French MPs are expected to vote on Thursday for the first time on whether to ban bullfighting, after a national debate saw animal rights activists crack down on fans of the traditional blood sport.
Although public opinion is firmly in favor of banning the practice, the bill is expected to be rejected by a majority of lawmakers wary of shaking up bullfighting heartlands in the south of the country.
There’s also a chance the bill proposed by a vegan left-wing lawmaker might not make it to the National Assembly for a last-minute vote.
“We need to move towards a settlement, an exchange,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday, adding he does not expect the bill to pass. “In my view, this is not a current priority.”
His government has urged members of the ruling centrist coalition not to support the text of opposition party France Unbowed, although many members are known to support it personally.
During a first debate on Parliament’s Justice Commission last week, a majority voted against MP Aymeric Caron’s proposal, which denounced the “barbarism” of a tradition imported from Spain in the 1850s.
“Caron angered people instead of trying to smooth it over,” an MP from Macron’s party told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The bill proposes amending an existing law punishing animal cruelty to remove exceptions for bullfights, which have been shown to be “unbroken local traditions.”
These are granted in towns such as Bayonne and Mont-de-Marsan in south-west France and along the Mediterranean coast including Arles, Béziers and Nimes.
“The traditional nature of an activity has never been a moral justification for it,” Caron told news channel BFM on Thursday.
“There are traditions that we have been able to end when this activity is no longer consistent with the ethics of our society, which fortunately is evolving,” he added.
According to the National Observatory of Bull Cultures, around 1,000 bulls are killed in France every year.
– “Grab Death” –
Many so-called “bull towns” rely on the shows for tourism, and see the culture of bull breeding and the spectacle of fighting as part of their way of life – idolized by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.
They organized demonstrations last Saturday as animal rights protesters rallied in Paris – emphasizing the North-South divide and the divide between rural areas and Paris at the heart of the debate.
“Caron wants to explain to us from Paris in a very moralizing tone what is good and bad in the South,” Mont-de-Marsan Mayor Charles Dayot recently told AFP.
Other defenders of “la Corrida” in France see the focus on sport as hypocritical if one overlooks factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses.
“These animals are dying too, and we don’t talk about it enough,” said Dalia Navarro, who founded pro-bullfighting group Les Andalouses in southern Arles.
Modern society “has increasing difficulty in accepting death. But la Corrida deals with death, which is often a taboo subject,” she told AFP.
Previous judicial attempts to ban bullfighting have repeatedly failed, with courts routinely dismissing lawsuits from animal rights activists, most recently in Nimes in July 2021.
Thursday’s scheduled vote may not take place because more than 500 amendments have been tabled by other MPs, some aimed at wasting parliamentary time.
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One of the far-right MPs, Yoann Gillet, is proposing to change the title of the bill to “Force the ideology of the grain eaters on the inhabitants of the south of France”.
Even if the bill were passed in the House of Commons on Thursday, the bill would be battling to pass in the Conservative-dominated Senate.
The debate in France over the ethics of killing animals for entertainment is echoed in other countries with bullfighting histories, including Spain and Portugal, as well as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.
In June, a judge in Mexico City ordered an indefinite suspension of bullfighting at the capital’s historic bullring, the largest in the world.
The first bullfight in France was held in Bayonne in 1853 in honor of Eugenie de Montijo, Napoleon III’s Spanish wife.