'Manterrupting': French PM under fire over surprise debate appearance

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, left, has been accused of sidelining his party's lead European candidate Valerie Hayer (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN)
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, left, has been accused of sidelining his party's lead European candidate Valerie Hayer (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN)

France's prime minister on Monday faced accusations of deliberately seeking to eclipse the head of the ruling party's list in European elections when he unexpectedly appeared on a stage where she was taking part in a radio debate.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal strolled into Franceinfo's radio debate with lead candidates amid an exchange between the anchor and the head of the ruling party's list for the June 9 polls Valerie Hayer.

Hayer has largely failed to score with the public in the campaign for the election where the French far right appear set to score a victory in a major setback for the ruling Renaissance party of President Emmanuel Macron.

"Hello, sorry I'm bursting onto the stage," Attal told the audience as Hayer looked on, saying it was important to him to address the young people watching and to "encourage Valerie".

He then launched into a short stump speech on how many key issues like climate change "can only be tackled through Europe".

Asked by the anchor if he was worried about Hayer in the elections, Attal replied: "I am worried about Europe" and noted the rise of the far right.

"This is the new 'phone a friend' lifeline that (Hayer) seems to be using more and more," said Francois-Xavier Bellamy, candidate for the conservative Republicans party who was next to speak in the debate, referring to the quiz show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

"Clearly people around her think they're better at campaigning... there's a bit of a macho aspect to all this," he said.

The head of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party's list for the elections Manon Aubry posted a video of the event calling it the "definition of mansplaining".

LFI MP Raquel Garrido called the incident "mansplaining or, to be more precise, manterrupting", using an American English neologism coined by feminists.

- 'By my side' -

Attal had already faced accusations of blatantly eclipsing the head of his party's list when he, not Hayer, took part last month in a televised TV debate with far-right National Rally lead candidate Jordan Bardella.

The 28-year-old's challenge to Attal, 35, France's youngest and first openly gay premier, has been cast as a battle for dominance of the next generation of French politics.

Three-time RN presidential candidate Marine Le Pen called the incident "truly shameful" adding that Attal would "have never allowed that if the candidate was a man".

But writing on X, Hayer lashed out at opponents accusing Attal of sexism.

"Instrumentalising the feminist cause only harms it. Real sexism is believing you can think for me," she wrote adding she was "proud" to have Attal "by my side" in the campaign.

The incident was however the latest bump for the ruling party's campaign in the election, with polls showing the RN scoring over double the total of Renaissance.

In another blow late last week, France's debt was downgraded by ratings agency S&P.

An Ipsos poll released Monday suggested 33 percent of people could vote for the RN list in the June 9 polls with Renaissance on 16 percent only just ahead of the chasing Socialists.

The government on Monday faced two confidence motions in parliament put forward by the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) and the far-right National Rally (RN).

But both fell short of the 289 votes needed for an overall majority to unseat the government as the Republicans as expected refused to support them.

Macron has also been attacked for using the weight of his office to intervene in the campaign, including with a major speech on Europe in April.

He will again dominate news bulletins this week when he hosts world leaders including US President Joe Biden to mark 80 years since the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Macron will give a prime-time TV interview from Normandy Thursday when he is expected to address the elections, the war in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.