SHARE
COPY LINK

POLITICS

French far-right MP suspended over ‘back to Africa’ outburst in parliament

The French parliament has voted to sanction a far-right MP with a 15-day suspension and pay cut after yelling "back to Africa" at a black colleague, an incident that drew outrage across the political spectrum.

General view of the Hemicycle, the debating room for MPs in France's National Assembly
(Photo by Geoffroy Van der Hasselt / AFP)

Gregoire de Fournas, a newly elected member of the National Rally, has denied any personal racist attack in the outburst, saying he was referring to a ship carrying rescued migrants in the Mediterranean.

He insisted that he said ils (they) should get back to Africa not il (he) should, referring to the back MP who was speaking when he made the comment.

The 15-day suspension is the strongest sanction available to the Assemblée nationale, and this is only the second time that it has been imposed since 1958.

The comment was made during the Thursday parliamentary sessions, when Carlos Martens Bilongo of the leftist La France insoumise party (LFI) was questioning the government on the request by the SOS Mediterranee NGO for Paris’s help in finding a port for 234 migrants rescued at sea in recent days.

“They should go back to Africa!” interrupted Gregoire de Fournas, a newly elected member of the far-right, anti-immigration Rassemblement National (RN).

The outburst sparked yells of condemnation, not least because in French the pronouns il (he) and ils (they) are pronounced the same, suggesting that de Fournas might have been targeting Bilongo directly and yelling ‘he should go back to Africa’.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne condemned the comments, adding: “Racism has no place in our democracy.”

The RN is the party of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who backed her MP on Twitter by saying “the controversy created by our political opponents is obvious and will not fool the French people”.

Le Pen challenged Macron in this year’s presidential vote and then led her party to its best-ever performance in subsequent legislative elections, with 89 MPs.

The party was founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen but his daughter claims to have overhauled the former National Front into a mainstream force, despite critics who say the changes are only cosmetic.

READ ALSO Is Marine Le Pen’s party truly far right?

‘Manipulation’

National Assembly speaker Yael Braun-Pivet suspended the session after demanding to know who had made the comment, in an extremely rare intervention.

De Fournas later defended his comment, telling BFM television that the RN wants a halt to all illegal immigration after a surge in the number of people trying to reach France from Africa in recent years.

He accused LFI opponents of “manipulation” and his party also denied any personal attack against Bilongo, a teacher of Congolese heritage who was born in Paris.

De Fournas later apologised to Bilongo for “the misunderstanding my comments caused” and if he was hurt by them.

LFI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon tweeted that the comments were “beyond intolerable” and that the deputy should be kicked out of the National Assembly.

A parliamentary committee will meet Friday to discuss the incident, which could see de Fournas punished with a temporary exclusion from the Assembly.

Macron’s centrist Renaissance party will refuse to attend further sessions unless the council issues a “heavy penalty”, its vice-president in parliament Sylvain Maillard said on Twitter.

The ruling party failed to win an overall majority in the legislative elections, leading to tensions as Macron’s government seeks to push key bills through the legislature.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers – French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

From coffee runs to rugby tickets and professional photos - France's election financing body has revealed some of the items it has refused to reimburse from the 2022 presidential race.

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers - French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

Spending on the election trail is tightly regulated in France, with maximum campaign spends per candidate as well as a list of acceptable expenses that can be reimbursed.

In France the State pays at least some of the election campaign costs, with the budget calculated according to how many votes the candidate ends up getting. 

READ MORE: 5 things to know about French election campaign financing

On Friday, the government body (la Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques – or CNCCFP) released its findings for the 12 candidates who ran in the April 2022 presidential campaign. 

All of the candidates had their accounts approved, but 11 out of the 12 were refused reimbursement on certain items. Here are some of the items that did not get CNCCFP approval;

Rugby tickets 

Jean Lassalle – the wildcard ‘pro farmer’ candidate who received about three percent of votes cast in the first round of the 2022 election – bought “19 tickets to attend a rugby match” according to the CNCCFP’s findings. The organisation said it would not be reimbursing the tickets and questioned “the electoral nature of the event”. 

The total cost of the tickets was €465 (or €24.50 each).

Too many coffees

Socialist candidate, and current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo reportedly spent at least €1,600 on coffee for her team during the campaign.

According to the CNCCFP, however, the caffeine needed to keep a presidential campaign running did not qualify under the country’s strict campaign financing rules.

Too many stickers

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s was told that the 1.2 million stickers that were bought – to the tune of €28,875 – to advertise the campaign would not be reimbursed. Mélenchon justified the purchasing of the stickers – saying that in the vast majority of cases they were used to build up visibility for campaign events, but CNCCFP ruled that “such a large number” was not justified. 

Mélenchon was not the only one to get in trouble for his signage. Extreme-right candidate Éric Zemmour was accused of having put up over 10,000 posters outside official places reserved for signage. The same went for the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, who decided to appeal the CNCCFP’s decision not to reimburse €300,000 spent on putting posters of her face with the phrase “M la France” on 12 campaign buses.

Poster pictures

Emmanuel Macron – who won re-election in 2022 – will not be reimbursed for the €30,000 spent on a professional photographer Soazig de la Moissonière, who works as his official photographer and took the picture for his campaign poster. 

The CNCCFP said that Macron’s team had “not sufficiently justified” the expenditure.

Expensive Airbnbs

Green party member Yannick Jadot reportedly spent €6,048 on Airbnbs in the city of Paris for some of his campaign employees – an expense that the CNCCFP said that public funds would not cover.

Translating posters

The campaign finance body also refused to reimburse the Mélenchon campaign’s decision to translate its programme into several foreign languages at a cost of €5,398.

The CNCCFP said that they did not consider the translations to be “an expense specifically intended to obtain votes” in a French election.

Best and worst in class

The extreme-right pundit Zemmour had the largest amount of money not reimbursed. Zemmour created a campaign video that used film clips and historic news footage without permission and also appeared on CNews without declaring his candidacy – because of these two offences, CNCCFP has reduced his reimbursement by €200,000. He has been hit with a separate bill of €70,000 after he was found guilty of copyright infringement over the campaign video. 

The star pupil was Nathalie Arthaud, high-school teacher and candidate for the far-left Lutte Ouvriere party, who apparently had “completely clean accounts”. A CNCCFP spokesperson told Le Parisien that if all candidate accounts were like Arthauds’, then “we would be unemployed”.

SHOW COMMENTS