Anger over 'masculinist' defence of French leftwinger who slapped his wife

·3-min read

A senior figure and potential future leader of France's far left France Unbowed (LFI) has quit his post as co-ordinator after admitting hitting his wife during a dispute. LFI leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has praised his "courageous" decision – raising the ire of a number of feminists and anti-domestic violence campaigners who are demanding his resignation.

Adrien Quatennens, 32, is a key figure of the LFI movement of far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Once tipped to take over the party, his political career is now in the balance.

Last week the satirical weekly Canard Enchainé revealed Quatennens' wife had reported him to the police.

In a long statement published on Twitter on Sunday, the young MP acknowledged a dispute a year ago in which "in a context of extreme tension and mutual aggression, I slapped her.

"I profoundly regret this action and have said sorry many times" he wrote.

The couple were in the throes of divorce and Quatennens also admitted "sending too many messages" to his wife "to try to convince her that our difficulties as a couple could be overcome".

He announced he was resigning as LFI coordinator to "protect the movement and its activists".

The court in Lille, where Quatennens is an MP, announced on Monday it had opened an investigation into his wife's statement to the police.

'Dignity and courage'

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a candidate in this year's presidential elections, praised Quatennens' "dignity and courage". He blamed the police and said the young MP had been the victim of a campaign in the media.

Another LFI MP, Sophia Chikirou, lauded Quatennens' "honesty and self-sacrifice" and called on people to leave the couple alone.

But Mélenchon's comments caused outrage.

"This tweet came from another world" said Green senator Mélanie Vogel.

"This is an extremely shocking reaction, Mélenchon had no words for the victim," said Paris councillor Raphaelle Rémy Leleu. Instead, "he uses masculinist rhetoric to express his unfailing solidarity" [with Quatennens].

"It shows that disdain and hatred of women has far more importance that what victims say," she told RFI.

Calls for resignation

Mélenchon later added "a punch is always unacceptable". But the damage was done.

The Quatennens scandal is the third this year to affect a party which prides itself on leading the way in fighting violence against women.

Taha Bouhafs, who was running for MP on a hard-left ticket with the LFI, stepped down in May this year after several women accused him of sexual assault.

And in July, an investigation was opened into LFI MP Eric Coquerel, president of the National Assembly's influential Finance Committee, for alleged harassment and sexual assault.

In 2019, Quatennens gave a stirring speech in parliament about combatting femicide. He was elected MP for Lille in June this year.

"I expect him to step down as MP," said Rémy Leleu. "If we'd known about this at the time of the election, I would like to hope he would not have been a candidate and people would not have voted for him.

"You can't represent a nation having admitted to domestic violence; you can't take part alongside the left and the Greens in the fight for women’s rights if you've been violent yourself."

'Relentless engagement'

Mathilde Panot, head of the LFI group in parliament, denied Quatennens' future in politics was compromised.

"We do not believe that a man, even if he has committed an act of violence, is violent for life," she said.

But Green MP Sandrine Rousseau called on him to withdraw from all public speaking. "Violence against women has many faces, none of them is acceptable," she wrote.

MP Clementine Autain, also an influential young figure in LFI, said Quatennens' decision to step back from responsibilites in the party was "fair and inevitable".

"Our movement is based on the fight against sexist and sexual violence. My thoughts go to all women who aspire to freedom," she tweeted.

An LFI statement said the party "reiterated its relentless engagement in the fight against violence against women".