French far-right MP Grégoire de Fournas was sanctioned on Friday (4 November) with an exclusion from the National Assembly, following outrage in the Chamber over a racist comment made to another MP.
The decision of “censure with temporary exclusion” from the French National Assembly was taken by the Bureau of the National Assembly against the National Rally (RN) MP de Fournas.
During the question time to the government on Thursday, left-wing La France Insoumise (LFI) MP Carlos Martens Bilongo was questioning the government on the plight of migrants stranded on the Ocean Viking vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.
As he was speaking, de Fournas shouted “go back to Africa!”, causing outrage across all parties of the Chamber.
Suspension de séance : Alors que le député @BilongoCarlos pose une question sur l'immigration en Méditerranée, une phrase perturbe la séance. "Qui a prononcé cette phrase ?" demande @YaelBRAUNPIVET qui suspend la séance.#DirectAN #QAG pic.twitter.com/SgKcgFeiYg
— LCP (@LCP) November 3, 2022
Comments deemed racist
Marine Le Pen’s party has been under sharp criticism since the incident.
Following de Fournas’ comments, in an extremely rare event in France, the session of questions to the government was suspended and then stopped, due to the conditions for a peaceful parliamentary debate being no longer met. This element was also taken into account in the decision of the Bureau, according to some of its members.
The remarks were immediately condemned by all parliamentary groups and described as racist in that they were aimed at a black MP – except by the far-right National Rally group, which defended de Fournas.
De Fournas denied having addressed Bilongo himself. He said he had meant to refer to the migrant boat mentioned in Bilongo’s speech, and said he was “sorry” for the misunderstanding in an email sent directly to his colleague.
However, for both the left coalition (NUPES) and the majority party, the point was irrelevant, on the grounds that the phrase “go back to Africa” is racist regardless of whether it was directed at the migrant boat or the MP.
Furthermore, some old tweets – later partly deleted by de Fournas – show that the MP has stirred controversy over comments related to the African continent in the past.
Bilongo, for his part, said that it was “shameful to be relegated to the colour of one’s skin.”
“Would it have been more acceptable for a member of parliament to shout about the refugees on the SOS Méditerrannée boat, that they should go back to Africa?” he asked.
MP Sylvain Maillard, from the presidential party Renaissance, said that Le Pen “must apologise” and demand de Fournas’ resignation.
Government spokesperson Olivier Véran agreed, but the National Rally MP said he did not intend to resign.
The Bureau of the National Assembly is composed of the vice-presidents (including two from RN), secretaries and quaestors of the lower house of the French Parliament.
The presidents of the political groups – including Le Pen for RN – also attended, but could not take part in the vote that led to the decision. The National Rally members of the Bureau of the Assembly decided to abstain from the vote and the sanction was unanimously pronounced.
During the Bureau meeting, de Fournas was questioned and listened to by the various members, who then voted on the exclusion by a simple majority.
Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the National Assembly, announced the sanction to the MPs, who then confirmed the censure with temporary exclusion. MP de Fournas was not in the Chamber when the sanction was pronounced.
All the MPs voted in favour of the censure with temporary exclusion, with the exception of the National Rally group. The President of the Assembly recalled the extreme seriousness of this sanction, pronounced on Friday for the second time since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958.
The MP is thus stripped of half of his parliamentary allowance for two months and is banned from participating in the work of the Assembly for 15 days.
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[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]