France’s Taubira hopes to rally divided left against Macron

France's well-liked former justice minister on Saturday launched her bid to unify the floundering French left and challenge President Emmanuel Macron at April presidential elections, but faces a slew of competing candidates reluctant to cede the limelight.

France's former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira delivers a speech in front of supporters in the Croix-Rousse district of Lyon, eastern France, on January 15, 2022.
France's former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira delivers a speech in front of supporters in the Croix-Rousse district of Lyon, eastern France, on January 15, 2022. Photo: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

“I’m committing myself here before you because I share your aspiration for another kind of government,” the former minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande (2012-17) told supporters in Lyon at the official launch of her campaign.

Taubira blasted “top-down power and absence of social dialogue” under Macron, promising to fight for higher wages, better conditions for school pupils and students, the health service and environmental protection.

The 69-year-old, born in the French South American territory of Guyana where she served as an MP, is admired on the left after fighting for a law recognising the slave trade as a crime against humanity, and for piloting same sex marriage onto the statute books in 2013 as justice minister.

“We will do all of this together, because that’s what we’re capable of,” she told a cheering crowd brandishing signs reading “With Taubira”.

But she risks becoming just one among six candidates scrambling for votes among the roughly 30 percent of the electorate that leans left.

They range from firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon — the best-rated in polls compiled by the JDD weekly at close to 10 percent — to Greens candidate Yannick Jadot and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo at 6.5 and 3.5 percent.

A January poll credited Taubira with around 4.5 percent support.

On the right, three challengers — conservative Valerie Pecresse, traditional far-right leader Marine Le Pen and insurgent TV pundit Eric
Zemmour — have some prospect of taking on incumbent Macron in the election’s second round.

Although yet to declare his candidacy, the president himself enjoys the highest first-round poll ratings at around one in four voters.

Taubira’s backers argue that she has the power to stoke “ardour” among left-wingers, who have been the biggest losers from the collapse of the traditional left-right political divide since Macron’s shock 2017 presidential win.

The former minister “wants to be the antidote to the weariness among left voters, who can’t stand any more fragmentation,” said Christian Paul, a Taubira supporter and mayor of the small town of Lormes in central France.

One tool Taubira has bet on is a so-called “People’s Primary” that will crown the favoured left-wing candidate of around 120,000 registered voters.

But while she has pledged to respect the result, the other candidates have refused to sign up to the process.

READ MORE: Christiane Taubira ‘envisages’ entering French presidential race

Member comments

  1. Could someone explain to me French politics ?

    The President seems to be all powerful, somewhat dictatorial, whilst the Prime Minister seems to have zero power and just does what he is told, but I could be completely wrong !

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EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

As energy prices soar around Europe, France is the notable exception where most people have seen no significant rise in their gas or electricity bills - so what lies behind this policy? (Hint - it's not just that the French would riot if their bills exploded).

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

On most international comparisons of rising energy prices, France is the outlier – but the government control of energy prices is not in fact a new policy and was in place well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent gas and electricity prices soaring.

At present prices for domestic gas are frozen at 2021 levels and electricity prices can only increase four percent per year. According to economy minister Bruno Le Maire, without these measures French bills would have risen by 60 percent for gas and 45 percent for electricity.

Both these measures – collectively known as the bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield) – are in place until at least the end of 2022, and could be extended into 2023.

The extension of the price shield was confirmed by parliament earlier in August – part of a €65 billion package of measures aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis – but had been in place for much longer.

Tariff shield

The reason that gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels is that the freeze came into effect on November 1st 2021 – well before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The measure was initially put in place to help people deal with the economic after-effects of the pandemic, but was extended in the spring of 2022, when electricity prices were also capped at four percent.

Price regulation

But although prolonged price freezes are unusual, the French government involvement in price-setting is completely normal and during non-freeze periods, a rate is set each month.

If you read French media (or The Local), you’ll notice regular articles on ‘what changes next month’ which include gas and electricity prices, usually expressed as a month-on-month percentage rise or fall. This refers to the maximum rate that utility companies are allowed to increase their charges per month.

The government-set rate refers to the basic price plan from EDF. Some people are on special deals or time-limited tariffs, so if their deal or payment plan ends and they go back onto the basic rate, they can see a rise above the government rate.

Around 85 percent of households in France get their electricity from EDF. 

READ MORE: Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%

State-owned utilities

So, why is the government involved? Well, it’s the majority stakeholder in EDF, the country’s largest electricity supplier, and owns Gaz de France (Engie). 

At present EDF isn’t completely state owned – although there are plans to fully nationalise it – but it owns 84 percent.

The French state owns a lot of service and utility companies including the country’s rail provider SNCF, postal service La Poste and France Télévisions. One notable exception is the country’s autoroutes, which are run by private companies, although the government sets limits on toll charges. 


France is less exposed to energy shocks than some other European countries because of its nuclear sector.

It is unusual among European nations in the size of its nuclear industry – around 70 percent of electricity comes from its own domestic nuclear power plants, although during the heatwave several plants have had to lower output as rivers have become too hot to effectively cool the reactors. There are also ongoing technical issues that have seen some of the older plants shut down or forced to lower output.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear?

France is usually a net exporter of electricity, but at peak times it has to import electricity, usually via the high-priced international spot market.

It does, however, import its gas, mostly via pipeline – in 2020 its biggest supplier was Norway, followed by Russia.

The French government has launched a sobriété energetique (energy sobriety) plan to cut its total energy consumption by 10 percent this year, which it hopes will allow it to get through the winter without Russian gas. 


Even before the recent €65 billion aid package, the French government was taking a pro-active role in helping people deal with rising prices – from the price shield to fuel rebates for drivers, €100 grants for low-income households and financial aid for industries such as agriculture and logistics so they could avoid passing prices on the consumers.

Cynics say this happened for two reasons – because there were elections in April and June and because the French would riot if their utility bills suddenly doubled.

There’s a kernel of truth in both – cost of living became a major issue in the April presidential elections and one that far-right leader Marine Le Pen very much made her own from early in the campaign, leaving Emmanuel Macron slightly on the back foot, although in truth his government had already introduced several measures to ease the burden on ordinary voters.

It’s also true that the French have a robust approach to holding their government to account, and high living costs have previously inspired noisy and sometime violent protests – the ‘yellow vest’ movement of 2018 and 19 began as a protest over living costs.

But it’s also true that the French State is generally quite involved in people’s everyday lives – as evidenced by those monthly gas and electricity price rates – and taking a laissez-faire approach such as that seen in the UK would be unusual for any French government, even outside of election season.