Left-wing justice minister Taubira resigns from French government
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Christiane Taubira resigned as France’s justice minister on Wednesday after a tumultuous tenure in which she battled the conservative opposition but also clashed publicly with members of the ruling Socialist government.
Taubira stepped down from one of the French government’s most prestigious jobs after disagreeing with President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls over a constitutional amendment to strip French nationality from dual citizens convicted of terrorism offences.
“Sometimes fighting means staying, sometimes it means leaving. [I’m] staying true to myself – to us,” Taubira said via her Twitter account on Wednesday morning, striking a defiant tone that people have learned to expect from the outspoken political figure.
Earlier this month she told French television that the bill of revoking citizenship – part of a package of reforms intended to help fight home-grown terrorism – was “completely useless” in avoiding future attacks on French soil.
Shortly after her resignation, Taubira told a news conference that she was quitting the government over a “major political disagreement”.
“The terrorist threat is serious and unpredictable, but we have shown ourselves capable of standing up to it,” she said.
“But we must not concede a single victory, be it military, diplomatic, political or even symbolic,” she added in reference to the plans to amend the constitution, a move she said was a betrayal of France’s “republican values”.
Taubira’s exit from the government may aid the president and the prime minister in the short term, but could come back to haunt Hollande and the Socialist Party as they gear up for the 2017 presidential election.
Gay marriage debate
Taubira, 63, is an economist by training with a long political track record. A founder of French Guiana’s Walari party, she has served as a member of France’s parliament since 1993, the European Parliament from 1994 to 1999, and even ran for president in 2002 on the Radical Party of the Left ticket.
Her far-left views nevertheless kept Taubira out of the national spotlight for most of her accomplished career. That was until 2012, when – as Hollande’s newly appointed justice minister – she began spearheading a bill to allow gay couples to marry and adopt in France.
On January 29, 2013, she mounted a passionate endorsement of the law before the National Assembly. It was a defining moment of France’s divisive social debate on gay marriage, making her a star of the LGBT community overnight and confirming her status as a champion of the left.
“She embodies the values of the left as a result of the political battles she picked to fight,” French political scientist Bruno Cuatrès recently told FRANCE 24. “And she does so at a time when the mainstream left seems to have lost its direction, when left-wing voters are seriously questioning the government’s economic and security policies.”
With the gay marriage and adoption law’s passage in April 2013, Taubira unsurprisingly also became a favourite target of the conservative right. Besides accusing her of spearheading a law they said weakened traditional families and threatened the wellbeing of children, conservatives have also accused her of being lax on crime and “emptying” the county’s prisons.
As a black woman and a fierce defender of minorities, Taubira has also been the subject of racist attacks. In October 2013, a member of the far-right National Front party drew censure for likening Taubira to a monkey on Facebook. The culprit was eventually kicked out of the anti-immigration party and was taken to court for the abuse, but it has not been an isolated incident.
Despite the attacks, Taubira has appeared undaunted by the criticism and the insults, snubbing detractors while pushing her agenda within Hollande’s government with steady determination.
Elections on the horizon
In recent weeks Taubira has once again grabbed headlines, but this time for being at odds with her Socialist allies.
"Je ne fais pas mystère de ma position. Mais la parole première et dernière est celle du Président" #TirsCroisés— Christiane Taubira (@ChTaubira) 7 Janvier 2016
On December 22, Taubira said the government had abandoned the constitutional reform that would allow authorities to strip citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorism. The government was forced to deny that it was backtracking, with Prime Minister Valls calling Taubira to order.
Two weeks later she called Hollande’s proposed measure “useless” on a French cable news network.
Hollande and Valls initially resisted calls for her to step down, and even the outspoken Taubira appeared determined to sweep the controversy under the rug. “The president has the first and last word,” she said on Twitter, as Valls announced she would continue to work on the contested legislation.
Several prominent Socialist figures have already left Hollade’s government as it moves closer to the political centre, and some observers had warned that the justice minister’s departure was only a matter of time.
But now that she is out of the government officially, Taubira might be less inclined to offer Hollande the final say.
“We’re probably going to hear much more from her, and maybe she’ll find some allies outside the government – like the Green Party, which has already quit Hollande's government – and others on the left who feel the government is forgetting that it won the [2012 presidential] elections because of the left's support,” said FRANCE 24 politics editor Mark Perelman.
Hollande is expected to seek a second term in 2017, but needs to convince his core constituents that he still holds left-wing credentials.
“If François Hollande wants to be re-elected next year he will probably need the support of other left-wing parties, and especially Taubira’s support,” Perelman added.