In under two weeks, a deeply-indifferent France will finally arrive at the moment not too many care about. The 9th set of Euro-Elections for the little-loved European Parliament.
Few, excepting those directly involved, ever get really excited by Euro-Elections. However, pollsters Ifop-Fiducial say half the electorate declare themselves ‘interested’, with 20% having ‘lots’ of interest. Really? Maybe ‘academic’ interest? Polls consistently tell us that barely 40% will definitely vote, so the turnout may be even lower than the 2014 Euro-Elections 42.4%. [Turnout should be higher in Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg and 3 Austrian regions where voting’s compulsory. Pat on the back if you knew that bit of trivia. P.S. Luxembourgers aged 70+ are excused.]
But it looks radically different when you look at the would-be Euro-politicians.
34 different party lists. Each list with 79 candidates for France’s 79 Euro-MPs. Except that (initially?) only 74 French Euro-MPs will go to the European Parliament. France’s last 5 Euro-MPs will have to await … Brexit. Overall, that’s a record number of candidates. And every list had to be approved by France’s Interior Ministry as fit to stand, with lots drawn by the Ministry as to which list receives which number.
Originally, there were only to be 33 lists. However, a week after the official closing date, the Council of State endorsed one extra list. To the suspicious fury of the ultra-right, that 34th list was from the Union of French Democratic Muslims. More evidence for the fruitcakes that France’s institutions aren’t what they were.
Every party fighting the Euro-Elections needs a minimum €200K. That’s the cost of 34 million ballot papers for each party list put into every polling station. And to recover their campaign costs, a list must win 3% of the national vote. So that’ll be 26, maybe 27, ‘parties’ that’ll be doing some serious fund-raising from late May.
For these Euro-elections, the country’s not broken down into multiple constituencies. France’s Euro-MPs represent France. In the previous 3 Euro-Elections, France had been divided into regional constituencies. But this time (unlike Ireland, Italy, Poland and UK with their regional constituencies, and Belgium’s ‘linguistic’ constituencies), President Macron decided on National Elections. He wanted a National Fight with Le Pen. He’s got one. And he’s been sucked into a difficult fight to win.
France is one of 10 EU countries which have picked the highest permissible threshold for electing Euro-MPs. So France’s Euro-MPs will be allocated proportionally to all party lists getting at least 5% of the vote. Also, because party lists have to name women and men alternately, there should be near-gender-parity in the total Euro-MPs elected.
Party lists range the full spectrum of French politics. All the way from
- the ultra-right ‘Patriots and Gilets jaunes‘ Frexit list, which includes a 62-year-old gilet jaune-wearing ‘ex’-public servant turned TV personality; he was ‘temporarily relieved’ of his job in central France in 2008 … a decade later he’s still being paid €31,000 p.a. as a ‘temporarily-non-job-holding’ public servant, through to
- the Parti Communiste Revolutionnaire de France (PCRF). PCRF’s apparatchiks found 79 candidates … but they want nothing so bourgeois as people’s votes. The PCRF calls on its supporters to declare a positive ‘none of the above’ abstention by voting blanc. This is achieved by either placing an empty voting envelope in the ballot box or putting a blank piece of paper in the envelope. PCRF voters must resist the temptation of writing a catchy PCRF revolutionary slogan on the paper (eg ‘The EU, a capitalist inter-State union, represents poverty and exploitation for the largest number’) and putting it in their voting envelope. That counts as a vote nul … a far weaker protest against the system. Thus, as the PCRF pithily announces, le vote blanc sera le vote rouge. [Further electoral reminder for potential PCRF voters: tearing up party lists of class enemies to stuff them in the voting envelope also produces a vote nul, not a vote blanc.]
To ensure that each of the 34 party lists gets a fair and equal hearing, TV and radio will put out all 34 party political broadcasts between 13-24 May. At midnight. Every night. A major boost to late-night viewing.
For those preferring to do their research online – rather than hoping to meet someone actually involved in the Euro-Elections – every candidates’ list and party programme is available online thanks to the Interior Ministry.
Who will win France’s Euro-Elections? There are several distinct battles.
- Macron v Le Pen (rematch following Macron’s previous Presidential Election win by a knock-out). In the light of President Macron’s earlier newspaper appeal to all EU citizens for a ‘European Renaissance’, it was only to be expected that his Euro-Election list should, modestly, be named ‘Renaissance’. In the face-off for ‘first place bragging rights’ is Le Pen’s ultra-right ‘Take Power’ list. Now, in the 2014 Euro-Elections, the Front National ‘won’ with 25% of the vote. That was the first FN ‘victory’ in a national election. And that victory gained the FN further credibility as Le Pen continued Project Whitewash, ridding the party of its most overtly anti-semitic and neo-fascist tropes (aka her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen). Marine Le Pen would, doubtless, capitalise on being the leader of ‘France’s N° 1 party’. She’s already said that if her party wins Macron should resign, calling these Euro-Elections as a ‘referendum for or against Emmanuel Macron’.
- Who’ll be third? We present Les Républicains. Back from the near-dead. Indeed, they would seem to have more right to use that ‘Renaissance’ title. In the last Euro-Elections, their predecessor right-of-centre party, the UMP, won 21%. The Right nearly repeated that feat when their Presidential candidate François Fillon stumbled over the Election finishing line in 3rd place, with 20% (behind Macron’s 24% and Le Pen’s 21%). Since 2017, though, the Right has been mired in a wilderness of unpopular indifference and seen as increasingly irrelevant.
- Now we turn to fights on the much-divided Left. Will fourth place be taken by hard-left Mélenchon’s Unbowed France (with ecology suddenly at its programme’s heart – although its position on remaining in the EU should it fail to win fundamental reforms is highly nuanced, ie impossible to comprehend) or by Europe Ecology/Greens? Jadot, leader of the Greens, has tried to mark out a non-aligned position for his party, attempting to attract those disappointed by Macron. Jadot describes his party as ‘favourable to free enterprise and the market economy’.
- Will a once-powerful Socialist Party drop below the all-important 5% threshold?
- And there are lots of also-rans: a couple of gilets jaunes lists; ‘Royal France at the Heart of Europe’ – they want to ‘mobilise the French, especially those who don’t vote, for a France united around its king’ [no mention of a queen]; every type of far-right/ultra-right headbanger, including ‘The Courage to Defend the French’, far outstripping the ultra-left head-cases; ‘Allons Enfants‘ pro-Europeans, all under the age of 30; a Citizens’ Referendum list [by glorious happenstance, last week the Constitutional Council blocked the Government’s proposed privatisation of Aeroports de Paris (owners of CdG, Orly and Le Bourget and 10 small Greater Paris airports) by approving the demand of 11 different Parliamentary political groups to establish the organisation of a referendum. Now all that’s needed are 4.7 million voters to sign up by February 2020. That would oblige the Government to hold a referendum. Maybe President Macron is reflecting on his idea of lowering the signature threshold to a derisory million. Let the signing begin]; Esperantists; women’s rights; animals’ rights; and ‘The Forgotten of Europe’ to wit ‘artisans, shopkeepers and the self-employed’ (sic).
Election Fever on the Streets
Last Sunday, at the market, the Euro-Elections had a serious impact on the streets. Representatives of 3 of those 34 party lists were on the streets.
This Sunday, again, three parties were out. Animals, Républicains … and the mighty steamroller En Marche pour l’Europe … Pour la Renaissance de l’Europe, complete with the local En Marche Deputy handing out leaflets and flesh-squeezing.
The President’s party has so much money they’ve probably produced individual leaflets for every French Department. ‘What’s Europe ever done for me?’ Well, now I have an answer. Their leaflet informs me that, in our own Department, Europe invested €75k for young farmers to develop organic farming in a priority urban zone, and €1.4 million for creating an eco-buildings/eco-industries project. Apart from the leaflet, I also got a 32-page booklet, containing Renaissance’s 79 policy proposals, choice extracts from President Macron’s ‘Letter to Europe’, plus a picture of The President meeting The People, all under the stirring headline: ‘Liberty, Protection, Progress. A European Renaissance must be founded on these principles.’
Euro-Elections are difficult to fight. Regardless (almost) of the campaign, there’ll be a low turn-out. It’s difficult to get (m)any voters to think there’s much at stake. Above all, there’s a complex dynamic between (i) the lead spokesperson, N° 1 on their party’s list of candidates and (ii) the actual Party leader hovering over all, whose own far more important future is bound up with the spokesperson’s performance.
Maybe in an attempt to deal with that issue, three major parties chose a (relatively) bright young (unknown) thing as spokesperson and Lead Candidate:
- Les Républicains alighted on an essayist, teacher and philosopher, Bellamy (age 33), active opponent of same-sex marriage, of whom Marion Maréchal Le Pen [Evil Ultra-Right Niece of Marine Le Pen] mischievously said Bellamy’s nomination demonstrated ‘a line of thinking ever closer to the Front National’, making easier an alliance between the Right and the Far Right
- Le Pen picked National Rally spokesperson Bardella (age 23) – but Marine Le Pen is everywhere to be seen. These Euro-Elections are a helpful stepping stone on the way to the 2022 Presidential Election. Le Pen’s disastrous debate against Macron during the last Presidential Election seems long in the past. The Euro-policies of the National Rally are now less incoherent. Le Pen no longer talks about taking France out of the EU. There’s also to be no withdrawal from the Euro. But the EU is still the cause of France’s ills. Le Pen refers to the ‘UERSS‘ (eliding the French abbreviations for European Union and USSR) being responsible for ‘a cemetery of betrayed promises’ and ‘an economic, social and identity Chernobyl’.
- Hard-left Mélenchon (France Unbound) chose Aubry (age 29) former Oxfam France spokesperson on tax evasion.
However, President Macron entrusted leadership of his list to Nathalie Loiseau. She’s a 54-year-old ex-Foreign Ministry public servant, ex-Director of the to-be-abolished ultra-elite National School of Administration (ENA) and ex-Minister of European Affairs. She’s never led (nor could have dreamed of leading) a challenging political campaign. Readers of this blog may recall Loiseau coming to our town recently (before her elevation to Acting Euro-Leader) to speak about the Euro-Elections. Even granting her bad cold, she effortlessly destroyed any Euro-enthusiasm with her uninspiring diction.
It is thanks to the estimable Mme Loiseau that we’ve been offered one of the rare bits of entertainment through the near-endless tedium up until today’s Official Euro-Campaign gun was fired at midnight.
Loiseau has frequently identified herself, especially debating with Le Pen on TV, as the bulwark against nationalists in general and the French ultra-right in particular. But, recently, we learnt (thanks to highly-informed investigative website Mediapart) that Mme Loiseau enjoyed a colourful political youth. [Mediapart is successfully run by prickly ex-Le Monde editor, Plenel – one of 2 interviewers who gave President Macron a 160 minute TV grilling a year ago.]
Mediapart revealed that Mme Loiseau, a mere 34 years ago, was a candidate in student elections on an extreme-ultra-right list of candidates. That list, said Mediapart, emerged from the GuD, a violent ultra-right groupuscule.
Initially, this revelation was strongly denied. Then, confronted by a document presented by Mediapart, Mme Loiseau recognised her ‘mistake’. She had ‘completely forgotten that episode’.
She then said she’d been ‘approached about joining a list [of candidates] so as to reinforce diversity at the University of Political Sciences, which at the time was almost non-existent. They were looking for women’. She had agreed to stand as a favour for a friend. She also claimed she hadn’t, at the time, understood the full political colour of the movement on whose list she was a candidate. [STUDENT POLITICS NOTE: these events occurred whilst Loiseau was a student at l’Institut d’études politiques (the clue may be found in the title of her educational establishment).]
Next day, Loiseau was back-pedalling. ‘Appearing on a list with people of the far right was a vraie connerie‘ [utterly idiotic thing to do] which she ‘regretted’. It was ‘a mistake one makes when young’. Loiseau then went all out to show she’d spent her entire career fighting the ultra-right. She then thought an ad hominem attack on Plenel might be a useful diversionary tactic. She wouldn’t, she said, accept criticism from a ‘Maoist’ who’d defended Black September’s attacks during the 1972 Olympics. Plenel agreed that, like Sartre, he’d defended Black September at the time as ‘revolutionaries’ … but, he reminded her, she should know he actually was a Trotskyist at the time.
It went on. Loiseau accused Mediapart (‘A publication I detest’) of having got the story from ultra-right scandal-rag Minute and accused Plenel of being the ‘useful idiot’ of the far right. Mediapart denied this, saying they’d interviewed Loiseau’s team well before the story was in Minute. A bit of a distraction from Matters European.
For those questioning Mme Loiseau’s political competence, her remarks about the Ecole Nationale d’Administration deserve recounting. When President Macron (her boss) announced ENA’s prospective abolition, she said she was ‘relieved that we’re taking [ENA] apart’ [in the original, she used a graphic metaphor of ‘kicking the anthill’]. According to Mediapart (them again), a couple of years ago, when ENA Director, Loiseau wrote that ‘The destruction of ENA is either a proposal from politicians without ideas or from journalists without culture.’ Opinions change when times change.
There weren’t just problems with Loiseau. Renaissance itself initially announced the unveiling of the election programme on 9 May. Could there be a more appropriate day than the Fête de l’Europe? But for reasons best known to themselves it was brought forward a day. That was really weird. What could they have meant by that? Presenting their programme on 8 May meant that an eager world learnt all about Renaissance’s Euro-proposals on a public holiday. And not just any old public holiday. One commemorating ‘Victory in Europe’ after World War 2.
For a successful Renaissance there first needs to be a Reformation
Ten days ago it seemed that the hoped-for Renaissance might not happen under the impulsion of Mme Loiseau alone.
Alarm bells rang. The President called on the entire Government to mobilise and help in Saving Soldier Loiseau. Everyone within the Renaissance project decided the temperature needed raising. Language had to be sharpened to be much more stark. Last week, Prime Minister Philippe participated in major public meetings, with Loiseau, in Caen and Strasbourg. Also, in Strasbourg, another heavyweight (literally) supporter: President Chirac’s former centre-right Prime Minister, Raffarin.
The programme put out by the President’s Renaissance list interestingly plays the environment card. Ecological transition is N° 1 issue, intending to get €1,000 billion invested by 2024 to make Europe a ‘green power’. Macron’s earlier demand for a European Climate Bank was repeated. Macron then personally announced a series of measures to protect biodiversity.
It seems like only last week when we heard Presidential promises, at his press conference, that Macron would avoid being involved in every decision. (Anyway, it was more than two weeks ago, so scarcely binding.) Now there’s the President’s photo on the Renaissance manifesto. The President’s name’s on the campaign posters. It’s rumoured that the President will participate in a Paris meeting on 24 May. If so, some hope the President will be more generous towards LackLustre Loiseau than the faint praise dished out by Prime Minister Philippe at Strasbourg this weekend, when describing her as ‘clear, calm, reliable, solid and qualified‘.
Prime Minister Philippe, speaking at Caen, said ‘The European idea, the European reality is under attack. It is threatened. If we don’t act, it will be too late.’ Soldier Loiseau – having been to the Caen Memorial, in memory of the 1944 Normandy Landings – used a military metaphor: ‘In 20 days it will be our D-Day. In 20 days we’ll have the choice between retreat and a European Renaissance.’ At least there she was on safer ground there than some of her earlier remarks seen as downplaying homophobia and using language disrespectful to Roms. Altogether a most unfortunate candidacy.
There’ve been 9 polls since 4 May, when the parties’ lists were formally approved.
- The President’s LREM party and Le Pen’s National Rally could hardly be closer, well within the margin of polling error. In 2 polls LREM were just ahead, in 3 it was National Rally, in the other 4 (including the most recent, today) they have exactly the same percentage support. Both parties poll around 22%. Will President Macron really carry through the high-risk strategy of making the Euro-Elections still more of a referendum on himself?
- The Right, represented by Les Républicains, has been consistently polling nearly 14% – pathetically low for a party which ran France for decades, but better than end-2018 when their disastrous leader Wauquiez polled 10%, touching 8% at worst
- Mélenchon’s France Unbound (9%+) seems to have pulled ahead of the Greens (8%) with one (outlier) poll giving France Unbound 10%. But the days when Candidate Mélenchon vied with Fillon for 3rd place in the Presidential Election [Mélenchon ended with 19%, just behind Fillon] are from another era
- The Party Formerly Known As The Socialist Party suffered a Presidential Election setback (profound understatement) when their candidate, Hamon, spectacularly crashed and burned [Hamon then formed a new, more non-existent party, Génération.s, languishing at 2.5% in the polls]. The Socialist Party decided the only way forward was to unite with a new party called Public Place, led by a journalist, Glucksmann. He’d tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade parties to join a single pro-European/anti-liberal list and re-construct the broadly social-democratic fissiparous left. Their joint programme has 120 measures addressed to the ‘orphans of the Left’ which Glucksmann hopes will be ‘the surprise of the Election’. The real surprise would be winning more than 5%, especially after Glucksmann’s inept TV performance in a ‘leaders’ debate’ showed he was no politician.
There’s even been some Fake Poll News. A couple of days ago there was a rumour that several polling companies are only finding between 3-5% support for the President’s Renaissance list. And that the information has been deliberately suppressed by the pollsters, but transmitted privately to Government. Something for silly people on social media to get excited about.
How to vote? That is the question.
So many difficult decisions about my all-important vote. I’ve never voted for anything other than The Left over some 50 years of voting. Will I have to bear the responsibility of Le Pen beating Macron if I don’t vote Macron? Will I personally take the blame for hard-left Mélenchon beating the Greens if I don’t vote Green? Will it be all my fault if the Socialists don’t achieve the 5% threshold just because I didn’t vote Socialist? And is there any way of ‘solving’ more than one of those three problems? So much possible guilt.
But my guilt is somewhat assuaged. I now read that rock-star ecologist Nicolas Hulot (Macron’s Environment Minister, who walked when he finally realised he wasn’t able to influence Government policy) said, in an interview with Italian news magazine, l’Espresso, that he didn’t know which way to vote.
Lucky there’s still a fortnight for reflection, as I depart to ‘study the Euro-Elections’ in Eastern France, Germany and Austria. Back in time for Euro-Election Day.
Today I think I’ll just have to lend my vote to President Macron to help avert a Le Pen mini-disaster. Or maybe I’ll keep the Socialist Party alive. Or …
A European football coda
To close, something that has absolutely nothing to do with either France or politics.
Merely an enjoyable reminder that at the moment of a great English club football victory nothing gives greater satisfaction than letting your rivals know the depth of your contempt for them.
Fans of Tottenham Hotspur – part of the European footballing élite which plays its matches on Wednesday night – revile rival North London team Arsenal. The latter, my team, are alas forced to play on Thursday nights, alongside other European minnows.
Those of an over-sensitive disposition … shouldn’t be on this blog
Reading this blog
Many of you have been kind enough to become ‘followers’ of this blog. That’s hugely appreciated.
However, the occasional confrontation with a thick wodge of unbroken words when I’m, as it were, delivered to you must sometimes be daunting for even the most resolute reader.
Hence my occasional inclusion of links to tweets, YouTube clips, photos. Many of those links show up far more attractively on the website at https://frenchpoliticstoday.wordpress.com.
Thus, at least cosmetically, the dead(ish) weight of all those words is reduced.