French minority parties cry for impartiality ahead of EU election TV debate

Benoit Hamon being interviewed by France Télévisions.

The EU election debate broadcast on France 2 next Wednesday (22 May) is causing growing controversy. Guests from minority parties have argued the structure of the debate is biased against them, and have threatened to boycott the programme. EURACTIV France reports.

There is nothing like a common enemy to unite a mixed bag of warring politicians.

French public television channel France 2 has become the new scapegoat for socialist Benoît Hamon (Generation.s), Jean-Christophe Lagarde, head of the centre-right Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI), and right-wing leader of Debout la France Nicolas Dupont-Aignan.

Despite radically opposed programmes, the three list leaders have united against France Télévisions by meeting in front of the public broadcasting group’s headquarters and protesting its programming schedule.

France 2 intends to broadcast the second part of the debate very late on the evening of 22 May, after an earlier debate between major French parties.

A “democratic scandal”, according to the three candidates.

Another list leader, communist candidate Ian Brossart, referred the matter to the French audiovisual council (CSA).

France 2 and France Inter are organising a debate on 22 May between 15 European election list leaders or party leaders. This inclusive choice was aimed to avoid a repeat of the candidate revolt which erupted during the first debate in April.

The question of the number of guests had already been a real headache for the public channel. Several candidates had initially been excluded from the first debate for logistical reasons. Then, some appealed to the courts to claim a right of presence. They included Benoit Hamon, François Asselineau, Ian Brossat and Jean-Philippe Lagarde.

The public channel had decided to invite candidates from minority parties, even though the French State Council agreed with the decision, stating that the channel was free to choose its guests.

But the number of candidates made preparations for the big debate difficult.

With 12 guests on set, the TV debate had turned into a cacophony. And each candidate only had 8 minutes to speak and present their political programmes. This is an excessively short time for a 3-hour debate that gathered a modest audience of 2 million viewers.

Sub-groups

To avoid these two pitfalls, the channel decided to invite everyone, a total of 15 top candidates or party leaders,  but divided the debate into two parts.

The first part of the evening is reserved for Marine Le Pen of Rassemblement National (RN), Stanislas Guérini of Macron’s La Republique en Marche (LREM), Laurent Wauquiez of right-wing party Les Republicains (LR), socialist Raphaël Glucksmann (PS/PP), Yannick Jadot of green party Europe-Ecologie-Les-Verts (EELV) and Manon Aubry of leftist party La France Insoumise (LFI).

The second part is reserved to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debout la France, Ian Brossat of French Communist Party (PCF), Jean-Christophe Lagarde of UDI, François Asselineau of the Popular Republican Union (UPR), Francis Lalanne of “Alliance Jaune” (yellow alliance), Dominique Bourg from the green ‘Urgence écologie’ list, Nathalie Arthaud (ecologist), Florian Philippot (Patriotes), Nathalie Arthaud of the worker’s party Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and Benoît Hamon of generation.s.

The public channel’s choice is based on surveys of voting intentions. All parties invited to the first part of the debate are polling above 5%. The second part of the evening is reserved for parties whose voting intentions do not reach that threshold.

But this is unacceptable for the group debating during the second part.

“If we three are here, despite our different opinions, it is because we all agree that this is unacceptable because it really is a democratic scandal,” Nicolas Dupont-Aignan told the press, along with Benoît Hamon and Jean-Christophe Lagarde.

Candidates proposed several alternatives, such as a draw between participants that would decide who debates during which time-slot.

France 2 is also being criticised for inviting party leaders of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, Macron’s LREM and right-win party Les Républicains for the debate, as opposed to candidates who are at the top of the European elections lists for other parties.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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