French MPs are set to begin debating a ban on bullfighting on Wednesday, with a vote expected later this month that has enraged bloodthirsty sport fans in the south of the country.
The issue has divided President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling coalition and the largest opposition party, the far-right National Rally, led by animal lover Marine Le Pen.
Despite widespread public support, most observers expect the bid to fail as the majority of MPs fear a backlash in rural areas and the heartland of bullfighting 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 a place in the 21st century,” left-wing opposition MP Aymeric Caron told AFP. behind the ban attempt. year.
A poll by survey group Ifop earlier this year supports Caron’s claim, with 77% of respondents approving a ban, up from 50% in 2007.
MPs will start discussing a draft law during a hearing of the parliament’s law committee on Wednesday.
A full vote is scheduled for November 24, which would be the first time the National Assembly has considered banning a tradition idolized by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.
The bill would amend existing animal welfare law to remove exemptions for bullfights where they can be shown to be “uninterrupted local traditions”.
These are granted in cities like Bayonne and Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France and along the Mediterranean coast, including Arles, Béziers and Nîmes.
The law would also ban cockfighting which is permitted in some areas of northern France.
“The deputy Caron, in a very moralizing tone, wants to explain to us, from Paris, what is good or bad in the south”, declared to AFP the mayor of Mont-de-Marsan, Charles Dayot, furious.
Bullfighting is “our identity, a living culture. Leave us alone with our traditions!” adds Dayot, vice-president of the Union of bullfighting towns in France.
Although the leader of Macron’s Renaissance party in parliament, Aurore Berge, signed an open letter calling for a ban on bullfighting last year, other members of the party are fiercely opposed to the bill.
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti is known to be a fan of bullfighting, while some oppose the legislation on the grounds that it will deepen a growing urban-rural divide in France.
“It will disappear on its own. There are fewer and fewer of them,” Jean-René Cazeneuve, deputy of the ruling party elected in the south of Gers, 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 part of his manifesto, promising to give animals constitutional status and declaring that “gratuitous abuse of animals is intolerable in our society“. .
She has proposed restricting bullfighting audiences to those over 18, while MP Julien Odoul is expected to vote in favor of a general ban.
Judicial attempts to ban the practice have repeatedly failed, with courts consistently dismissing lawsuits brought by animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nîmes.
The debate in France pitting animal rights activists against traditionalists is echoed in other countries with a bullfighting history, 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 is a Spanish custom that was imported to France in the 19th century to please the wife of Napoleon III, who was Andalusian”, the Countess Eugenie de Montijo.