France: Macron Faces Backlash Over U-Turn On Legal Definition Of Rape


By Clara Bauer-Babef 

(EurActiv) — In a video seen by AFP on Wednesday (13 March), French President Emmanuel Macron said he was in favour of including the notion of consent in the criminal definition of rape – a significant U-turn, given that France opposed the idea in an EU directive in February.

On 8 March, to mark International Women’s Day, Macron met members of the feminist association Choisir la cause des femmes, founded by Gisèle Halimi, an activist on access to abortion in France.

Asked by the association’s president Violaine Lucas about the notion of consent in rape cases, the head of state replied: “I’m going to enshrine it in French law.”

“I fully agree that it should be incorporated into French law, that consent should be enshrined,” he added in the video authenticated by AFP.

Currently, in France, rape is considered to be a sexual act committed on a person under threat, duress, surprise and/or violence. Macron wants to amend French law to explicitly include the notion of consent – as is already the case in several other EU countries such as Spain and Belgium.

“The fight against sexual violence is one of the great failures of French criminal policy,” the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) told Euractiv.

“A change in criminal law will make it possible to change judicial practices to better accommodate the suffering of victims and increase the number of convictions for rape,” the CNCDH added.

However, the president’s comments have caused a stir since they are in total contradiction with the French position on the European directive to combat violence against women.

Adopted last February, the initial text, proposed by the European Commission and adopted by Parliament, included a definition of rape based on the notion of consent.

But France fought, alongside Hungary, Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands, to remove the definition of rape from the directive, and won.

Adding the notion of consent would risk “contractualising sexual relations”, French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti explained at a Senate hearing in February.

“The only person responsible is the rapist. The major risk is to place the burden of proof of consent on the victim,” he added.

“Instrumentalisation” and “cynicism”

After fighting so forcefully to exclude the definition, Macron’s about-turn one month later has come under fire.

“We fought for two years to convince France of the importance of adopting this European definition of rape” according to which a sexual act without consent is rape, MEP Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé (EPP), her group’s rapporteur on the directive, told Euractiv.

“For months, Eric Dupond-Moretti has been explaining to us […] that incorporating the notion of consent into the Criminal Code would be absolutely counterproductive and dangerous for women victims, since it would place the burden of proof on them,” she wrote in a press release.

“What an instrumentalisation of the cause of women just a few weeks before the European elections!” she concluded.

For his part, Raphaël Glucksmann (S&D) wondered on X: “Why, then, did he oppose the European definition in the directive on violence against women? It’s crazy to change course so often…”.

Green senator Mélanie Vogel denounced Macron’s “cynicism”. After blocking the definition in the European directive, “suddenly, on 8 March, the president feels compelled to make this statement”, she wrote on her X account.

The CNCDH said France lost credibility with its European partners by opposing the notion of consent in the directive, only to “do a U-turn on the wing” a few months later.

“But too late! All this leaves a bitter taste because it will not be without consequences for France’s image,” the group concluded.


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