Fresh accusations of violence against women divide France’s left

EuroActiv Politico News

Another head has rolled on the French left. Julien Bayou is no longer co-president of the green group in France’s National Assembly or national secretary of the Green party, where he’s been an important figure since 2013, after being accused of psychological abuse against his former partner.

The Green party — Europe Écologie les Verts (EELV) — is torn over the affair, which comes right after a rift formed within the broader left-wing alliance — led by far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed — over another controversy surrounding violence against women.

Mélenchon’s success in June’s parliamentary elections robbed French President Emmanuel Macron of his majority in the National Assembly, giving the left-winger and his party unprecedented political influence. But accusations targeting two of his party’s heavyweights in parliament have cast doubt over the management of gender issues within France Unbowed, a party with a strong feminist stance.

Bayou’s case is now adding to the left’s troubles.

In July, Le Figaro reported that Bayou’s ex-girlfriend had filed a complaint to the Greens’ internal team which deals with violence against women, after what he called a “painful and difficult breakup.” His job only appeared to be on the line, however, after Sandrine Rousseau, a fellow Green and influential MP, re-upped the matter on France 5 last week.

Rousseau suggested Bayou had exhibited “behavior which could break women’s psychological health” and said that Bayou’s former partner had later attempted suicide. The party subsequently suspended Bayou from his role as co-president of the group, and he has now stepped down as secretary as well.

In a statement criticizing the manner of his ouster, he said, “I’m accused of facts which haven’t been laid out, which my accusers say are not punishable by law … It’s Kafka in the time of social media.”

Talking to Paris Playbook, someone in the party’s administration, speaking anonymously, questioned the manner in which Rousseau targeted Bayou on a TV panel, asking, “Was it necessary to lay the topic out on the table like that?”

Some Bayou supporters suspect a political maneuver from Rousseau, who opposes Bayou’s favored candidate to succeed him in December’s election for the party presidency.

One Rousseau supporter rejected this in no uncertain terms, saying: “Julien is a little ectoplasmic puddle who nobody gives a shit about. Sandrine is doing this to fight the patriarchy, which for her is more important than anything.”

Mélenchon under fire

Meanwhile, Mélenchon caused uproar in his own ranks after clumsily commenting on another case involving one of his own lawmakers.

MP Adrien Quatennens, one of his closest allies in parliament, resigned as France Unbowed’s operations manager earlier this month after admitting he had slapped his wife, Céline Quatennens — the pair are currently in divorce proceedings. French media reported that Céline Quatennens does not intend to press charges.

Directly after Quatennens’ resignation, Mélenchon tweeted his “trust and affection” for the MP and criticized “media voyeurism,” before explaining, “my affection for him doesn’t mean that I’m indifferent to Céline.” On Thursday, he doubled down on the tweets, saying he “always weighs [his] words” before, bizarrely, stroking a journalist’s face.

While rival parties made predictably severe criticism, seizing upon the opportunity to score points against a party that’s made preventing violence against women a key policy focus, several figures from Mélenchon’s own party also spoke out.

MEP Manon Aubry and MP Clémentine Autain said that Mélenchon’s tweets did not speak for them, while another MP released a statement alluding to “some tweets [which] betray a belittling of the facts committed and a misunderstanding of the reality of domestic violence.”

Autain and Rousseau are two of France’s highest-profile feminist figures, and are leading voices when it comes to condemning violence against women. Rousseau was elected MP for the first time in June; in 2016, she made headlines for accusing Green party colleague and MP Denis Baupin of sexual harassment, kicking off a long legal saga.

Mélenchon had to make amends over the weekend, saying said he “accepted” the criticism and condemnation of him on a France 2 talk show.