Frustration mounts as France limits public gatherings with some notable exceptions

·2-min read

France has limited the number of people who can attend concerts and other public events in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19. But people are calling out hypocrisy in the exceptions, especially for political rallies ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

Fairs, conventions, zoos and amusement parks will not be affected by limits on public gatherings, which was announced Monday and has had artists calling foul, pointing out that political meetings are also exempt.

"We are making a distinction between static gatherings and places where there is movement,” said Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, junior minister for tourism and SMEs, on RMC radio on Thursday, referring to fairs and conventions.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Monday a three-week limit of 2,000 people for indoor gatherings and 5,000 people outdoors, starting on Monday, 3 January.

No limits on political meetings

Political rallies are exempt, constitutionally, as the government cannot limit attendance.

Several candidates are planning their campaign launch events mid-January, less than four months before the first round of France’s presidential election on 10 April 2022.

The exemption – even if legally required – is raising artists' hackles, some of whom have ironically declared themselves candidates in order to perform for more people.

Health Minister Olivier Véran on Wednesday told lawmakers that the government is not creating double standards as it is legally not allowed to limit attendance.

Some candidates say they will voluntarily limit numbers, including the ruling LaRem party, and the mainstream right-wing Les Republicains, whose candidate Valérie Pécresse cancelled a large public event on the11th of December a few days after announcing she was running, and held a smaller one instead.

Socialist candidate and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has already been requiring a health pass of attendees to her events, and the Green party has anticipated smaller, outdoor gatherings or online events, Marine Tondelier, spokesperson of EELV candidate Yannick Jadot, said on RTL radio.

Extreme candidates

But on the extremes, the issue is more contentious.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, will launch her campaign on 15 January with a convention in Reims, and has no intention of limiting attendance, her spokesperson Sébastien Chenu told Europe 1.

For hard-left France Unbowed candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has planned a rally in Nantes 16 January, it would be “problematic” to limit numbers, according to lawmaker Eric Coquerel, speaking on RMC radio, adding that the party will not apply the government’s “oppressive measures”.

And extreme right candidate Eric Zemmour, who launched his campaign mid-December with a 15,000-person rally north of Paris, will not modify any plans for the next four months.

Lawmakers on Wednesday passed a measure allowing for organisers to require a health pass for attendees of political meetings, as part of the debate underway over a new law that will require proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, cinemas, museums and other public venues.

(with AFP)

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