Racist remark in the Assemblée Nationale undermines the far right’s search for respectability

Thursday, November 3, during the session of the French Assemblée Nationale, as Members of Parliament engaged in a debate with the government, a particular MP raised eyebrows and damaged the reputation of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party. Grégoire de Fournas, an MP from RN, disrupted his colleague Carlos Martens Bilongo, who belongs to the left-wing La France Insoumise (LFI) party. Mr. De Fournas uttered the words, “He should return to Africa,” while Mr. Martens Bilongo was addressing the issue of a boat owned by the NGO SOS Méditerranée, which had rescued 234 migrants off the coast of Libya and was seeking a port to disembark them.

This is a very uncommon occurrence. “Emotion.” Taking into account the seriousness of “the facts and legitimate” concerns, it was decided to temporarily halt the session to alleviate the confusion. Mr. Fournas, however, did not appear to comprehend the magnitude of the outrage expressed by Ms. Braun-Pivet. But suddenly, shouting “Out! Out!”, President Yaël Braun-Pivet of the Assemblée called for order and members of parliament stood up, shocked by the unexpected outburst.

To determine the penalty to be imposed on Mr. De Fournas, “considering the gravity of the incident,” she declared that an urgent parliamentary committee would be assembled on Friday at 2:30 pm. This committee, consisting of the president of the Assemblée, six vice-presidents, three parliamentary administrators, and 12 secretaries, possesses exclusive authority to decide on punishments that are more severe than a mere reprimand. Ms. Braun-Pivet conveyed to Le Monde, “We absolutely cannot overlook this. However, the situation is so serious that we should not hastily respond; instead, we should convene the committee and take the most suitable course of action.” She maintains that “the Assemblée Nationale is a collective entity, and we are all responsible for the image it projects.”

Mr. De Fournas should bear the most severe consequences, as stated by Mathilde Panot, the leader of LFI MPs, who expressed that “today, the extreme right has revealed its true nature.” Sylvain Maillard, the vice president of the Renaissance group (President Emmanuel Macron’s party), declared that the group “will no longer participate” unless Mr. De Fournas is heavily penalized, further stating that “the facade is crumbling” and it exemplifies the essence of the Rassemblement National. Since the summer, the RN has been relatively inconspicuous in committee and public sessions, but all the other parties in the Assemblée are determined to humiliate them.

Before the parliamentary committee of Assemblée, the MP RN is liable to a “temporary exclusion” with a duration of 15 days for reappearing on a banned assembly and two months for forfeiting half of his salary. Alternatively, he may face a “simple censure” with a duration of one month for forfeiting half of his parliamentary salary, depending on his ability to present his arguments.

Mr. Martens Bilongo deplored being referred to for the color of his skin, and stated, “It’s shameful,” when talking about events involving the boat from SOS Méditerranée that he explained was complying with his party’s agenda to bring them back to Africa, the origin of the migrants, instead of rescuing them at sea. After discreetly slipping away from his colleagues, Mr. Fournas returned to tell his version of events, explaining that he replied, “Let them dock on European shores,” when talking about the boat from SOS Méditerranée that was unable to dock. The true face of the National Rassemblement, the party he was elected as an official for in Villiers-le-Bel, Val-d’Oise, is seen by French MP La Insoumise, who like his parents, was born in France to Angolan and Congolese origins.

Mr. Martens Bilongo questioned the acceptance of racism, stating that it has become so widespread. He further pondered whether it would have been deemed more acceptable if a Member of Parliament had exclaimed about refugees on the SOS Mediterranean boat, who were in a dire state, by saying, “Send them back to Africa.” It is a matter that warrants serious consideration.

‘The president is offended’

According to the right-wing publication Valeurs Actuelles, Mr. De Fournas was anticipated to assume the role of a party spokesperson if Jordan Bardella is elected as the president of RN (he is presently the interim president) on Saturday. Mr. De Fournas is considered a protege of the up-and-coming figure Edwige Diaz. The statements of one of the recently elected officials have drawn attention to this matter, which is a significant setback for the party’s quest for credibility. Meanwhile, the far-right party, led by Marine Le Pen, is asserting that this is a manipulation.

The parliamentary session in November, which was initially scheduled for heated debates and discussions, has seen an increase in incidents involving members of the far-right party RN. Since the beginning of the parliamentary session in October, there have been incidents involving RN members, leading to President Yaël Braun-Pivet’s rebuke of a majority member. Some feared that this rebuke would set a precedent, preventing them from pointing out the “racist” and “xenophobic” past of the far-right party and raising questions about the freedom of expression in the chamber.

This is especially true as there have been more and more remarks that are xenophobic by elected representatives on the far-right. Alexandra Masson MP explained on October 31st that the National Sea Rescue Society should not only look out for and save the lives of migrants at sea, but also those shipwrecked individuals who are less deserving of being rescued.

The offended Member of Parliament received backing from the president. These words, which are unacceptable in the chamber as well as outside the chamber, upset the president. The group accompanying President Macron mentioned that Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne presented herself in front of the cameras at the Assemblée to condemn the discriminatory comments immediately after the session was suspended. The government has no intention of overlooking it.

In the municipalities of the region, Mr. De Fournas, a council member of the Gironde department, has been involved in numerous conflicts in the past few years regarding the acceptance of minors who are unaccompanied. Abruptly vanished, posts on social media displaying an intense interest in African immigration and complexion. He expressed regret for the misinterpretation caused by his comments and expressed dismay over any potential political manipulation in an email sent to Mr. Martens Bilongo. The email was subsequently shared with the media, and Mr. De Fournas continued to refuse to offer an apology.