Another head rolled down the French left. Julien Bayou is no longer co-president of the group of ecologists in the National Assembly nor national secretary of the party of ecologists, of which he has been an important figure since 2013, after being accused of psychological violence against his former partner.
The ecologist party – Europe Écologie les Verts (EELV) – is torn by this affair, which comes just after a split formed within the extended left alliance – led by far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed – on another controversy surrounding violence against women.
Mélenchon’s success in the June legislative elections deprived French President Emmanuel Macron of his majority in the National Assembly, giving the left-winger and his party unprecedented political clout. But the accusations against two of his party’s heavyweights in parliament have cast doubt on the management of gender issues within France insoumise, a party with a strong feminist stance.
The case of Bayou now adds to the problems of the left.
In July, Le Figaro reported that Bayou’s ex-girlfriend had lodged a complaint with the Greens’ internal team that deals with violence against women, after what he described as a “painful and difficult break-up”. . However, his job only seemed to be on the line after Sandrine Rousseau, a fellow environmentalist and influential MP, revived the case on France 5 Last week.
Rousseau suggested Bayou exhibited “behaviour that could harm the psychological health of women” and said Bayou’s former partner later attempted suicide. The party subsequently suspended Bayou from his role as co-chairman of the group, and he also resigned as secretary.
In a statement criticizing the manner in which he was ousted, he said: “I am accused of facts which have not been exposed, which, according to my accusers, are not punishable by law… This is Kafka at the era of social networks.
Speaking to Paris Playbook, a member of the party administration, speaking anonymously, questioned the manner in which Rousseau targeted Bayou on a TV set, asking: “Was it necessary to put the subject on the table like this?
Some Bayou supporters suspect a political maneuver by Rousseau, who opposes the Bayou’s preferred candidate to succeed him in the December election as party president.
A Rousseau supporter dismissed this unequivocally, saying, “Julien is a little ectoplasmic puddle that nobody cares about. Sandrine does this to fight against patriarchy, which for her is more important than anything.”
Mélenchon under fire
Meanwhile, Mélenchon caused an uproar within 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 operations director of France Unbowed earlier this month after admitting he had slapped his wife, Céline Quatennens – the couple are currently in the process of divorce. French media reported that Céline Quatennens did not intend to press charges.
Just after Quatennens’ resignation, Mélenchon tweeted his “confidence and affection” for the deputy and criticized the “media voyeurism”, before explaining, “my affection for him does not mean that I am indifferent to Céline”. On Thursday, he doubled down on tweets, saying he was “still weighing [his] words” before, oddly, caress the face of a journalist.
While rival parties predictably delivered harsh criticism, seizing the opportunity to score points against a party that has made preventing violence against women a key policy focus, several personalities from Mélenchon’s own party also spoke.
MEP Manon Aubry and MP Clémentine Autain said Mélenchon’s tweets did not speak for them, while another MP posted a statement alluding to “some tweets [which] betray a devaluation of the acts committed and a misunderstanding of the reality of domestic violence.
Autain and Rousseau are two of the most prominent feminist figures in France and are leading voices when it comes to condemning violence against women. Rousseau is elected deputy for the first time in June; in 2016, she made headlines for accusing her 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 he “accepted” the criticism and condemnation of him on a France 2 talk show.