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Hollande can't live with – or without – rebel minister Taubira

Lionel Bonaventure, AFP | French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira leaving the Elysee presidential palace in Paris on January 4, 2016

Christiane Taubira, France’s outspoken justice minister, has become both a nuisance and a hard-to-replace political asset for President François Hollande.


Taubira last week openly disagreed with the French president's proposal to strip French nationality from dual-citizens who are convicted of terrorism, a measure championed by Hollande in the wake of the terrorist attacks that shook Paris on November 13.

Her defiance has become a familiar occurrence, and one that could spell trouble for the embattled leader less than 16 months before his likely bid for re-election.

As justice chief, Taubira was supposed to be in charge of convincing members of parliament to vote for the constitutional amendments needed to allow the state to revoke citizenship of proven terrorists. It was a puzzling role for someone who had so clearly expressed her opposition to the measure.

Last week Taubira told iTele news channel she was staunchly against a move she considered “completely useless” in combating the radicalisation of French nationals. It was not the first time she clashed with the government on the specific issue.

On December 22, Taubira said Hollande was abandoning the controversial constitutional change that is a part of a package of reforms to help police fight terrorism more aggressively. Less than 24 hours later, the government denied it was backtracking on the measure, with Prime Minister Manual Valls calling Taubira to order.

The rift between Hollande and Taubira has triggered a succession of calls for her resignation from right-wing opponents, but also political moderates, like former centrist presidential candidate François Bayrou.

In response, Valls said he would personally present the bill to Parliament, with Taubira on hand only to explain the legal aspects involved.

Out of sync

Taubira, 63, a veteran politician and razor-sharp orator from French Guiana, has long been the bane of French conservatives. She enraged many on the right by spearheading France’s gay marriage law in 2013, and since then has often been accused of being soft on crime.

While a majority of French people support gay marriage and the available statistics counter claims that Taubira is emptying out the country’s prisons, her struggle to march to the same beat as the government has given critics fresh ammunition.

After a French gendarme killed a young environmentalist during a protest in October 2014, Taubira was uncharacteristically silent, only breaking her self-imposed isolation to deliver what appeared to be an awkward defence of the 21-year-old activist via her Twitter account.

And only last week, amid the uproar over her opposition to stripping French nationality from some citizens, she once again appeared to be wildly out of sync with the government during a foiled knife attack at a police station in northern Paris.

The justice minister said the attacker – who was shot dead by police outside the station – did not bear the hallmarks of “religious radicalization”. Only moments later police sources told the AFP news agency that the assailant had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Sunday said that while the attacker had a handwritten note claiming he acted on behalf of the jihadist group, the evidence suggested he had no accomplices.

Sticking together

So far the government has resisted calls for her ouster. Cazeneuve said the justice minister had “continued her work” on the constitutional bill to strip French nationality from terrorists, despite her declarations to the press.

It was an idea that was repeated almost word-for-word by Socialist Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadélis on Monday.

According to Bruno Cautrès, a professor at the prestigious Science Po university, Hollande needs Taubira to stick around. Her presence in the cabinet proves to constituents – and even members of his own Socialist Party – that he is still at the head of a left-wing government.

Amid a shift toward the political centre since Valls became prime minister two years ago, and criticism that the Socialist government has abandoned the cause of civil liberties and the working class, firing Taubira would be “too costly”, according to the French politics expert.

“She proves that the government is still on the left, which will be very important for [the] 2017 [presidential election],” Cautres added.

Meanwhile, it does not appear Taubira is ready to split with Hollande either. In a Tweet last week she presented her own view of the situation: “I have never made my own position a secret. But the President has the first and last word.”

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