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French Prime Minister criticized for surprise appearance at debate

The French prime minister was accused on Monday of deliberately seeking to overshadow the ruling party’s lead list in the European elections when he appeared unexpectedly on stage where she was taking part in a radio debate.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal landed in the Franceinfo radio debate with the main candidates, in the middle of an exchange between the presenter and the head of the ruling party list for the June 9 elections, Valérie Hayer.

Hayer largely failed to convince public opinion during the election campaign where the French far right appeared poised to score a victory, a major setback for President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling Renaissance party.

“Hello, sorry, I’m bursting on stage,” Attal told the audience as Hayer looked on, saying it was important for him to address the young people watching and “encourage Valérie.”

He then launched into a short speech about how many key issues, such as climate change, “can only be solved through Europe”.

Asked by the presenter if he was worried about Hayer in the elections, Attal replied: “I’m worried about Europe” and noted the rise of the far right.

“It’s the new ‘phone a friend’ lifeline that (Hayer) seems to be using more and more,” said François-Xavier Bellamy, a candidate for the conservative Les Républicains party who was next to speak in the debate, referring to the television quiz. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

“Obviously people around her think they’re better at campaigning… there’s a bit of a macho side to it all,” he said.

The head of the far-left party La France Insoumise (LFI) for the elections, Manon Aubry, published a video of the event, calling it “the definition of mansplaining”.

LFI MP Raquel Garrido described the incident as “mainsplaining or, to be more precise, manterrupting”, using an American English neologism invented by feminists.

– ‘By my side’ –

Attal had already been accused of blatantly eclipsing his party’s top candidate when he, and not Hayer, took part in a televised debate last month with the far-right National Rally candidate, Jordan Bardella.

The 28-year-old’s challenge to Attal, 35, France’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister, was framed as a battle for dominance of France’s next generation of politics.

Marine Le Pen, three-time RN presidential candidate, described the incident as “truly shameful”, adding that Attal “would never have allowed this if the candidate had been a man”.

But in writing about X, Hayer attacked his opponents accusing Attal of sexism.

“Instrumentalizing the feminist cause only harms it. Real sexism is believing that someone can think for me,” she wrote, adding that she was “proud” to have Attal ” by my side” in the campaign.

This incident, however, constitutes the latest obstacle for the electoral campaign of the ruling party, with polls showing that the RN obtains a score more than double that of Renaissance.

Another hard blow at the end of last week, the French debt was downgraded by the S&P rating agency.

An Ipsos poll published Monday suggests that 33 percent of voters could vote for the RN list in the June 9 election, with Renaissance with 16 percent just ahead of the Socialists in the hunt.

The government faced two motions of confidence in Parliament on Monday presented by the far-left La France Intrepide (LFI) party and the far-right National Rally (RN).

But both fell short of the 289 votes needed to secure an overall majority to overthrow the government, with Republicans predictably refusing to support them.

Macron has also been criticized for using the weight of his office to intervene in the campaign, notably with a major speech on Europe in April.

He will dominate news bulletins again this week when he hosts world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, to mark 80 years since the Normandy landings.

Macron will give a prime-time television interview from Normandy on Thursday when he is expected to address the elections, the war in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.



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