‘Wind of revolt’ sweeps French cinema in belated #MeToo reckoning

French cinema has been rocked by a new wave of allegations of child rape and sexual assault targeting household names in the industry, bolstering talk of a long-awaited breakthrough for the #MeToo movement in France following a nationwide controversy over Gérard Depardieu. The latest accusations shine a stark light on the culture of impunity that prevailed in a country where auteur worship has long served as a cover for abuse.

French cinema’s #MeToo breakthrough has been heralded, and pushed back, often enough to warrant caution – but there are signs the ground is finally shifting, more than six years after cinema’s feminist revolution kicked off across the Atlantic. 

In 2017, at the dawn of the #MeToo era, French actor Judith Godrèche was among the first to speak out against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, telling the New York Times that the film producer assaulted her in a hotel at the Cannes Film Festival two decades earlier, when she was 24. 

Years later, the actor-turned-filmmaker is at the heart of bombshell allegations that are writing a new chapter in France’s troubled reckoning with sex abuse in the film industry. 

French prosecutors opened an investigation last week after Godrèche, now 51, said she was groomed and raped by filmmaker Benoît Jacquot during a “predatory” relationship that started when she was 14 and he was 39.  

Godrèche, who recently delivered the semi-autobiographical series “Icon of French cinema”, was a child actor when she met Jacquot at a casting call for his movie “Les Mendiants” (The Beggars). She told French daily Le Monde she remained “in his grip” for the following six years, in full sight of the film industry and the media. 

“It’s a story similar to those of children who are kidnapped and grow up without seeing the world, and who cannot think ill of their captor,” Godrèche wrote in a statement for the police juvenile protection unit, quoted by the newspaper.  

Judith Godrèche pictured in 1992, the year she broke off her six-year relationship with Benoît Jacquot. © Bertrand Guay, AFP

Paris prosecutors said they were investigating several potential offences including rape of a minor committed by a person in authority, domestic violence and sexual assault. They said they would also investigate a complaint she filed against another prominent filmmaker, Jacques Doillon, whom she accused of sexually abusing her when she was 15. 

Jacquot, one of France’s best known independent directors, told Le Monde he denied all allegations. The 77-year-old said: “It was me, without irony, who was under her spell for six years.” 

Doillon, whose partner at the time of the alleged abuse was the late Jane Birkin, also denied the accusations against him – including claims of sexual assault voiced in the media by actors Isild Le Besco and Anna Mouglalis in the wake of Godrèche’s allegations. “That Judith Godrèche and other women through her have wish to denounce a system, an era, a society, is courageous, commendable and necessary,” Doillon, 79, wrote in a statement to AFP. He added: “But the justness of the cause does not authorise arbitrary denunciations, false accusations and lies.” 

The allegations levelled at two household names in French film have further rattled an industry already under fire for having shrugged off sexism and sexual abuse for decades. Godrèche’s accusations relate to the period 1986-1992, meaning they are unlikely to lead to prosecution because the statute of limitations has expired. The authorities’ decision to investigate them nonetheless suggests a new willingness to shed light on sexual abuse in the arts. 

Two days after Godrèche filed her complaints, prosecutors said they had requested a trial for 59-year-old film director Christophe Ruggia, who has been charged with sexually assaulting actor Adèle Haenel when she was a minor. It will be up to magistrates to decide whether to press ahead with a trial. 

Haenel, now 34, lodged a complaint against Ruggia in 2020, accusing him of subjecting her to “constant sexual harassment” from the age of 12 to 15. Later that year, she stormed out of the César Awards ceremony, the French equivalent of the Oscars, when the Best Director award was handed to veteran filmmaker Roman Polanski, the target of multiple allegations of sexual abuse of minors. 

The walkout made her an early champion of the #MeToo movement in France. But her decision three years later, at the height of her fame, to quit the industry over its enduring “complacency” towards sex abuse was seen by many feminist campaigners as evidence of French resistance to change. 

A ‘cover’ for abuse 

French cinema’s troubled relationship with the #MeToo movement stems from traits specific to the film industry and to France itself, said Bérénice Hamidi, a sociologist of gender and the arts at the Université Lumière in Lyon. 

“The arts, and film in particular, are overexposed to sexist and sexual violence, because they are professions that feel apart from society and its rules, in which selection and seduction are very closely intertwined, and in which job insecurity puts many young women in a position of vulnerability,” she said. 

“But there is also a culture that is very French in its veneration of artists and the creative process, which excuses all behaviour,” Hamidi added. “There’s this idea that in order to create you have to be in a transgressive relationship with social norms. In this scale of values, women’s lives count for nothing compared to genius and talent. Excusing the behaviour of aggressive artists is specific to France.” 

French critics of the #MeToo movement have often come from cinema itself, inspired by an entrenched suspicion of American puritanical campaigns and witch-hunts. Some have accused the movement of being fuelled by a contempt for men and the art of seduction. 

In 2018, film icon Catherine Deneuve was among 100 French women who signed a newspaper column accusing the #MeToo campaign of going too far. “We defend a right to pester, which is vital to sexual freedom,” they said. 

It’s a theme Jacquot picked up in his defence last week, lamenting the importation from the US of a “frightening neo-Puritanism”. He suggested his relationship with Godrèche carried an interest for both parties, telling Le Monde: “She wanted to be an actress, she had a filmmaker on hand.” 

The newspaper has exhumed a host of past quotes by Jacquot that, in hindsight, appear to capture much of what the #MeToo movement has denounced. 

In a 2006 interview with arts weekly Les Inrockuptibles, he spoke of a tacit “pact” underpinning his collaboration with Godrèche in his 1990 movie “La Désenchantée” (The Disenchanted), saying: “If I give her the film, she gives herself completely in return. Which can be understood in any sense you like.” 

Nine years later, he told the left-leaning newspaper Libération: “My work as a filmmaker consists of pushing an actress to cross a threshold. Meeting her, talking to her, directing her, separating from her and then finding her again: the best way to do all that is to be in the same bed.” 

In an Instagram post in early January, Godrèche said she decided to name Jacquot after coming across a 2011 documentary in which he described cinema as a “sort of cover” for illicit behaviour. He spoke of his relationship with the then child actress as a form of “transgression” that brought him “a degree of admiration” in the “small world of cinema”. 

Jacquot told Le Monde last week he regretted those words, describing them as arrogant banter. 

French actor Judith Godrèche has accused director Benoit Jacquot of raping her when she was 14 years old.
French actor Judith Godrèche has accused director Benoît Jacquot of raping her when she was 14. He says theirs was a “loving relationship”. © FRANCE 24 screengrab

Godrèche recently moved back to France after a 10-year stint in New York, motivated in part by her desire to get away from the “small world” of French film. Her hit series “Icon of French cinema” tells the story of a French film star’s return to Paris after a decade in Hollywood. Through flashbacks, it revisits the abuse she endured as a 14-year-old child actress groomed by a leading French director. 

Its streaming release in late December came on the heels of the hugely successful theatrical launch of Vanessa Filho’s “Le Consentement”, based on the eponymous 2019 book by Vanessa Springora, a memoir of having been sexually abused from the age of 14 by a celebrated writer who was more than three times her age. Gabriel Matzneff, the accused writer who made no secret of his preference for minors, including preteens, is being investigated for rape, now aged 87. 

In an interview with the Guardian last month, Godrèche stressed the importance of speaking out about the grooming of teenagers by older men in positions of authority. 

“These people usually come to you as protectors. They become a parental figure,” she said, noting that the French film industry was still protecting powerful men and that a form of omerta remained prevalent. She added: “I’m not here to carry out a witch-hunt, but you might expect a little compassion.” 

Fall of the Ogre 

Talk of powerful men turning a blind eye to allegations of abuse, or even siding with purported aggressors, became the subject of a nationwide controversy in late December when French President Emmanuel Macron condemned a “manhunt” targeting French film icon Gérard Depardieu

The world-famous actor has been under formal investigation for rape since 2020 and has been accused of rape or sexual assault by a dozen other women – allegations he denies. His reputation took a further hit in December when public broadcaster France Télévision ran a documentary detailing his history of sexual abuse allegations and featuring interviews with several of his accusers. Entitled “Fall of the Ogre”, the documentary featured a segment filmed in North Korea in which the 75-year-old actor is seen making crude, sexual and misogynistic jokes, including one referring to a child riding a pony. 

In the weeks that followed, Depardieu’s wax statue was removed from the Musée Grevin in Paris, Canada’s Quebec region stripped him of its top honour, and Swiss public broadcaster RTS said it was halting the broadcast of films in which he plays a leading role.  The backlash sparked concern in France that the star of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and some 200 other titles was being cancelled outright. 

Appearing on a television talk show on December 20, Macron rebuked his then Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak – who has since been fired – for suggesting Depardieu might be stripped of his Légion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration. 

“He’s an immense actor, a genius of his art,” Macron said in defence of Depardieu, stressing that the Légion d’honneur was not a “moral” order. He added: “I say it as president and as a citizen, he makes France proud.” 

In his remarks, Macron also suggested the documentary’s North Korea segment might have been edited in a misleading way, though France Télévisions later said it was authenticated by a bailiff who viewed the raw footage.  

The president’s words drew outrage from film workers, rights groups and opposition politicians. Generation.s Feministe, a feminist collective, said they were “an insult” to all women who had suffered sexual violence. Macron’s remarks were “not just scandalous but also dangerous”, added the #NousToutes feminist group.  

Stepping into the fray, his predecessor François Hollande said he was “not proud of Gérard Depardieu”. He also berated the president over his failure to spare a word for the film star’s alleged victims. 

Cult of the auteur 

According to Geneviève Sellier, a professor of film studies at the Université Montaigne in Bordeaux, Macron’s words were indicative of a French “cult of the auteur” that has long been used to excuse or cover up reprehensible behaviour. 

“The cult of the auteur places artistic genius – regarded as necessarily male – above the law,” she explains. “This French tradition explains in part why the country remains largely blind to the realities of male domination and abuse.”

Sellier said auteur veneration underpinned a controversial petition that was published on Christmas Day in the right-wing daily Le Figaro, denouncing a “lynching of Depardieu”, signed by dozens of friends and colleagues of the actor. They included former French first lady and singer Carla Bruni, British actor Charlotte Rampling and Depardieu’s former partner, actor Carole Bouquet.  

“When Gérard Depardieu is targeted this way, it is the art (of cinema) that is being attacked,” read the text, warning against a campaign to “erase” Depardieu. “Depriving ourselves of this immense actor would be a tragedy, a defeat. The death of the art. Our art.” 

Hamidi said the petition reflected a “form of blurring between reality and fiction” that is used to shield artists from scrutiny of their behaviour. “There’s a form of transfiguration at play,” she said. “It’s as if punishing Depardieu meant depriving us of the Cyrano he played.” She added: “You often hear people say of Depardieu that he is larger than life, in the sense that he is also too big for the rules that apply to common mortals, and that those rules therefore should not apply to him.” 

French actor Gérard Depardieu, pictured at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, has faced a string of allegations of rape and sexual assault in recent years.
French actor Gérard Depardieu, pictured at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, has faced a string of allegations of rape and sexual assault in recent years. © Axel Schmidt, AP

The text in support of Depardieu swiftly triggered a flurry of counter-petitions, whose signatories were markedly younger of age.  

The Figaro petition “is a sinister and perfect illustration of an old world that refuses to let things change”, read an open letter signed by more than 600 artists, arguing that the text in support of Depardieu “spat in the face” of his accusers. 

“Art is not a totem of impunity,” read another letter published by Libération. “We are not attacking the art we hold dear: on the contrary, we want to protect it, firmly refusing to use it as a pretext for abuse of power, harassment or sexual violence.” 

As the backlash intensified, several signatories of the original petition scrambled to distance themselves from the text, particularly once it emerged it had been written by a little-known actor and writer for the ultra-conservative magazine Causeur, described as close to far-right pundit and former presidential candidate Éric Zemmour.  

Patrice Leconte, who directed Depardieu in the recent “Maigret” (2022), said he had been a “fool” to sign the petition without checking who wrote it, while reiterating his dismay at the “media lynching” the film star was being subjected to. Roberto Alagna, the operatic tenor, suggested in an Instagram post that he had been “tricked” into signing a petition he “hadn’t even read”.  

Others, like actor and stage director Jacques Weber, expressed greater contrition.  

“Yes, I did sign, forgetting the victims and the fate of thousands of women around the world who are suffering from a state of affairs that has been accepted for too long,” Weber wrote in an article published by Mediapart, under the headline, “Guilty”. He added: “My signature was another rape.” 

France’s rayonnement 

The age gap exposed by the competing petitions has revived talk of a generational divide in attitudes towards sexual misconduct in the arts – a divide previously highlighted by the controversial open letter published in 2018 by Deneuve and her peers.  

“There’s a generation that still doesn’t understand this societal evolution,” Muriel Reus, vice president of #MeTooMedia, which campaigns against sexism and sexual misconduct in the media, told France Info radio at the height of the Depardieu controversy.  

This generational divide conceals mechanisms of social domination that are particularly pervasive in the arts, argued Sellier. 

“In film, powerful men tend to be older, while female victims are younger, poorer and in more vulnerable jobs,” she said. Those women who did speak out, including among older generations, were simply ignored in the past, she added. 

Sophie Marceau, one of France’s best-known actors, told Paris Match weekly magazine in December that Depardieu was “rude and inappropriate” when they worked together on the set of “Police” in 1985. Marceau, 57, said she publicly denounced his behaviour at the time, which she described as “unbearable”, adding: “many people turned on me, trying to make it look like I was being a nuisance”.   

Marceau said part of the reason he got away with it was that he targeted women with low-level jobs on set, not the stars.  

Days later, fellow actress Isabelle Carré denounced a culture of impunity in French cinema and of sexualising young girls in an op-ed piece in women’s magazine Elle. A prominent actress with dozens of films to her name, Carré, 52, said she had been the object of unwanted sexual attention since she was 11. Regarding Depardieu, she wrote: “Isn’t it astounding that it took 50 years to point out to an actor that his behaviour towards female assistants, dressers and co-actors is not acceptable?”  

Protesters hold a placard reading
Protesters hold a placard reading “No producers for rapists” during a demonstration outside a theatre in Bordeaux where Gérard Depardieu is due to perform on May 24, 2023. © Romain Perrocheau, AFP

On Monday, members of the Société des réalisatrices et réalisateurs de films (SRF), an organisation representing French filmmakers, issued a statement in support of Godrèche and others who have spoken out in recent days – and expressing dismay at the industry’s habit of turning a blind eye to abuse.  

“We firmly denounce the confusion between creative desire and sexual enslavement, which has been ideologically encouraged by a large part of our professional environment for decades,” they wrote. “We are also struck by the silence of those who witnessed it then and now.”   

The next day, the writer and film critic Hélène Frappat hailed a “wind of revolt blowing across France”, praising Godrèche for having “broken the spell” that holds young girls in silence. In an op-ed in Le Monde, Frappat wrote: “The girls are rising up! It seems our culturally reactionary country, this time, will not be able to muzzle them.”  

Welcoming the onset of a “French #MeToo” in an interview with France Inter radio last month, actor Laure Calamy praised her colleagues who dared to take on powerful men. She said their courage contrasted with Macron’s support for Depardieu, which she likened to a “slap in their face”.   

At stake in this tussle is the very credibility of France and its film industry, Hamidi argued, highlighting a French “backwardness” on the issue. She said: “Statements such as Macron’s project a catastrophic image abroad, giving the impression that we are still in Ancien Régime France, in which the powerful can take advantage of women.”  

Far from preserving France’s cherished cultural rayonnement (influence), the president’s words achieved the very opposite, Sellier added: “It is precisely this blindness to sexist violence that is undermining France’s cultural influence.” 

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‘Unfair competition’: French farmers up in arms over EU free-trade agreements

French farming unions are taking aim at the European Union’s free-trade agreements, which they say open the door to unfair competition from products arriving from overseas. At a time when the EU is urging farmers to adopt more sustainable – and sometimes more costly – agricultural practices, unions say these trade deals are making it hard for them to stay solvent.

French farmers say that one of their biggest fears is that Chilean apples, Brazilian grains and Canadian beef will flood the European market, thereby undermining their livelihoods. France’s farmers continued to demonstrate on the country’s motorways on Wednesday, protesting against rising costs, over-regulation and free-trade agreements –partnerships between the EU and exporting nations that the farming unions say leads to unfair competition. 

The EU has signed several free-trade agreements in recent years, all with the objective of facilitating the movement of goods and services. But farmers say the deals bring with them insurmountable challenges.

“These agreements aim to reduce customs duties, with maximum quotas for certain agricultural products and non-tariff barriers,” said Elvire Fabry, senior researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute, a French think-tank dedicated to European affairs. “They also have an increasingly broad regulatory scope to promote European standards for investment, protection of intellectual property, geographical indications and sustainable development standards.”

South American trade deal in the crosshairs

Some non-EU countries – such as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland – maintain comprehensive free-trade agreements with the EU because they are part of the European Economic Area. This allows them to benefit from the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

Other nations farther afield have signed more variable agreements with the EU, including CanadaJapan, Mexico, Vietnam and Ukraine. The EU also recently signed an accord with Kenya and a deal with New Zealand that will come into force this year; negotiations are also under way with India and Australia.    

However, a draft agreement between the EU and the South American trade bloc Mercosur is creating the most concern. Under discussion since the 1990s, this trade partnership between Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay would create the world’s largest free-trade area, a market encompassing 780 million people. 

Read more‘French agriculture can’t be bartered away’: Farmers unite against EU rules and globalised markets     

French farmers are particularly concerned about the deal’s possible effect on agriculture. The most recent version of the text introduces quotas for Mercosur countries to export 99,000 tonnes of beef, 100,000 tonnes of poultry and 180,000 tonnes of sugar per year, with little or no customs duties imposed. In exchange, duties would also be lowered on exports from the EU on many “protected designation of origin” (PDO) products. 

At a time when the EU is urging farmers to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices, French unions say these agreements would open the door to massive imports – at more competitive prices – of products that do not meet the same environmental standards as those originating in Europe. French farmers are calling out what they say is unfair competition from farmers in South America who can grow GMO crops and use growth-promoting antibiotics on livestock, which is banned in the EU

Trade unions from various sectors went into action after the European Commission informed them on January 24 that negotiations with Mercosur could be concluded “before the end of this mandate”, i.e., before the European Parliament elections in June.      

The FNSEA, France’s biggest farming union, immediately called for a “clear rejection of free-trade agreements” while the pro-environmental farming group Confédération Paysanne (Farmers’ Confederation) called for an “immediate end to negotiations” on this type of agreement.   

A mixed record

“In reality, the impact of these free-trade agreements varies from sector to sector,” said Fabry. “Negotiations prior to agreements aim to calibrate the opening up of trade to limit the negative impact on the most exposed sectors. And, at the same time, these sectors can benefit from other agreements. In the end, it’s a question of finding an overall balance.”

This disparity is glaringly obvious in the agricultural sector. “The wine and spirits industry as well as the dairy industry stand to gain more than livestock farmers, for example,” said Fabry. These sectors are the main beneficiaries of free-trade agreements, according to a 2023 report by the French National Assembly.

“The existence of trade agreements that allow customs duty differentials to be eliminated is an ‘over-determining factor’ in the competitiveness of French wines,” wrote FranceAgriMer, a national establishment for agriculture and maritime products under the authority of the French ministry of agriculture in a 2021 report. The majority of free-trade agreements lower or abolish customs duties to allow the export of many PDO products, a category to which many wines belong.

However, the impact on meat is less clear-cut. While FranceAgriMer says the balance between imports and exports appears to be in the EU’s favour for pork, poultry exports seem to be declining as a result of the agreements. Hence the fears over the planned treaty with New Zealand, which provides for 36,000 tonnes of mutton to be imported into the EU, equivalent to 45% of French production in 2022. France,however, still has a large surplus of grains except for soya. 

‘A bargaining chip’

Beyond the impact on agriculture, “this debate on free-trade agreements must take into account other issues”, said Fabry. “We are in a situation where the EU is seeking to secure its supplies and in particular its supplies of strategic minerals. Brazil’s lithium, cobalt, graphite and other resource reserves should not be overlooked.”

The agreement with Chile should enable strategic minerals to be exported in exchange for agricultural products. Germany strongly supports the agreement with Mercosur, as it sees it as an outlet for its industrial sectors, according to Fabry.

“In virtually all free-trade agreements, agriculture is always used as a bargaining chip in exchange for selling cars or Airbus planes,” Véronique Marchesseau, general-secretary of the Confédération Paysanne, told AFP.

Michèle Boudoin, president of the French National Sheep Federation, told AFP that the agreement with New Zealand will “destabilise the lamb market in France”.  

Read moreWhy French farmers are up in arms: fuel hikes, green regulation, EU directives

“We know that Germany needs to export its cars, that France needs to sell its wheat, and we’re told that we need an ally in the Pacific tocounter China and Russia. But if that is the case, then we need help to be able to produce top-of-the-line lamb, for example,” she said.

Finally, “there is a question of influence”, said Fabry. “These agreements also remain a way for the EU to promote its environmental standards to lead its partners along the path of ecological transition, even if this has to be negotiated,” said Fabry. 

Marc Fesneau, the French minister of agriculture, made the same argument. “In most cases, the agreements have been beneficial, including to French agriculture,” Fesneau wrote on X last week, adding: “They will be even more so if we ensure that our standards are respected.”

Mercosur negotiations suspended? 

As the farmers’ promised “siege” of Paris and other major locations across France continues, the French government has been trying to reassure agricultural workers about Mercosur, even though President Emmanuel Macron and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva relaunched negotiations in December. “France is clearly opposed to the signing of the Mercosur treaty,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal acknowledged last week.

The Élysée Palace even said on Monday evening that EU negotiations with the South American bloc had been suspended because of France’s opposition to the treaty. The conditions are “not ripe” for concluding the negotiations, said Eric Mamer, spokesman for the European Commission. “However, discussions are ongoing.” 

Before being adopted, the agreement would have to be passed unanimously by the European Parliament, then ratified individually by the 27 EU member states.

This article has been translated from the original in French

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Why French farmers are up in arms: fuel hikes, green regulation, EU directives

French farmers have engaged in a standoff with the government to express anger over a perceived lack of respect, rising costs and suffocating EU regulation. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal seeks to calm the protesters while the far-right National Rally hopes to take advantage of their anger, just five months before the European elections.

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4 min

France’s farmers are angry with their government. Several dozen of them have been blocking a portion of the A64 highway near Toulouse since January 18 to express their anger. Then an explosion between Thursday and Friday night blew out the windows of a local government building in the nearby city of Carcassonne. Two graffiti tags left at the scene attributed the act to a mysterious collective of winemakers.

“It is not insignificant that this [the protest movement] comes from the south of the country,” said François Purseigle, a sociology professor at the French agronomy faculty of the Toulouse Institute of Technology. “Farmers are on the frontline of climate change, with successive droughts taking place, and they have been repeatedly told they are not doing enough for the environment.”   

Read moreCan technological fixes solve France’s water crisis amid record droughts?

Surprised by the farmers’ blockades, France’s government announced a delay of “several weeks’” for reforms announced over a year ago to help farmers. The stakes are high: France lost 20% (101,000) of its farms between 2010 and 2020, according to a recent survey.

“Many young people today prefer to avoid self-employment because they would earn less than a farm employee, and this should not be the case,” said Yohann Barbe, a cattle farmer in the Vosges department in northeastern France. Successive governments have been struggling to stop the phenomenon. “Nearly 200,000 farmers will be of retirement age by 2026, but there are not enough buyers [to take over their farms],” said Purseigle. “There is a gap between Macron’s speech on ‘civic rearmament’ and the reality of farmers who feel completely disarmed.”

‘We can’t expect farmers to shoulder the ecological transition’

The vulnerabilities of farmers are increasing day by day. “Emmanuel Macron made a great speech on agriculture during a meeting at Rungis International Market in 2017, but never acted upon it. We’re fed up,” Barbe said.

Protesters say their movement, which originated in the southwest, is bound to spread nationwide, especially if the government does not quickly respond to their grievances. These include the government’s move to increase taxes on agricultural diesel, a polluting fuel, used by farmers, that has long benefited from government tax breaks. The move will directly affect the sector’s production costs.

Read moreFrench politicians attempt to appease angry farmers ahead of European elections

Farmers are also denouncing non-compliance with a law passed in 2018 which guarantees that hikes in production costs be covered by the agrifood chain through trade negotiations. 

“I sell my milk to Savencia (an agribusiness group), even though I don’t even know how much milk will cost on February 1, because we didn’t reach an agreement with them in December,” said Barbe, who is also a member of the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA). In another example, the 2018 law required 20% of the food distributed in canteens to be organic by 2022, but the threshold is still stagnating at around 6%, according to the French newspaper Les Echos. “We can’t expect farmers to shoulder the ecological transition by themselves,” said Barbe.

The European Union targeted

Also jarring to farmers are the mounting environmental standards put on agricultural production. They point out that the frequent transposition of European directives make national standards even stricter than European standards. “We are not against more supervision, but we need compensation on prices,” said Barbe. This comes at the risk of losing to foreign competition. France imported more than one chicken out of two consumed in 2022 from abroad (notably, from Belgium, Poland and Brazil).

The farmers are also holding the European Union itself responsible for their situation. With a budget of €53.7 billion for the 2023-2027 mandate, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) implements a system of agricultural subsidies and other programmes. Farmers describe it as dysfunctional. “For the first time, the CAP subsidies have still not yet been paid to all our farmers in 2023. Several farmers are having problems with their bank or their suppliers, who they weren’t able to pay as a result,” said Barbe.

Anger over European regulations grows among French farmers

The far-right National Rally did not hesitate to use this anger against Brussels to launch its campaign for the European elections in June. Jordan Bardella, chief of the National Rally, spent last Sunday with workers on the wine-growing lands of Médoc.

“The European Union and the Europe of Macron (want) the death of our agriculture,” said Bardella. “French farmers are exposed to unfair competition from products from around the world which don’t respect the strict standards that they (French producers) have to observe,” he added.

For Purseigle, the farmers’ anger will be a major theme in the coming European elections. “If they have succeeded in one area, it is in putting agricultural issues on the political agenda,” he said. The newly appointed Prime Minister Gabriel Attal also rushed to the Rhône department in east-central France on Saturday before receiving the FNSEA and the Young Farmers Union Monday in an effort to calm the discontent. “Politics is also about responding to emotions,” Purseigle noted.

As for the farmers, they have already announced they won’t hesitate to block Paris and disrupt the Paris International Agricultural Show, which begins on February 24, if the government ignores their demands.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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An unspoken pain: Tackling France’s infertility problem

French President Emmanuel Macron this week announced a plan to revive France’s sluggish birth rate and tackle the country’s growing infertility problem. More than three million people in France suffer from what Macron described as “the taboo of the century”, making it one of the country’s biggest public health issues. So why has it never been treated as such? 

Macron promised steps to boost France’s declining birth rate during a televised press conference on Tuesday, calling for a “demographic rearmament” of the country. The call came after France recorded its lowest annual birth rate since World War II, with 678,000 births registered in 2023 – a sharp 6.6 percent drop from the previous year. Despite Macron’s “announcement”, the plan has actually been long in the making, and is part of a bioethics law that the French parliament approved in 2021. 

France has long been proud of its comparatively high birth rate, described as a “French exception” in Europe. But recent trends have undermined the country’s status as the continent’s baby-making champion – and highlighted a growing fertility problem.  

A 2022 report commissioned by the government showed that as many as one in every four French couples who have tried to conceive naturally for 12 months or longer are unable to do so. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines this as infertility – a condition that currently affects as many as 3.3 million people in France. 


Among them is Virginie Rio, the president and co-founder of the infertility support group Collectif Bamp!, which advocates better treatment for infertility. 

After trying but failing to conceive naturally for several years, Rio sought help through Medically Assisted Procreation (MAP) and managed to get pregnant. But her long journey was fraught with challenges and mistreatment, not least because of a lack of understanding and compassion from doctors. 

“I was told that women had psychological problems, and that I needed to relax more,” she said, pointing to sexist prejudice surrounding the issue of infertility. “The discourse makes women feel very guilty. They’re made to feel as if it’s their fault that they can’t have children,” Rio explained. 

The underlying causes  

Multiple studies have shown that a woman’s age plays a key role in her ability to conceive. A study published in the Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences in May 2020 showed that a woman under the age of 30 had an 85 percent chance of getting pregnant within a year, while a woman aged 30 had a 75 percent chance. At 35, her chances dropped even further, to 66 percent, and at 40 to 44 percent. 

But these types of statistics are guilt-tripping and hardly show the full picture.

“The stigma that women are the only ones responsible for infertility is deeply rooted in peoples’ minds,” said Élise de La Rochebrochard, a researcher at the French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED). “We shouldn’t reinforce this belief, making women the only ones responsible for reproduction – since it’s also an issue for men,” she said. 

There are many reasons why a growing number women wait until later in life before trying to have a child. Sociologists point to women making up a much larger part of the workforce and to widespread access to contraceptives. Many young adults put their family creation plans on hold as they seek professional and emotional stability, or  wait until they have struck the right work-life balance. But the longer people wait to seek help for an infertility problem, the more difficult it gets for them. 

Medical conditions, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and sperm production disorders, are also to blame for the uptick in infertility rates. 

Read moreFighting endometriosis: ‘I don’t know what it means to be free from pain’

A meta-analysis published in 2017 showed that the average concentration of gametes in sperm had dropped by 50 percent between 1973 and 2011. Several reasons have been cited for the sharp reduction, including smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity, but also the exposure to pollution and endocrine disruptors, which can be found in many plastics and which interfere with the body’s hormones. 

“The decline in sperm quality is a worrying issue, but there’s no need to panic,” said Micheline Misrahi-Abadou, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Paris-Saclay. She said today’s gamete concentration average of 40 to 50 million gametes per millilitre of sperm is still more than enough to impregnate a woman. 

So what are the remedies?  

When medical conditions stand in the way of a pregnancy, hormone treatments can help. In France, Medically Assisted Procreation, or MAP, has been available to all women since 2021 and no longer requires them to fulfil the medical criteria of infertility. But many doctors say hormonal treatments are not always necessary and, in some cases, not even the best route to pregnancy. 

“A part of the three million people who are estimated to suffer from infertility may be due to couples going straight for MAP,” said Misrahi-Abadou, adding that she understood why some do not want to take the risk of waiting to become parents. 

“Infertility is a terrible suffering, and is experienced as a tragedy, especially when the cause is unknown. But MAP can be an additional source of suffering, with an average failure rate of 40 percent,” she said. 

Couples who choose MAP treatment have to undergo a multitude of tests and treatments that can be both expensive and stressful. But infertility is not only a social challenge, it is also a professional one. 

“MAP protocols are often time-consuming and unsuccessful, which can make it difficult for people to reconcile their work with the treatment they are getting,” Rio explained.  

“Employers often expect their employees to be productive and present, but MAP treatments can require taking time off work.”

The authors of the 2022 infertility report recommended better public information, starting from secondary school, as well as targeted consultations in a bid to identify the factors affecting fertility. They also stressed the need to label food products containing phytoestrogens – which can cause infertility problems. Finally, they suggested more training on the issue for doctors and other health professionals. 

Neglected issues  

Meanwhile, researchers are trying to pin down the underlying factors of infertility.

“Identifying the causes of infertility is an essential prerequisite to improve treatments,” said Misrahi-Abadou, adding that genetics is an especially important tool to do so. “Like in all medical specialty fields, it’s possible to use DNA analysis to look for the causes of infertility,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to define a targeted therapy with medication that can act directly,” said Misrahi-Abadou, who heads the first reference laboratory for genetic infertility at the Bicêtre Hospital in Paris.    

The experts interviewed by FRANCE 24 agreed that infertility has not been taken seriously enough in France. They hope Macron’s announcements will be followed up by action.  

“Infertility is still an issue that is mistreated by society, and the people concerned are mistreated too,” said Rio, adding that her advocacy group’s calls for action have long been ignored. Misrahi-Abadou added: “Infertility is not a fatal disease and so it’s considered less serious than other pathologies.”  

Taking Macron’s ambitions into account, does this mean that the “taboo of the century” will now finally be broken in France? The experts are not so sure. “Infertility is a taboo, but it’s not the only reproductive health issue that remains difficult to talk about,” de La Rochebrochard said. “Menstruation and abortion are both topics that are still not talked about enough.” 

Infertility, sterility and reduced fertility are three different concepts.

  • The WHO defines infertility as the inability to conceive after one year or more of regular unprotected sex.  
  • Sterility is the total inability to conceive or impregnate, regardless if the woman or man undergoes treatment. 
  • Reduced fertility is a drop in the number of estimated births per woman. In France, the fertility rate came to 1.68 children per woman last year, compared with 1.79 in 2022, according to the national statistics office INSEE. This can partly be explained by a general drop in the number of women of child-bearing age (between 20 and 40 years old), but also other factors, including lifestyle choices.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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How Gabriel Attal became France’s youngest-ever prime minister

After a swift rise up the ranks, 34-year-old Gabriel Attal took the reins as France’s new prime minister on Tuesday. With a background steeped in privilege, the first openly gay head of government is expected to bring new energy to President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which has been weakened by months of protests over pension reform, the lack of a parliamentary majority and low approval ratings.

Macron is relying on Attal to rejuvenate his government, in part, with an appeal to a younger demographic of voters who have become disillusioned, notably ahead of crucial EU parliamentary elections in June. 

Gabriel Attal’s most pressing task will be to ensure that Macron’s unpopular government is in position to outperform the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, who continues to gain ground on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform.  

As elsewhere in Europe, France‘s far right has benefitted from a global cost-of-living crisis, immigration woes and simmering resentment towards a political class – and a president – seen as out of touch. Macron’s confidence rating among the public dropped another point in January to 27 percent, according to a monthly Elabe poll for “Les Echos” business newspaper.

The same day that Attal took office, a leading Macron ally warned that Europe risks becoming “ungovernable” as gains by far-right parties in EU elections threaten to weaken the fabric of European integration.

Confirming his choice of Attal in a post on X, Macron addressed the young outgoing education minister directly, saying he knows he can count on Attal’s “energy and commitment” to bring back the spirit of “excellence and audacity” from 2017, when the president first took office.  

Under the French political system, the prime minister is the head of government, in charge of implementing policy and managing government ministers.  

But some heavyweight government figures aren’t happy about the dazzling rise of a man known among fellow ministers as “young Gabriel”.  

His combative stance runs contrary to that of his predecessor Élisabeth Borne, 62,  whose austere demeanour was respected among colleagues but made her averse to rapid-fire soundbite politics. Borne stepped down on Monday after serving less than two years in office as France’s second female prime minister.  

By coming into politics at such a young age, Attal has drawn inevitable comparisons to Macron himself, who became France’s youngest-ever president at the age of 39. The youngest previous prime minister was Laurent Fabius, named head of government by François Mitterand in 1984 at age 37.  

French media have suggested that Attal could succeed Macron when he reaches the end of his second term in 2027. He has already proven to be one of the most ambitious ministers in government despite his relative inexperience.  

Read moreMacron’s action plan ‘rings hollow’ as critics take to the streets banging pots and pans

A popular figure with a privileged background 

It took Attal only a little over a decade to rise from an internship in the health ministry to the second-highest office in the French republic.  

Born in the southern suburb of Clamart in 1989, Attal grew up in Paris with three younger sisters. His father, Yves Attal, was a successful film producer of Tunisian-Jewish descent who passed away in 2015. His mother, Marie de Couriss, also worked in the film industry and is from an Orthodox Christian family from Odesa.    

Attal attended the École alsacienne, a private school in the heart of Paris, and later graduated from the prestigious Sciences Po university. At age 17 he joined the Socialist Party and supported its then presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, in the 2007 presidential election.  

Marisol Touraine, a former health minister under François Hollande and the mother of one of his classmates, offered Attal a job in 2012 that led to a full-time position in the ministry at the age of 23. While in that post, Attal also served as a local councillor in Vanves, a municipality in the southwest suburbs of Paris.  

Attal was one of the first to leave the Socialist Party to join Macron’s nascent “En Marche!” movement in 2016 and was elected to the National Assembly (France’s lower house of parliament) one year later in 2017. 

He became a deputy minister of education at 29, the youngest member of government ever under the post-war Fifth Republic. During the Covid-19 pandemic that took 166,176 lives in France, Attal was appointed government spokesperson by former PM Jean Castex and quickly became a household name.   

While serving as a junior minister in the budget office between 2022 and 2023, Attal defended Macron’s hugely controversial pension reform bill. Then in July 2023, he was appointed education minister, one of the most high-profile and politically sensitive cabinet positions. 

Read morePension reform poses biggest challenge to Macron’s legacy as a reformer

Tensions at French public schools have been rising in recent years, with cases of violence between students and teachers prompting intense national debate. Last month, a 12-year-old schoolgirl threatened a teacher with a kitchen knife at a school in northern France. In October, a radicalised Islamist student stabbed his former teacher to death. And in a case that shocked the nation and elicited an outpouring of grief, Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history and geography professor, was attacked and beheaded by another radicalised student in a Paris suburb in October 2020.

Having experienced bullying himself while at school, Attal promised to make tackling bullying a priority after a series of student suicides made headlines in recent years. He has joined forces on this issue with First Lady Brigitte Macron, who has a strong interest in the subject as a former teacher herself.  

His most controversial move came less than two months into the job, when he banned pupils from wearing abayas, the long robes worn by some Muslim women and girls. Seen as a challenge to France’s secular values, the ban prompted a wave of fury across the country. Critics argued the loose garment did not constitute an “ostentatious” display of religion (banned in French schools since 2004) and shouldn’t be forbidden. The move earned him a popularity boost among many right-wing voters, despite Attal himself hailing from the left.  

Attal is France’s first openly gay prime minister and is in a civil partnership with Stéphane Séjourné, a 38-year-old MEP and secretary general of Macron’s ruling Renaissance party. Attal was outed when an old classmate published a book in 2018 while he was serving as junior minister at the education ministry during Macron’s first mandate.  

Attal is the most popular figure in government, with more than a third of poll respondents backing his possible appointment as prime minister in an Odoxa survey published last week. “Youth, public opinion and the real or potential capacity to lead the European election campaign made the difference” in the choice, a source close to the presidency told AFP. 

A wider government reshuffle is expected this week as Macron looks to fine-tune his team for the last three years of his presidency.  

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Riots, protests and climate uprisings: 2023 was a tumultuous year in France

France encountered severe turbulence over the past 12 months, roiled by a long and bitter battle over pension reform as well as crippling droughts, sizzling heatwaves and nationwide rioting. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the top stories from a year of turmoil.

Even by French standards, 2023 was a year of exceptional social unrest, marked by France’s largest protest movement this century and the worst bout of rioting in almost two decades. From start to end, President Emmanuel Macron’s minority government struggled to pass legislation in a fractious and bitterly divided parliament, often opting to bypass it altogether. Severe droughts and unseasonal heatwaves pushed the life-threatening challenges of climate change to the fore, while a nationwide bedbug frenzy brought unwanted attention from abroad as the country hosted the Rugby World Cup and raced to prepare for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

  • Pension battle ends in Pyrrhic win for Macron

A montage of President Emmanuel Macron as the “Sun King” Louis XIV at a protest against pension reform in Paris on March 23, 2023. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

Macron kicked off the year with a push to overhaul France’s pension system, setting the stage for a showdown with a united front of unions. The French president staked his reformist credentials on passage of the flagship reform, which raised the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 – a step his government said was necessary to balance the books amid shifting demographics. Unions countered that the reform would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers and women, successfully framing the pension debate as part of a wider fight for social justice.

The months-long tussle saw opponents of the reform stage multiple rounds of strikes and protests, drawing huge crowds in cities, towns and even villages across France. Refinery shutdowns and transport strikes caused travel chaos while a walkout by rubbish collectors kicked up a “great stink” in the streets of Paris – though unions ultimately failed in their bid to “paralyse” the country. Throughout the standoff, polls consistently showed that a large majority of the French opposed the reform, piling the pressure on a government already outnumbered in parliament.

Violence flared in late March when Macron ordered his government to ram the reform through parliament without a vote, using special executive powers. The move sparked several nights of unrest and turned the festering social dispute into a crisis of French democracy. Police crackdowns and controversial rulings by France’s constitutional court helped snuff out the movement, handing Macron a pyrrhic victory – though in the weeks that followed he could scarcely take a step outside the Élysée Palace without being greeted by protesters banging pots and pans.

  • Teen’s death sets off nationwide riots

Fireworks target French riot police during protests in Nanterre, west of Paris, on June 28, 2023.
Fireworks target French riot police during protests in Nanterre, west of Paris, on June 28, 2023. © Zakaria Abdelkafiz, AFP

Running battles between riot police and pension protesters revived a long-standing debate on police brutality in France – with human rights monitors both at home and abroad raising the alarm over officers’ “excessive use of force”. The scrutiny only increased in late June when towns and cities across the country erupted in rage at the killing of Nahel M., a 17-year-old of North African origin who was shot dead by police during a routine traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Social media footage of the incident, which contradicted police claims that Nahel had posed a threat to officers, kicked off several nights of rioting in France’s deprived and ethnically diverse suburbs, known as banlieues, where non-white youths have long complained of being singled out by police. Rioters focused their attacks on symbols of the state, including police stations, schools and town halls. The Interior Ministry said that more than 1,000 buildings and 5,000 vehicles were torched. 

In a rare criticism of the police, Macron described the fatal shooting as “inexplicable” and “unforgivable”, while the UN’s human rights office urged France to “seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement”. However, the initial expressions of outrage soon gave way to hardline law-and-order rhetoric amid consecutive nights of rioting. And as police unions openly spoke of battling “vermin” and “savage hordes”, analysts feared the real lessons of Nahel’s killing – like other past tragedies – would not be learned.

A protester holds up a Palestinian flag at an unauthorised rally in solidarity with Gaza held in central Paris on October 12, 2023.
A protester holds up a Palestinian flag at an unauthorised rally in solidarity with Gaza held in central Paris on October 12, 2023. © AFP

When the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas launched a murderous attack on southern Israel on October 7, triggering a ferocious and devastating Israeli response, French authorities openly voiced concern that the conflict might stoke further unrest in France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations. 

A spike in anti-Semitic acts sowed anguish among French Jews and politicians of all stripes took part in a Paris march to denounce anti-Semitism, though the presence of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally led some opponents to shun the rally. Meanwhile, rights groups voiced dismay as the government banned pro-Palestinian protests on the grounds that they might “disturb public order”, until judges ruled that a blanket ban was unlawful. The war also sparked a rare dispute at an annual march against gender-based violence in Paris, signaling tensions between French feminists over their response to sexual crimes attributed to Hamas. 

Fears that the plight of Gaza would inspire Islamist militants to carry out attacks on French soil appeared to materialise on October 13 when a high-school teacher in northern Arras was stabbed to death by a radicalised former pupil who originated from Russia’s Ingushetia – reigniting the trauma of Samuel Paty’s beheading in 2020. In the days following the Arras stabbing, government ministers suggested the war in Gaza may have “precipitated” events, though investigators were yet to establish a formal link with the assailant, who had declared allegiance to the Islamic State group prior to the attack.

  • Far right hails hardline immigration law

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin spent much of the year trying to build support in parliament for a tough new immigration law.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin attends a session of questions to the government at The National Assembly in Paris on December 12, 2023. © Bertrand Guay, AFP

For Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, the Arras knife attack proved the need for new legislation making it easier to expel foreign nationals suspected of radicalisation. The hawkish minister had spent much of the year trying to build parliamentary support for a tough new “immigration law”, which rights groups condemned as repressive. His efforts appeared to have collapsed when opposition lawmakers banded together to shoot down the bill before it was even debated in the National Assembly. 

In response, the government submitted an even tougher law to win over right-wing lawmakers, introducing measures that discriminate between citizens and immigrants in terms of eligibility to benefits. The law was harsh enough for Le Pen to claim it as an “ideological victory” for her National Rally and its passage with support from the far right sparked a crisis within Macron’s ruling party, leading his health minister to resign in protest. In a rare move, a third of French regions vowed not to comply with some of its toughest measures. 

  • Droughts, heatwaves and climate uprisings

Burnt sunflowers pictured in a field near the village of Puy Saint Martin, in southeastern France, on August 22, 2023.
Burnt sunflowers pictured in a field near the village of Puy Saint Martin, in southeastern France, on August 22, 2023. © Jeff Pachoud, AFP

The ubiquitous Darmanin made headlines throughout the year as he ordered the disbanding of a range of groups he deemed extremist. They included the climate movement Les Soulèvements de la Terre (“Earth’s uprisings”), whose attempt to prevent the construction of controversial water reservoirs resulted in a pitched battle with police that left hundreds injured and two people in a coma. The interior minister accused the group of inciting “ecoterrorism”, but his attempt to ban it was quashed by France’s top administrative court.

The clashes at Sainte-Soline were indicative of mounting tensions between corporate farming and environmental activists as the country grappled with recurrent and increasingly unseasonal heatwaves, which put further stress on fragile ecosystems already weakened by crippling droughts. The climate emergency cast a spotlight on livestock farming and eating habits, with meat consumption the biggest contributor to food-related greenhouse gas emissions. 

Adapting the way farmers use water resources was one of 50 measures included in a water-saving plan unveiled in March, following an exceptionally dry winter. Extraordinary measures were required to help the Indian ocean island of Mayotte, where the worst drought in decades forced the government to send a military cargo ship stacked with drinking water. And in Paris, where scientists warned that temperatures could reach 50C by 2050, volunteers used a pioneering tree-planting method to create pocket forests offering shelter from the heat. 

  • Paris Olympics feel the heat

An illustration showing the concept for the Paris Olympics opening ceremony, to be staged on the River Seine.
An illustration showing the concept for the Paris Olympics opening ceremony, to be staged on the River Seine. © Florian Hulleu, AFP

As the French capital grappled with the challenges of climate change, organisers of next year’s Summer Olympics struggled to back up their pledge to make the Paris 2024 Games the “greenest” yet. In May, they backtracked on a promise to eliminate more greenhouse gas emissions than those generated by the event, while insisting Paris 2024 would still halve the carbon footprint of previous games. But delays to transport upgrades threatened to jeopardise emissions targets, while climate activists described carbon-offsetting plans as little more than “greenwashing”.

Ambitious plans to host the opening ceremony along the River Seine – rather than inside a stadium – also came under scrutiny as officials released an 11-page security protocol aimed at shielding the event from the threats of terrorism, drone attacks and other risks. The protocol triggered a rare protest by the French capital’s famed bouquinistes, whose iconic riverside book kiosks will be dismantled for the occasion. The Seine churned up more headaches for organisers when pollution levels repeatedly forced the cancellation of trials for swimming events set to be held in the river.

  • Hosts fall short at Rugby World Cup

France's captain Antoine Dupont (left) and lock Cameron Woki react after the hosts' quarter-final defeat at the Rugby World Cup.
France’s captain Antoine Dupont (left) and lock Cameron Woki react after the hosts’ quarter-final defeat at the Rugby World Cup. © Franck Fife, AFP

Doubts about France’s ability to host large sporting events had simmered since the Champions League final hosted at the Stade de France in May 2022, when French police notoriously doused Liverpool fans with tear gas and pepper spray amid a chaotic build-up marred by train strikes and issues of fake ticketing. This year’s Rugby World Cup, hosted at the same venue and in eight other French cities, was a chance for France to make amends and prove its readiness – a challenge organisers largely pulled off.

The seven-week rugby extravaganza kicked off with a memorable French win over old rivals New Zealand, which bolstered the home nation’s hopes of winning a maiden World Cup title. Those hopes took a blow when a fractured cheekbone stripped the hosts of their talismanic skipper Antoine Dupond. The fly-half returned with a face mask for the crunch quarter-final against title holders South Africa but could not prevent an agonising one-point defeat for Les Bleus. After edging England by the same margin in the semis, the Springboks went on to grab the narrowest of wins over the All Blacks in the final, clinching a record fourth World Cup title. 

  • Bedbugs, tiger mosquitoes and trotinettes

Self-service e-scooters were banished from the streets of Paris after a public consultation marked by record-low turnout.
Self-service e-scooters were banished from the streets of Paris after a public consultation marked by record-low turnout. © Thomas Coex, AFP

Midway through the tournament, concern over an increase in the number of bedbugs rapidly spiralled into national hysteria, with the bloodsucking pests making headlines both in France and abroad. Cinemas, trains and Paris metros were said to be crawling with the tiny insects and one lawmaker brandished a vial of bugs in the National Assembly, urging the government to address the “explosive situation”. But officials insisted there was no scientific evidence to suggest any explosion in bedbugs, and that images posted on social media did not necessarily mean growing numbers.

Health authorities appeared more concerned about the spread of the Asian tiger mosquito as evidence emerged that the black-and-white striped insect had settled in 71 of the country’s 96 mainland départements (administrative units). With climate change creating perfect conditions for its proliferation, experts warned that the invasive species threatened to spread diseases like zika, dengue and chikungunya.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tackled a very different type of nuisance when she called a referendum on banning self-service e-scooters, citing irresponsible use and a rising accident toll. The April vote was billed as a showdown between trottinettes-hating boomers and Gen Z, the service’s main users. But only the former showed up for the low-turnout ballot, and the e-scooters were duly banished from the streets of Paris.

  • Ukrainian art, Gainsbourg and a fiery Palme d’Or

This Byzantine icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, dating from 6th-7th centuries, went on show at the Louvre after it was evacuated from Ukraine.
This Byzantine icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, dating from 6th-7th centuries, went on show at the Louvre after it was evacuated from Ukraine. © Khanenko Museum

As always, the French capital’s museums and galleries served up an abundance of art shows, dedicated to the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall and Berthe Morisot. Paris exhibits showcased Ukrainian art work evacuated following Russia’s invasion last year, taking the fight for the country’s heritage to the world-famous Louvre. Photographer Robert Doisneau’s little-known work forging documents during the Nazi occupation was the subject of a groundbreaking show near Paris, and the iconic Left Bank home of singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg finally opened to the public – its ashtrays still brimming with Gitanes cigarette butts.

Down on the Riviera, French director Justine Triet won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or for her thrilling courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall” – becoming only the third female director to win cinema’s most prestigious award. But it was a bittersweet success for Macron and his ministers, whose cultural policies and conduct during France’s pension battle she proceeded to rubbish in a fiery acceptance speech broadcast live on national television.

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Macron accused of doing far-right’s bidding with passage of stricter immigration law

French President Emmanuel Macron is under renewed fire after urging his minority government to vote for a strengthened immigration bill that was endorsed by the far right. The late Tuesday vote, which divided Macron’s coalition MPs and prompted his health minister to resign a day later, was heralded by far-right leader Marine Le Pen as an “ideological victory” upon its passage. 

In a speech following his April 2022 re-election, Emmanuel Macron was well aware he owed his victory to left-leaning voters who considered him the lesser of two evils as he faced off a challenge from Marine Le Pen. “I know that many of our compatriots voted for me not to support the ideas I represent but to block those of the far right,” he acknowledged.

Less than two years later, Macron is facing criticism that he betrayed those same constituents by aligning with the far right after his minority government helped pass an immigration law that was heavily influenced by the right-wing Les Républicains party and supported by the far-right National Rally.

Soon after it was passed, the law was heralded by far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen who proclaimed an “ideological victory”.

Macron and members of his government rejected that assessment in a round of interviews on Wednesday.  

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told France Inter she felt a “sense of duty fulfilled” after the adoption of the immigration law. Faced with strong criticism from the left, NGOs and even within her own government, Borne insisted that the law “respects our values”.

‘Préférence Nationale’

The immigration law includes several measures inspired by the National Rally’s policy platform. For example, access to certain social benefits will be conditional on a longer period of legal residence in France.

What’s more, sanctions against companies employing undocumented workers will be stepped up.

Measures like these and others concern critics who say the Macron government has accepted policies affiliated with an ideology of “préférence nationale” – policies that legitimise discrimination against foreign nationals in favour of French citizens concerning access to employment, housing and social protections.

“This law does not encompass the entirety or even the majority of Marine Le Pen’s presidential programme, but some of her policies – especially regarding national preference – certainly made the cut even if the law does not go as far as the National Rally wants,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist on the far right and the director of the Observatoire des Radicalités Politiques.

“It’s an exaggeration to talk about an extreme-right text – I would call it instead a ‘hard-right’ text – but we are still opening the door to national preference. We are not fully there, but the door is ajar,” says Caroline Janvier, an MP from Macron’s Renaissance party who voted against the immigration law on Tuesday. 

‘Kiss of death’

It is precisely the addition of national preference policies that tipped the vote on Tuesday night.

Until the mid-afternoon, representatives from the National Rally repeatedly stated they would not endorse the bill, deeming it impossible to approve a text that grants undocumented workers legal status. But seeing the possibility of a strategic victory on the issue of national preference, Le Pen reversed course.

“One can rejoice in an ideological victory … national preference is now inscribed in law, meaning the French will have an advantage over foreigners in accessing certain social benefits,” Le Pen said on Tuesday.

Janvier described Le Pen’s endorsement as the “kiss of death” – a “political move” to make Macron’s government look complicit with the far right in the eyes of left-leaning constituents.

National Rally members were not the only ones pleased by Tuesday’s vote. “There was a kind of jubilation among MPs from Les Républicains over having chipped away at a taboo: that of equality between French and foreigners,” said Camus. “For them, this means that the cultural hegemony of the left has begun to crumble. Beyond the immigration issue, a moral taboo has been broken.”

But Camus said the party’s hopes of luring away far-right supporters are likely in vain. “Les Républicains continue to pursue a strategy of undermining the National Rally by hijacking their policy platform. The only problem is that this strategy doesn’t work. The National Rally continues to rise in the polls,” he said.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father and the founder of National Rally predecessor the National Front, may have said it best: “Voters always prefer the original to the copy.” 

Victory by ‘background noise’

Macron could have prevented this shift by choosing, in the face of Les Républicains demands, to withdraw the bill and start from scratch. But he deemed it preferable to go through with the vote, even if it meant dividing his coalition.

In total, 27 MPs in the government’s coalition voted against the bill that passed while 32 abstained. Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau resigned from his role in protest the following day.

Borne insisted on France Inter on Wednesday that “there is no crisis in the coalition” while government spokesperson Olivier Véran said that same day there was “no ministerial rebellion”.

Macron defended his decision in an interview with the “C à Vous” TV programme on Wednesday evening. “It is a shield that we needed,” he said, adding that the law “will allow us to fight against what nourishes the National Rally party” – namely immigration fears.

Read moreFiercely contested immigration law is a ‘shield that we needed’, Macron says

Whatever the case, the lines are no longer the same as 20 years ago, Camus said. “With this law, we have accepted the far-right vision of immigration as a danger.”

He said the National Rally’s success is due to persistent “background noise”: “This law would not have been approved without half a century of emphasis on national preference and the idea that immigration is a burden, that we pay a price for it or that it is a factor in criminality.”

To offset the right’s most extreme measures, the Macron government appears to be adopting a novel strategy: to accept Les Républicains’ demands, knowing full well that some of them will be invalidated by the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest constitutional court.

The president submitted the immigration bill to the high court on Wednesday to “decide on its conformity in whole or in part with the Constitution”, Véran announced. Borne has also suggested that some of the bill’s measures are unconstitutional and that the text would likely “evolve”.

But it’s a risky bet, according to Camus. “French people will have a hard time understanding that the law has been emptied of its substance,” he warned.

“This will inevitably benefit the National Rally and the idea, which is already beginning to take hold, that a ‘government of judges’ works against the interests of the country.”

This article was translated from the original in French.

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‘Contradictions of Macronism’: French government fights to save face after immigration bill debacle

President Emmanuel Macron’s government vowed on Tuesday to press ahead with a controversial immigration bill, a day after its flagship reform was rejected by lawmakers in a humiliating setback. The political crisis has heaped further pressure on a government that has struggled to pass reforms without a parliamentary majority.

In a surprise move, the French National Assembly voted to back a motion rejecting a controversial immigration bill on Monday without even debating it. The motion, proposed by the Greens, gained support not only from left-wing representatives but also from members of the right-wing Les Républicains and the far-right National Rally

The government’s stunning defeat in parliament prompted opposition politicians to call for its dissolution. Jordan Bardella, the president of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, told BFMTV on Tuesday he was “ready to serve as prime minister”.

The Élysée Palace, meanwhile, has moved fast to try and stop the political fallout. After an emergency ministerial meeting on Tuesday, government spokesperson Olivier Véran announced the formation of a special joint commission aimed at breaking the parliamentary gridlock “as fast as possible”’. The commission will be composed of seven representatives from both houses of parliament and will aim to return the bill to both chambers for a vote, Véran said. 

French government spokesperson Olivier Véran holds a press conference after a cabinet meeting at the presidential Élysée Palace in Paris, on December 12, 2023. © Ludovic Marin, AFP

After months of seeking to secure a majority in the National Assembly for his flagship policy, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had a lot riding on the legislation’s success. In response to the setback, Darmanin offered his resignation, which Macron rejected.  

Darmanin had actively courted the right for months in an attempt to secure a majority, accepting a substantial rewrite of the bill in the conservative-led Senate. However, the bill presented on Monday in the Assembly bore little resemblance to the one voted on in the Senate, much to the dismay of Les Républicains.

Speaking on TF1 on Monday after the vote, Darmanin acknowledged the defeat. “It is a failure, of course, because I want to provide resources for the police (…) and magistrates to combat undocumented immigration,” he said.

The limits of ‘en même temps’

Macron’s government has touted its proposed immigration law as a way to respond to voter concerns and prevent the far right from monopolising the immigration debate.  

“The president believes it is necessary to respond to what he sees as a public demand, given the multitude of events that have highlighted immigration issues in the news. This explains the government’s desire to show citizens that it takes the initiative and acts,” said Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at the Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po Paris (CEVIPOF).

However, Monday’s debacle in the National Assembly has exposed the limitations of the politics of “en même temps” (“at the same time”) – an approach pursued by Macron since 2017, combining policy solutions from both the right and the left wings of French politics.  

What was possible with an absolute majority during Macron’s first term is no longer feasible with a minority government.

According to a poll conducted by Odoxa, 72% of French citizens consider better control of immigration to be the bill’s most important objective. But the French are far from unified on how they want to resolve the system’s issues – mirroring deep divisions between left and right.

While the proposed law is widely perceived as right-leaning, it failed to satisfy both the right and far right, who reject providing work permits to undocumented workers. Simultaneously, it proved too repressive for the left, which opposes restrictions on family reunifications and the introduction of an annual debate on migration quotas.

Politicians are urging Macron’s government to choose a side instead of attempting to please everyone. Olivier Marleix, the head of Les Républicains in the lower house, told French television channel LCI that his party was “ready to vote” if the text is revised to the version voted through by the Senate.  

“We want the government to choose sides: either it’s a right-wing text or a left-wing text, but it can’t be both at the same time.”

Even Macron’s political movement, Renaissance, exhibited internal divisions over the bill. The left wing of Renaissance, led by Sacha Houlié, the chairman of the lower house commission that amended the bill, expressed dissatisfaction with concessions made by Darmanin to the right, particularly regarding the stripping of healthcare rights for undocumented migrants.

Read moreFrench doctors vow to ‘disobey’ bill stripping undocumented migrants of healthcare rights


“We have red lines. It would be irresponsible to go beyond our political DNA … The adoption of the text cannot come at the cost of a division within the majority,” said Houlié in an interview with French Financial daily Les Échos on Sunday.

“It is very difficult to achieve consensus on immigration, which generates a diversity of perspectives and a clear division between right and left,” said Cautres. “There have been many hesitations by the government over the months. The balance is too difficult to find because this is typically the kind of issue where the contradictions of ‘Macronism’ can surface.”  

Fallout for Darmanin – and his colleagues

A day after having his resignation declined, Darmanin seems to have bounced back, for now. On a visit to a police station in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, Darmanin said Tuesday that “whatever path we take”, he wanted “firm measures” to be put in place by the end of the year.

But his contortions throughout the process have left a lasting impression. After expressing satisfaction with the Senate’s version which bore little resemblance to the initial bill, Darmanin had enthusiastically welcomed the version the National Assembly commission extensively revised – prompting critics to describe him as fickle.  

On Tuesday, Les Républicains party chief Eric Ciotti said he would like to work with Prime Minister Élizabeth Borne on the immigration law moving forward, suggesting his party had lost faith in the interior minister.   

“How can we talk to someone (Darmanin) who constantly insults us? It is up to the prime minister to lead this discussion,” he told Europe 1.  

If the new special joint commission fails to reach a breakthrough, it will pose a significant challenge for Borne and her government. If she still intends to adopt the bill, she may find herself compelled to use Article 49.3 – a controversial provision in the French constitution that allows the executive to bypass the National Assembly to pass a law. 

Triggering Article 49.3 for the 21st time in only 18 months would raise the political stakes even higher, particularly after the administration’s controversial use of it in the spring to pass pension reform occasioned protests and disruptive strikes across France that garnered the world’s attention.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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Climate action or distraction? Sweeping COP pledges won’t touch fossil fuel use

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A torrent of pollution-slashing pledges from governments and major oil companies sparked cries of “greenwashing” on Saturday, even before world leaders had boarded their flights home from this year’s global climate conference.  

After leaders wrapped two days of speeches filled with high-flying rhetoric and impassioned pleas for action, the Emirati presidency of the COP28 climate talks unleashed a series of initiatives aimed at cleaning up the world’s energy sector, the largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

The announcement, made at an hours-long event Saturday afternoon featuring U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, contained two main planks — a pledge by oil and gas companies to reduce emissions, and a commitment by 118 countries to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double energy savings efforts. 

It was, on its face, an impressive and ambitious reveal. 

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, the oil executive helming the talks, crowed that the package “aligns more countries and companies around the North Star of keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach than ever before,” referring to the Paris Agreement target for limiting global warming. 

But many climate-vulnerable countries and non-government groups instantly cast an arched eyebrow toward the whole endeavor.

“The rapid acceleration of clean energy is needed, and we’ve called for the tripling of renewables. But it is only half the solution,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. “The pledge can’t greenwash countries that are simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production.” 

Carroll Muffett, president of the nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law, said: “The only way to ‘decarbonize’ carbon-based oil and gas is to stop producing it. … Anything short of this is just more industry greenwash.”

The divided reaction illustrates the fine line negotiators are trying to walk. The European Union has campaigned for months to win converts to the pledge on renewables and energy efficiency the U.S. and others signed up to on Saturday, even offering €2.3 billion to help. And the COP28 presidency has been on board. 

But Brussels, in theory, also wants these efforts to go hand in hand with a fossil fuel phaseout — a tough proposition for countries pulling in millions from the sector. The EU rhetoric often goes slightly beyond the U.S., even though the two allies officially support the end of “unabated” fossil fuel use, language that leaves the door open for continued oil and gas use as long as the emissions are captured — though such technology remains largely unproven.

Von der Leyen was seen trying to thread that needle on Saturday. She omitted fossil fuels altogether from her speech to leaders before slipping in a mention in a press release published hours later: “We are united by our common belief that to respect the 1.5°C goal … we need to phase out fossil fuels.” 

Harris on Saturday said the world “cannot afford to be incremental. We need transformative change and exponential impact.” 

But she did not mention phasing out fossil fuels in her speech, either. The U.S., the world’s top oil producer, has not made the goal a central pillar of its COP28 strategy. 

Flurry of pledges  

The EU and the UAE said 118 countries had signed up to the global energy goals.

The new fossil fuels agreement has been branded the “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter” and earned the signatures of 50 companies. The COP28 presidency said it had “launched” the deal with Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the main obstacles to progress on international climate action.

Among the signatories was Saudi state energy company, Aramco, the world’s biggest energy firm — and second-biggest company of any sort, by revenue. Other global giants like ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies also signed.

They have committed to eliminate methane emissions by 2030, to end the routine flaring of gas by the same date, and to achieve net-zero emissions from their production operations by 2050. Adnan Amin, CEO of COP28, singled out the fact that, among the 50 firms, 29 are national oil companies.  

“That in itself is highly significant because you have not seen national oil companies so evident in these discussions before,” he told reporters.

The COP28 presidency could not disguise its glee at the flurry of announcements from the opening weekend of the conference.

“It already feels like an awful lot that we have delivered, but I am proud to say that this is just the beginning,” Majid al-Suwaidi, the COP28 director general, told reporters. 

Fred Krupp, president of the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund, predicted: “This will be the single most impactful day I’ve seen at any COP in 30 years in terms of slowing the rate of warming.” 

But other observers said the oil and gas commitments did not go far beyond commitments many companies already make. Research firm Zero Carbon Analytics noted the deal is “voluntary and broadly repeats previous pledges.”

Melanie Robinson, global climate program director at the World Resources Institute, said it was “encouraging that some national oil companies have set methane reduction targets for the first time.” 

But she added: “Most global oil and gas companies already have stringent requirements to cut methane emissions. … This charter is proof that voluntary commitments from the oil and gas industry will never foster the level of ambition necessary to tackle the climate crisis.” 

Some critics theorized that the COP28 presidency had deliberately launched the renewables and energy efficiency targets together with the oil and gas pledge. 

The combination, said David Tong, global industry campaign manager at advocacy group Oil Change International, “appears to be a calculated move to distract from the weakness of this industry pledge.”

The charter, he added, “is a trojan horse for Big Oil and Gas greenwash.” 

Beyond voluntary moves 

A push to speed up the phaseout of coal power garnered less attention — with French President Emmanuel Macron separately unveiling a new initiative and the United States joining a growing alliance of countries pledging to zero out coal emissions.

Macron’s “coal transition accelerator” focuses on ending private financing for coal, helping coal-dependent communities and scaling up clean energy. And Washington’s new commitment confirms its path to end all coal-fired power generation unless the emissions are first captured through technology. U.S. use of coal for power generation has already plummeted in the past decade. 

The U.S. pledge will put pressure on China, the world’s largest consumer and producer of coal, as well as countries like Japan, Turkey and Australia to give up on the high-polluting fuel, said Leo Roberts, program lead on fossil fuel transitions at think tank E3G. 

“It’s symbolic, the world’s biggest economy getting behind the shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. And it’s sending a signal to … others who haven’t made the same commitment,” he said. 

The U.S. also unveiled new restrictions on methane emissions for its oil and gas sector on Saturday — a central plank of the Biden administration’s climate plans — and several leaders called for greater efforts to curb the potent greenhouse gas in their speeches. 

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a “global methane agreement” at COP28, warning that voluntary efforts hadn’t worked out. Von der Leyen, meanwhile, urged negotiators to enshrine the renewables and energy efficiency targets in the final summit text. 

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, warned delegates not to get distracted by nonbinding pledges. 

“We need to remember COP28 is not a trade show and a press conference,” he cautioned. “The talks are why we are here and getting an agreed fossil fuel phaseout date remains the biggest step countries need to take here in Dubai over the remaining days of the summit.”

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting.

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From welcoming refugees to the crisis in Lampedusa, six years of French immigration policy

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced on Tuesday that France would not be taking in any of the migrants who arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa last week. FRANCE 24 looks back at six years of French U-turns on immigration policies.

Having lamented for years that the Mediterranean has become “the world’s biggest cemetery”, Pope Francis is visiting the French port city of Marseille on Friday to reinforce his message that the region should welcome migrants.

His visit comes as Lampedusa, a small Italian island nestled in the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Malta, saw a record number of migrant arrivals last week. Some 8,500 people reached the island’s shores, briefly exceeding its resident population of 6,100.

But the pope’s call for peace may fall on deaf ears, as EU nations like Italy and France pledge tougher immigration measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Monday called for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent smuggler boats from leaving the continent, lengthened detention time for migrants awaiting repatriation and announced the creation of more detention centres in remote areas.

France boosted border patrols on its southern frontier with Italy and amplified its drone surveillance of the Alps to keep people from crossing over. The government has held firm on its decision not to take in migrants from Lampedusa.

“[We] will not take in migrants,” French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told national TV channel TF1 on Tuesday. “It’s not by taking in more people that we’re going to stem a flow that obviously affects our ability to integrate [them into French society],” he said.

Darmanin’s words come at a time where immigration has once again taken centre stage in French politics. As the country’s hung parliament wrangles over a draft law governing new arrivals, President Emmanuel Macron has evoked a possible referendum on the topic.

No one knows whether the referendum will actually take place or what question will be posed. But that very sense of uncertainty matches France’s indecision on immigration policy over the past six years.

FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the string of U-turns and contradictions Macron has made on the issue since taking office in 2017, a journey worthy of whiplash.

  • January 2017: Macron praises Angela Merkel’s stance on migration

While he was still running for presidency on January 2, 2017, Macron published an op-ed in French daily Le Monde. In the article, he praised former German Chancellor Angela Merkel for having taken in a large number of migrants years earlier – at a time where most European countries wouldn’t.

“When Italy was alone in handling the arrival of refugees in Lampedusa, to the point of deeply moving Pope Francis, neither France nor Germany were there to help,” Macron wrote. “Greece has also long been on the front line, helpless and overwhelmed in the face of the influx of refugees and migrants. That being said, Chancellor Merkel and German society as a whole have lived up to our shared values – they have saved our collective dignity by taking in refugees in distress, housing them and training them.”

Shortly after he took office, Macron spelled out his vision for welcoming migrants and specifically asylum seekers more clearly. A few months after publishing the op-ed, he made a speech in Orléans, a city south of Paris, in which he stated: “By the end of this year, I no longer want there to be men and women in the streets, in the woods or lost … It’s a matter of dignity, of humanity and also of efficiency. I want to ensure that, wherever emergency accommodation is built to take in [asylum seekers], there are also administrative facilities in place to process their requests.”

In 2023, tens of thousands of migrants are still sleeping rough, according to the Abbé Pierre Foundation, which finances and supports associations that fight against substandard housing.

  • Summer 2018: France rejects dock request from Aquarius migrant ship

The summer of 2018 was marked by diplomatic quarrels between France and Italy, especially regarding the request to dock the Aquarius – a migrant ship chartered by the European humanitarian organisation SOS Mediterranée, which carries out search and rescue missions for migrants lost at sea.

The dispute began in June, when Italy refused to let the ship dock with 629 migrants on board. Macron criticised the “cynicism and irresponsibility” of the Italian government’s decision to close its ports, while refusing to let the ship dock in France. After a week of being stuck off the coast of Sicily, Spain finally agreed to let the Aquarius dock on June 17, before it moved on to Marseille. Of the 629 people on board, 78 were taken in by France.

But a few weeks later, on September 25, the French government refused to let the Aquarius, and the remaining 58 migrants on board, dock for a second time. This time, Malta agreed to take in the migrants but not the ship, which had to stay offshore. Although France eventually took in 17 of the 58 remaining migrants, it still refused to let the ship dock.

Progression of asylum applications and number of asylum statuses granted over the last six years in France. © FRANCE 24 graphic design studio

  • September 2018: A controversial asylum and immigration bill

In the summer of 2018, Macron’s initial Interior Minister Gérard Collomb passed a bill on asylum and immigration that was slammed by non-profit organisations helping refugees across the board. Measures that were soundly criticised included the doubling of the 45-day detention period for illegal migrants to 90 days, the possibility of placing children in detention centres and cutting the maximum processing time for asylum seekers from 120 to 90 days.  

The controversial bill exposed divisions within Macron’s party, who had a majority in parliament at the time. More than a dozen MPs abstained from voting and one MP voted against the bill. The legislation even sparked wrath from the right. Former right-wing minister Jacques Toubon, who later became the French Human Rights Defender, told French daily Le Monde that the bill treated asylum seekers “badly”.

  • November 2019: Prime Minister Édouard Philippe restricts healthcare access for migrants

On November 6, 2019, then French prime minister Édouard Philippe announced a new immigration plan that aimed to combat what the government called “medical tourism”.  The government claimed that the medical coverage offered to migrants was attracting newcomers to France, so they decided to restrict access to healthcare.

For asylum seekers who are not minors, a three-month waiting period to access universal coverage was introduced, and the list of treatments covered was reduced for foreign nationals receiving state medical aid (AME).  

  • November 2020: Brutal dismantling of migrant camp in central Paris

Hundreds of migrants were violently dispersed in central Paris on the night of November 23, 2020, only a few days after a migrant camp housing 2,000 people was dismantled in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

During the evacuation operation in central Paris, police officers were accused of violence as they broke up the migrant camp at the Place de la République. Images on social media showed officers hitting protesters and picking up tents, sometimes with people still inside – prompting the country’s interior minister to say that some of the scenes were “shocking” and order an inquiry.

“You can’t respond to misery with police batons. It is urgent, essential and indisputable that the migrants in Saint-Denis who live on the streets should be given shelter. The honour of the French Republic is at stake,” said Delphine Rouilleault, director of the non-profit “France terre d’asile”, which has criticised the treatment of migrants in Calais for years. “When tents aren’t being torn down by police, it’s the ‘jungle’ [the name of the former immigration camp in the Calais region] itself that is dismantled using bulldozers.”

Progression of residence permits granted by the French government over the years.
Progression of residence permits granted by the French government over the years. © FRANCE 24 graphic design studio

  • August 2021: After the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan, France must protect itself against ‘irregular migratory flows’

When France began repatriating its nationals after the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, Macron declared it was his country’s “duty” and “dignity” to protect Afghans (including translators and cooks) who had worked for France on the ground.

But the French president also warned that Europe would have to protect itself “against significant irregular migratory flows”.  His statement was condemned by the left as well as humanitarian organisations, who saw it as showing a shameful lack of empathy for the Afghans.

In the weeks that followed, France was accused of not doing enough for the Afghan people – particularly Afghan interpreters and women. A total of 2,600 Afghans were evacuated to France, compared with 8,000 to the UK and 4,000 to Germany.

  • February 2022: More than a hundred thousand Ukrainian refugees welcomed

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 prompted large numbers of Ukrainians to flee their country and seek refuge in western Europe. France quickly opened its borders and spent €500 million on welcoming those in need. As a result, more than 110,000 refugees arrived on French soil within a year – 80 percent of whom were women, according to official data released by the interior ministry on February 24, 2023, a year after the war broke out.

Refugee NGOs applauded the French government’s efforts, but also viewed them as a double standard in relation to how those fleeing the Global South are treated. “We’re very happy that things are going well for Ukrainians, but we found the whole thing incredibly unfair. When they are Africans or Afghans, we’re told there is nowhere to house them and they end up sleeping rough. On the other hand, when it’s Ukrainians – people we can identify with – they open accommodation centres,” Yann Mazi, founder of French non-profit Utopia 56, told French daily Libération.

  • November 2022: France accepts the Ocean Viking rescue ship but suspends plan to take in 3,500 refugees

Four years after the Aquarius migrant ship was barred from docking in Italy, a new rescue vessel chartered by SOS Méditerranée, the Ocean Viking, caused a renewed diplomatic spat between France and Italy.

When Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni refused to allow the ship carrying 234 migrants to dock at an Italian port, French Interior Minister Darmanin announced on November 10, 2022 that France would “as an exception” welcome the Ocean Viking in Toulon.

After declaring that France would receive a third of the migrants on board, Darmanin went on to describe Italy’s decision as “incomprehensible” and “lacking humanity”, calling Meloni’s behaviour “contrary to the solidarity and commitments” made by Rome.

However, in protest at Italy’s behaviour, Darmanin then suspended a plan to take in 3,500 refugees who had arrived in Italy. The transfer was planned as part of a European burden-sharing accord.

In line with the multiple U-turns the French government has made on its migration policy over the years, it plans to relaunch its immigration bill – initially planned for the start of 2023 – this autumn.

The bill aims to make it easier to expel foreigners who “pose a serious threat to public order” and give special residence permits to undocumented migrants already working in understaffed sectors in France.

This article has been translated from the original in French

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