New boss of RENEW at odds with Macron on gender-violence

By Paula Soler

EU Observer (25.01.2024) – The new head of the liberal Renew Europe group, French MEP Valérie Hayer, has distanced herself from French president Emmanuel Macron and the French delegation’s position on an EU directive to combat violence against women.

The directive was first proposed on 8 March 2022 and — after four trilogues — it has been stalled at Council level.

About 15 member states (including Italy, Spain, Poland and Sweden) are currently in favour of including rape as an offence in the final text, said lead MEP Frances Fitzgerald, of the centre-right European People’s Party, during a parliament committee on Wednesday (24 January).

But with two big countries, France and Germany opposed, this is not enough to secure a qualified majority — meaning the key parliamentary demand has failed.

“This is a big shame,” co-rapporteur Evin Incir (Socialists & Democrats) told fellow MEPs in the committee, where both rapporteurs confirmed that member states will not agree to the inclusion of rape in the final text.

France has been one of the countries opposed to a consent-based rape legislation [ie, only ‘yes’ means yes], citing legal concerns about the EU’s powers in criminal law.

Asked about the directive, Hayer (dressed in purple, the colour representing the fight for gender equality) and member of Macron’s own Renaissance party, said it was a difficult question for her, adding that both the Renew and French positions were clear. “We [Renew and the French delegation] are in favour of this directive,” she told EUobserver in an interview.

However, on the decision to exclude rape from the final text, she simply said: “We don’t have the same position”.

The directive is still expected to be negotiated and adopted in a final trilogue, where leading MEPs are keen to include a review clause so that the option of including rape as an offence can be further explored in the future.

“The direction we should move on is making what we have as strong as we possibly can,” Fitzgerald said.

“This is not a white paper, there are successes, but not as many as the parliament would have wanted,” the socialist MEP added.Only second-ever female leader

Earlier on Thursday, the French MEP’s nomination was fully endorsed by all members of Renew Europe, making Hayer, 37, their youngest leader ever and only the second woman to lead the liberal group.

Hayer’s appointment comes just two weeks after her predecessor, Stéphane Séjourné, was sworn in as France’s new foreign minister — but also as opinion polls are predicting dwinding support for the party in the upcoming June European elections.

According to a recent study, Renew is expected to lose 15 seats (86), which would make it the fourth-largest force in parliament, after the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, and closely followed by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group on 85 seats.

Nevertheless, the newly-elected president says she’s confident.

“I’m sure our results will be more important than the polls are saying now,” Hayer told EUobserver. “We will fight against populism (…), and we’ll have new colleagues from other countries”.

As the current third force in the parliament, Renew decided to send a message of continuity by appointing Hayer, but also one of “hope”, she told EUobserver in an interview.

“I think I’m proof that you can come from the countryside, be young, be a woman and arrive at the top positions,” the Hayer said.

The last time the group was led by a woman was in the late 1980s by Simone Veil, a French lawyer and politician who was also the first woman to be president of the European parliament, back in 1979.

“It’s a very important message for all young women and young people in Europe that you can have responsibility, even if you think you don’t have all the chances at the beginning,” she added, after almost five years as an MEP for Macron’s Renaissance party.

A daughter of farmers, Hayer was a local councillor in her home region of France before joining the European parliament.

Today, the MEP is best known for her work on the EU budget and the negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), but she has also been active in mobilising civil society in France, protecting the rule of law and LGBT rights.

Photo: European Parliament