French MPs are expected to vote Thursday to ban bullfighting for the first time after a national debate that saw animal rights activists clash with fans of the traditional blood sport.
While public opinion is strongly in favor of a ban on the practice, the bill is expected to be rejected by a majority of lawmakers fearful of fomenting bullfighting in the south.
There is also the possibility that a bill proposed by a left-wing vegan MP will not be put to a vote in the National Assembly at the last minute.
“We need to move towards reconciliation, exchange,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday, adding that he did not expect the bill to pass. “From where I’m sitting, this is not a current priority.”
His government has urged members of the ruling centrist coalition not to support the text of the opposition party, France Steadfast, although many members are known to personally support it.
During the first debate in parliament’s legislative committee last week, a majority voted against a proposal by MP Aymeric Caron, who denounced the “barbarism” of a tradition brought from Spain in the 1850s.
“Caron has angered people instead of trying to smooth them over,” Macron’s party MP told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The bill proposes to amend the existing animal cruelty law to eliminate bullfighting exceptions, which could be recognized as “continuous local traditions”.
They are provided in cities such as Bayonne and Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France and along the Mediterranean coast, including Arles, Béziers and Nimes.
“The traditional nature of the activity has never been a moral justification for her,” Caron told the BFM news channel on Thursday.
“There are traditions that we have been able to stop when these activities are no longer consistent with the ethics of our society, which, fortunately, are developing,” he added.
About 1,000 bulls are slaughtered every year in France, according to the National Observatory of Bull Cultures.
– “Fight against death” –
Many so-called “bull towns” depend on shows for tourism and consider the culture of bull breeding and spectacular fights part of their lifestyle – idolized by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.
They staged demonstrations last Saturday as animal rights protesters gathered in Paris, highlighting the north-south and rural anti-Paris divide at the heart of the debate.
“Caron, in a very moralizing tone, wants to explain to us from Paris what is good and what is bad in the south,” Mont-de-Marsan Mayor Charles Dayot recently told AFP.
Other advocates of “la Corrida” in France see this focus on sport as hypocritical when industrial farms and industrial slaughter are ignored.
“These animals are also dying and we don’t talk about it much,” said Dalia Navarro, who formed Les Andalouses, a bullfighting group in south Arles.
It is increasingly difficult for modern society to come to terms with death. But La Corrida deals with death, which is often a taboo subject,” she told AFP.
Previous legal attempts to outlaw bullfighting have failed repeatedly, with courts regularly dismissing claims filed by animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nîmes.
Thursday’s scheduled vote may not take place due to more than 500 amendments from other MPs, some of which appear to be designed to waste parliamentary time.
One of the far-right deputies, Yoann Gillet, proposes to change the title of the bill to “Imposing the ideology of grain growers to the inhabitants of the south of France.”
Even if the bill is approved by the lower house on Thursday, it will have difficulty getting passed in the conservative-dominated Senate.
The debate in France about the ethics of killing animals for fun resonates in other countries with a history of bullfighting, 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 world’s largest.
The first bullfight took place in France in 1853 in Bayonne in honor of Eugenie de Montijo, the Spanish wife of Napoleon III.