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The Press in France | The “very French” debate on hunting invites itself into the presidential election

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A few days before the first round of the presidential election, the question of hunting divides the French political sphere. The left intends to limit it in the name of safety, ecology and animal welfare. And the right defends it by advocating rurality and the safeguarding of customs.

(Paris) On February 19, 2022, a 25-year-old hiker was killed by a stray bullet during a wild boar hunt in the Cantal region. The shooter: a 17-year-old hunter. Four months earlier, a 67-year-old motorist also died of a stray bullet while driving on a road between Rennes and Nantes. A month before this tragedy, a young 28-year-old walker was seriously injured by the shooting of a hunter who would have confused him with a wild boar.

Although the number of victims of hunting accidents in France is decreasing (232 victims in 2000 compared to 83 in 2020), criticism of this hobby is becoming stronger and stronger. For hikers, “being near a hunting area generates undeniable stress”. This is at least what claims Philippe Vesco, who describes the hunters as “nuisances”.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY PHILIPPE VESCO

Philippe Vesco

The 59-year-old man, who does between 60 and 70 hikes a year, mainly in Île-de-France, has often had to modify or extend his route to feel reassured and safe. He also hikes with a whistle, which he had to use several times to signal his presence to hunters. “It’s an indispensable tool,” he says.

According to a survey carried out in September 2021, the debate on hunting divides the French: 51% of them oppose it. These tensions even eventually reached the presidential debate. Two left-wing candidates, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise and Yannick Jadot of the Ecologist Party, intend to ban it on public holidays and weekends.


PHOTO STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate of La France insoumise in the presidential election

According to another poll, 69% of French people say they are in favor of this proposal. France is also the only European country allowing the practice of hunting every day of the week during the season, which generally lasts from September to the end of February.

The environmental candidate accuses hunters of “taking the rest of society hostage”, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon considers that there are “particularly cruel forms of hunting”, such as unearthing (chasing certain animals in their burrows at the help of a dog) or hunting with hounds (pursuing game with a pack of dogs).

Important issue for the right

Candidates from right-wing parties have not said their last word, however. According to Christophe Baticle, socioanthropologist at the University of Picardie Jules-Verne, “the attachment to the notion of rurality” remains very important for these politicians, who hope to promote the conservation of certain more traditional ways of life.

It is in good taste for the candidates [des partis de droite] to have an image of defender of rural territories. Some will try to find it through hunting.

Christophe Baticle, socioanthropologist at the University of Picardie Jules-Verne and specialist in the sociology of space and territory

This political objective partly explains why right-wing candidates woo hunters. The Republican candidate Valérie Pécresse considers the practice of hunting as “a right, a tradition and also a way of life in rural areas”. For Marine Le Pen, of the National Rally, it is an “ancestral tradition”. Éric Zemmour intends to “recognize hunters and fishermen as actors in rural life and the maintenance of nature”.


PHOTO LAURENT CIPRIANI, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Valérie Pécresse, Republican presidential candidate

France is the European country with the most hunters: of the approximately 4 million license holders, there are 1.2 million active ones. It is therefore a “very French” debate, according to Christophe Baticle, who explains the popularity of hunting in particular by the geography of the country, which creates particularly favorable conditions for its practice.

“Punitive ecology”

All the candidates for the next presidential election have also responded favorably to the invitation of the president of the National Federation of Hunters (FNC), Willy Schraen, to deliver a speech during his national assembly which was held on March 22.

“This debate is particularly marked by the strength of the French agrarian imagination. There is a symbolism behind all that, ”analyzes Christophe Baticle. Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the Château de Chambord in 2017 had also struck a chord. The president had participated in a “hunting board”, ie the exhibition of game after a hunt, alongside several presidents of hunting federations.

In the media, the president of the FNC, who did not want to grant an interview to The Press, described as “stupid” the proposal of certain parties to limit the practice of hunting during weekends and school holidays. According to the person who condemns this “punitive ecology”, such a proposal amounts to completely banning hunting, since it is mainly “practiced by French people who work”.

With less than a week to go before the first round, purchasing power and the war in Ukraine remain at the top of the French people’s biggest concerns. It remains to be seen whether the hunt will unite or divide voters.

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