Berliner TageBlatt - French left reels after violence against women claims

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French left reels after violence against women claims
French left reels after violence against women claims / Foto: © AFP

French left reels after violence against women claims

Two key parties in France's left-wing alliance were facing crises Wednesday after senior figures were accused of violence against women, with a Greens party chief stepping back from his role days after a fellow lawmaker from the hard-left France Unbowed.

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The mounting tempest has shown up their parties' struggle to respond to allegations of sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the #Metoo movement, as outraged activists often demand quicker, more forceful responses than the justice system can provide.

On Tuesday, Julien Bayou was "suspended from his role" as co-president of the Greens' bloc in the lower-house National Assembly, the party said, after he was accused of psychologically abusing a former partner.

"We are a feminist party, and so we place ourselves at the service of women's testimony... we acknowledged that the only way to show we weren't pretending and weren't hiding was a temporary suspension," Sandra Regol, vice-president of the Green MPs group, told broadcaster Franceinfo.

On Sunday one of the most prominent MPs of France Unbowed (LFI), Adrien Quatennens, admitted to slapping his wife after her legal complaint was revealed by the investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

He stepped down from a senior role as party coordinator.

"Our political ethics can't be the same as the criminal law," said Laurence Rossignol, deputy president of the Senate, Parliament's upper house, and a member of the Socialist Party, which is allied with the Greens and LFI in a broad coalition against President Emmanuel Macron.

"The facts are there, they've been identified, and this is a political representative, in a political group that has committed itself to fighting violence against women... their group must be the first to deal with them," Rossignol told Europe 1 radio.

- 'Dignity and courage' -

Among the older generation of the left, the instinct can still be to close ranks.

LFI leader and three-time presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon leapt to Quatennens' defence on Twitter, blasting "police ill-will, media voyeurism and the social networks" while hailing his protege's "dignity" and "courage".

He had made a similar response earlier this year when another ally, MP Eric Coquerel, was accused of groping a female activist -- but who went on to receive the party's support to lead parliament's powerful Finance Committee.

"Protection of the party, protecting the leader, often come before consistency" with the movement's stated values, Rossignol said Wednesday.

It was not until hours later that Melenchon posted another message gesturing towards Quatennens' wife -- too late for many critics.

Macron's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Tuesday that it was "extremely shocking to have someone playing down domestic violence".

And some 550 feminist activists co-signed an editorial in left-wing daily Liberation on Wednesday calling for Quatennens to resign his seat in parliament.

"When a political group supports a feminist programme, we have a right to expect that it stops protecting assaulters," the activists wrote, listing a string of other left-wing figures who have been accused of assault and even rape.

"It's not up to the assaulter's friends to judge how serious the crime is and call for their private life to be respected. Private life is political," they added.

- New structures -

The Greens, LFI and Macron's Renaissance party have all set up internal panels to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and assault, with mixed results.

A report about Bayou had already been submitted to the ecologists' panel in July, prompting allegations the probe had moved too slowly.

"These are volunteers working on cases that are sensitive by definition. Calm and time are needed to gather testimony and take the necessary decisions," said Marine Tondelier, expected to stand soon for the Greens' leadership.

"We acknowledge that we're feeling our way forward, that this is a difficult question," LFI lawmaker Daniele Obono said.

Allegations that sexual harassment and even assault are rife in French politics stretch well beyond the left.

In July, Damien Abad, a right-winger who was named minister in Macron's freshly installed centrist government, was forced to step down over rape allegations.

He denies the claims and has since returned to his seat in parliament.

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J.Bergmann--BTB