The French socialists sign an agreement in principle with Mélenchon that threatens the party’s fragile unity | International
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French socialists prepare to take a leap into the unknown. The party of presidents François Mitterrand and François Hollande, extremely weakened after the presidential elections in April, reached an agreement in principle for the June legislative elections with La France Insumisa (LFI), the eurosceptic and anti-capitalist formation today hegemonic on the French left.
“There is an agreement in principle between the rebellious and socialist delegations,” announced Adrien Quatennens, LFI coordinator, on the France Info network. The Socialist Party (PS) justified it with the aim of “preventing Emmanuel Macron from continuing his unjust policy and brutal” and “defeat the extreme right”.
The principle of agreement to present joint candidacies and a shared program on June 12 and 19 must be submitted to the National Council of the PS, something like the party’s parliament. The meeting is convened for 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, in order to present the candidates and the program on Saturday. In the meantime, the fragile socialist unity may fall apart.
“I feel sad. It is the end of a long story”, reacted by telephone Alain Bergounioux, veteran socialist, historian of the party and former member of the National Council. And he added: “The explosion of what remains of the PS is inevitable.”
There have been in the recent past other agreements between the multiple French lefts. But the Socialists, members of the social democratic family in the EU, were at the helm. Now, who legitimately takes command, thanks to his 7.7 million votes in the first round of the presidential election on April 10, is a former socialist minister who in the last decade and a half, after breaking with the PS, has created a powerful movement analogous to Podemos in Spain. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the undisputed leader of LFI, is a politician who has vindicated the label of populist, who has said he avoids declaring himself on the left because the term “creates more confusion than clarity” and who has pointed to “chavismo” as a “source of inspiration”.
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In the first round of the presidential elections, the socialist candidate, Anne Hidalgo, obtained a historical minimum of 1.7%. Mélenchon, with 21.9%, was third, some 400,000 votes short of going to the second round. And he established himself as the hegemonic force on the left, a role that the socialists occupied for decades.
Leading figures in the party, such as former Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, have announced that they will tear up the card. Others, such as Stéphane Le Foll, mayor of Le Mans, have said that they will present dissenting candidates without respecting what was agreed with LFI.
In their vision of Europe, transatlantic relations and economic reformism, many of these leaders are closer to the centrist Emmanuel Macron, re-elected in the second round of the presidency on April 24, than to Mélenchon. Macron could try to fish among the dissidents to seek a reinforced majority in the future National Assembly.
“Since when to join is to submit?” Stéphane Troussel, a member of the National Socialist bureau and supporter of the pact, responded in a radio interview. “Either it is an agreement or we have to go towards the macronia”.
The agreement includes a common program that would lower the retirement age from the current 62 years to 60, increase the minimum wage from 1,302 to 1,400 euros net per month, and freeze the prices of basic necessities. It would also abolish the labor reform adopted in 2016 by a PS president, government and National Assembly.
The main stumbling block in the PS, a fundamental force in the construction of Europe, is Mélenchon’s promise of a “concerted rupture” with the treaties of the European Union. In his program for the presidential elections in April, the LFI leader promised a “confrontation” with the European institutions and a “disobedience” of the common rules.
The text of the agreement relativizes the differences on the EU. “Because of our histories, some of us talk about disobeying, others about temporarily repealing,” he reads. “But we share a common goal: to put an end to the liberal and productivist course of the European Union and build a new project at the service of the ecological and solidary bifurcation.”
Many in the socialist ranks realize that, in their current situation, they are not in a position to demand too much. And that the only way to be heard in the next National Assembly and avoid definitive extinction is to join the so-called New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES) led by Mélenchon.
The agreement, negotiated by the leaders of both parties, contemplates a distribution of candidacies in the legislative ones. The PS would have 70 constituencies out of 577. The other parties that have also joined the pact, Europe Ecology-The Greens and the Communist Party, would respectively obtain 100 and 50 constituencies.
The idea is that, in order not to divide the vote, the leftist parties present a single candidate. Once elected, each party could have its group in the National Assembly. But they would act as a coalition. And if they are in the majority, they want to make Mélenchon prime minister.
“It is a programmatic surrender and in terms of constituencies,” former PS First Secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadélis told Europe 1 on Wednesday. Former President Hollande said last week: “I think this deal will not be accepted. If it is accepted, it means that the PS will have decided to disappear”.
Olivier Faure, first secretary of the PS and promoter of the agreement, defended himself on Sunday on France Info radio: “These people should ask themselves some questions.” And he pointed to the generation of Hollande and Cambadélis as responsible for the policies that led to the electoral debacle of 2017, prologue to the collapse of 2022.
Ideological and generational battle
There is a generational battle in the Socialist Party, between those who ruled until 2017 and those who have taken over. But it is also an ideological battle, which runs through the history of this formation. On one side, the social democratic, pro-European and Atlanticist line. On the other, the leftist line that finds it easier to identify with Mélenchon’s populist left.
A pragmatic argument is planned on this debate, which goes beyond ideologies and generations. How to keep the PS alive?
The PS still governs in five of the 13 French regions, as well as in some of the country’s main cities. Mélenchon has none. In the current National Assembly, elected five years ago, the PS has 29 deputies out of 577. LFI has 17.
In a poll published on Tuesday, the Harris Institute indicates that, if the legislative elections are held now, Macron would obtain a large majority of seats (between 338 and 378). He would be followed by the extreme right of Marine Le Pen and other small parties (between 110 and 140). And, in third place, the union of the left (between 70 and 90). Another poll, by Ifop, indicates that 67% of French people want the opposition to be a majority in the National Assembly and to impose a government of a different color from that of the president.
The polls are premature when there is more than a month to go before the elections. When the alliances and the candidates in each constituency are known, everything will be clearer. With the PS in the UVI, their bosses have concluded that they already have little to lose.
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