often resulting in a dearth of essential services such as health care.

Yet the dream of a country vacation home has long motivated middle classes across the political spectrum, fuelled in part by pride in the country’s rural heritage – of which hunters are held up as the guardians.

READ ALSO How to get through France’s hunting season without getting shot

“Obviously we have influence, and we will sell our vision of the world for 2022,” Willy Schraen, head of the FNC national hunters’ federation, told journalists recently.

Emmanuel Macron moved quickly to curry their favour after his 2017 election, slashing the annual hunting licence fee to €200 from €400.

And in December that year, he celebrated his 40th birthday at the grandiose Chateau de Chambord, for centuries the royal hunting grounds of French kings in the Loire Valley.

Surrounded by torches and the blowing of horns, he was the first sitting president in decades to attend the venerable ritual of presenting the day’s take – though Macron himself did not take part in the hunt.

Other mainstream candidates have also played up their support for hunters, with even Communist candidate Fabien Roussel defending them recently against “condescending intellectuals”.

Valérie Pécresse, widely seen as the biggest threat to Macron’s re-election hopes, has hailed them as “lovers of nature” who are “very responsible and respectful”.

Yet opposition to hunting for sport has risen on both wildlife preservation and animal cruelty grounds, and tensions between the two sides routinely flare as elections near.

A series of fatal accidents this season – seven so far – has also revived claims that hunters put other forest users at risk.

Such arguments exasperate Thierry, a former teacher in Paris who is moving to the Morvan.

“They give an absolutely false image of hunters as carnivores who only want to kill, kill, kill, but from what I see it’s about respect and spending the day in nature with friends,” he said.

Critics are pushing to prohibit hunting on weekends – France is among the few EU countries to allow hunting every day during the season – and sharply curtail the number of species allowed, currently around 90.

A petition to halt hunting on Sundays and Wednesdays, a weekday when many schools are closed, has garnered 120,000 signatures.

“But I’m like everyone else, I work during the week – you go hunting on the weekend,” said Christian, another hunter in Morvan.

For Sergio dalla Bernardina, an Italian anthropologist who has studied hunting debates across Europe, the debate will have outsize sway in the French presidential fight.

“The relationship between hunting and power is quite strong in the French imagination,” he told AFP.

“Behind the stakes over hunting itself, there are questions of rural identity, the soil, authenticity, and the face off between urbanites and ‘neo-rurals’ who are often seen as modern-day colonisers,” he told AFP.

Member comments

  1. “They give an absolutely false image of hunters as carnivores who only want to kill, kill, kill, but from what I see it’s about respect and spending the day in nature with friends.” So why do they need guns to enjoy the countryside with friends? They seem to speak like other county dwellers, the forked toughed variety.

  2. “They give an absolutely false image of hunters as carnivores who only want to kill, kill, kill, but from what I see it’s about respect and spending the day in nature with friends,” he said.

    Typical comment, I would imagine, from the hunting fraternity. About respect? Respect for whom? Other people who wish to spend a day in nature with friends without inflicting such serious trauma to other animals so that they die presumably in pain, fear, and shock. Jolly good fun, eh?

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UKRAINE

Macron, Scholz and Draghi meet Ukrainian president in Kyiv

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have met the Ukrainian president in Kyiv, after the trio travelled overnight by train from Poland.

Macron, Scholz and Draghi meet Ukrainian president in Kyiv

The three leaders left in the early hours of Thursday, arriving into Kyiv on Thursday morning. After a visit to the heavily-bombed town of Irpin, they met Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

It is the first time that the leaders of the three European Union countries have visited Kyiv since Russia’s February 24th invasion of Ukraine, and the visit comes as Kyiv is pushing for membership of the EU.

Macron has been paying a two-day visit to Romania and Moldova to discuss the ongoing crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There had been widespread speculation in France that he would combine the trip with a visit to Zelensky in Ukraine, but this was not confirmed until Thursday morning.

In a joint press conference with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, Macron reiterated his desire that Ukraine should win the war, but added that eventually negotiations between Ukraine and Russia will be necessary.

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