Paris (AFP), Nov 16 – French MPs are set to begin debating a ban on bullfighting on Wednesday, with a vote due later this month that has enraged lovers of the blood sport in the south of the country.
The issue has split the ruling coalition of President Emmanuel Macron and the biggest opposition party, the far-right National Rally, which is led by animal-lover Marine Le Pen.
Despite having widespread public support, most observers expect the bid to fail as a majority of MPs fear a backlash in rural areas and bullfighting heartlands where the practice is a cherished cultural tradition.
“I think the majority of French people share the view that bullfights are immoral, a spectacle that no longer has its place in the 21st century,” the left-wing opposition MP behind the attempt to ban it, Aymeric Caron, told AFP earlier this year.
A poll by the Ifop survey group earlier this year backs Caron’s claim, with 77 percent of respondents approving of a ban, up from 50 percent in 2007.
MPs will begin discussing draft legislation during a hearing of the parliament’s law commission on Wednesday.
A full vote is scheduled for November 24, which would be the first time the national assembly has pondered outlawing a tradition that was idolised by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.
The draft law would modify existing animal welfare law to remove exemptions for bullfights when they can be shown to be “uninterrupted local traditions.”
These are granted in towns such as Bayonne and Mont-de-Marsan in southwest France and along the Mediterranean coast including Arles, Beziers and Nimes.
The law would also ban cock-fighting which is permitted in some areas in northern France.
“The MP Caron, in a very moralising tone, wants to explain to us, from Paris, what is good or bad in the south,” the furious mayor of Mont-de-Marsan, Charles Dayot, told AFP.
Bullfighting is “our identity, a living culture. Leave us alone with our traditions!” added Dayot, who is vice-president of the Union of French Bullfighting Towns.
– Spanish import? –
Although the head of Macron’s Renaissance party in parliament, Aurore Berge, signed an open letter calling for a ban on bullfighting last year, others in the party are fiercely opposed to the bill.
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti is known to be a bullfighting fan, while some oppose the legislation on the grounds that it will deepen a widening urban-rural divide in France.
“It will disappear on its own. There is less and less of it,” Jean-Rene Cazeneuve, a ruling party MP elected from the southern Gers region, told AFP. “There’s no point banning it and humiliating people who see it as a tradition.”
When running for president earlier this year, Le Pen made animal welfare a plank of her manifesto, promising to give animals a constitutional status and declaring that “wanton mistreatment of animals was intolerable in our society.”
She has proposed restricting bullfightinng audiences to over-18s, while senior MP Julien Odoul is expected to vote in favour of a blanket ban.
Judicial attempts to outlaw the practice have repeatedly failed, with courts routinely rejecting lawsuits lodged by animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nimes.
The debate in France pitching animal rights’ defenders against traditionalists is echoed in other countries with bullfighting histories, including Spain and Portugal as well as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.
In June, a judge in Mexico City ordered an indefinite suspension of bullfighting in the capital’s historic bullring, the largest in the world.
Caron told AFP that bullfighting “is not a French tradition. It’s a Spanish custom that was imported to France in the 19th century to please the wife of Napoleon III, who was from Andalusia,” the countess Eugenie de Montijo.