The burkini, or full-body swimsuit, is once again at the center of a political row in France as Grenoble city council prepares to debate relaxing rules on swimsuits in outdoor swimming pools.
The rules on swimsuits are strict in the majority of French public swimming pools. For example, men must wear tight running shirts and cannot wear longer board shorts. Currently, in the municipal swimming pools of Grenoble, anti-UV tops are prohibited, except for short-sleeved tops for children under 10, or for adults who present a medical note from their doctor.
Éric Piolle, the green mayor of Grenoble, which sits at the foot of the French Alps, tabled a motion for Monday’s city council meeting to discuss his proposal allowing people to dress “however they like” in the streets. outdoor swimming pools. The new rules would allow both women and men to swim topless and all swimmers to wear full bathing suits, whether for protection from the sun or for their personal religious beliefs.
The right-wing leader of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, has threatened to withdraw all regional funding to the city if the rules are relaxed.
“Mr. Piolle intends to authorize the burkini in municipal swimming pools. I warn him: if he does, the region will cut off all funding to the city of Grenoble,” Wauquiez tweeted. ” Not one penny“Regional money” will fund your submission to Islamism,” he added.
An open letter signed by Jean-Pierre Barbier, the right-wing boss of the department city council and his party’s elected officials said: “The burkini aims, quite simply, to impose Islamist norms at the heart of swimming and public recreation.
Other elected officials signed an open letter opposing full-body swimsuits, which they said represented “the oppression and inferiority of women”. Christophe Ferrari, the former leader of the left-wing socialist party in the Grenoble-Alpes region, opposed the plans and said Piolle was taking part in an “incomprehensible” individual “crusade”.
The line has been gripped ahead of next month’s legislative elections, where newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist group hopes to win a majority but faces the challenge of an alliance of left-wing parties, which is led by Jean- Luc Mélenchon of the radical left and includes Greens and Socialists. On the far right, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is also aiming to increase its seats.
Le Pen has used the burkini line to attack the broad left-wing parliamentary alliance, saying this week that this group included “burkini defenders in swimming pools”.
It’s not the first time full-body swimsuits have sparked a political row just before a key election. In the summer of 2016, as the 2017 presidential election approached, around 30 French seaside resorts banned the burkini on beaches, following an initiative by the right-wing mayor of Cannes. The country’s highest administrative court ruled that the anti-Burkini decrees constituted “a serious and manifestly illegal attack on fundamental freedoms”, including the right to move in public and freedom of conscience.
In Grenoble, Piolle said the new pool rules weren’t just about burkinis and the burkini was “not a problem”. He said the row showed the quality of French public political debate was on a downward spiral. “Stop stigmatizing and discriminating against Muslims in our country,” he said in an interview with France 2 TV.
Piolle said the relaxation of pool rules was aimed at lifting “discriminatory” restrictions in the name of health and equality. “Stop turning women into sex objects by saying what to wear,” he said.
The row has refocused attention on secularism in France, where the republic is built on a strict separation of church and state, intended to foster the equality of all private beliefs. This requires the state to be neutral in matters of religion and leaves everyone free to practice their faith as long as there is no threat to public order.
Piolle said burkinis in swimming pools had nothing to do with French secularism. State officials in France are required not to wear ostentatious religious symbols at work to protect state neutrality, but Piolle said users of public services, such as swimmers, were simply members of the public who were free to dress as they pleased. In a video posted on Twitter, Piolle said: “We want a public service accessible to everyone.”
The proposed new rules for swimwear will be debated at a Grenoble council meeting on May 16.