French MPs are expected to vote on a total ban on bullfighting for the first time on Thursday, after a national debate pitted animal rights activists against fans of the traditional blood sport.
Although public opinion is in favor of banning the practice, the bill is expected to be rejected by a majority of lawmakers wary of shaking up the bullfighting heartland 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.
“There will be no ban tomorrow,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday. “We have to go to a mediation, an exchange. In my view, this is not a priority at the moment.”
His government has urged MPs not to back opposition party France Unbowed’s text, despite the fact that many members of the ruling centre-right coalition are known to support it personally.
During an initial debate by lawmakers on Parliament’s Justice Commission last week, a majority voted against lawmaker Aymeric Caron’s proposal, which denounced the “barbarism” of a tradition imported from Spain in the 1850s.
He called bullfighting a “hypocritical ceremony in which a supposedly honored animal is massacred with a precision and sophistication that borders on sadism”.
“Caron angered people instead of trying to smooth it over,” an MP from Macron’s party told AFP on condition of anonymity, saying his approach alienated many sympathetic MPs.
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 bill would also ban cockfighting, which is legal in some areas of northern France.
– Spanish import? –
Many bullfighting towns rely on the shows for tourism and see the culture of bull breeding and the spectacle of the fight as part of their way of life – revered by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.
They organized demonstrations in southern cities last Saturday while animal rights activists rallied in Paris – emphasizing the divide between north and south and 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.
Previous attempts to ban bullfighting have repeatedly failed, with courts routinely dismissing lawsuits from animal rights activists, most recently in Nimes in July 2021.
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.