OPINION: France’s ‘left alliance’ is an optical illusion and Mélenchon will not be PM

Four parties of the French left have formed a pact with the intention of winning a majority in the French parliament and forcing Emmanuel Macron to accept the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon as his prime minister. But, says John Lichfield, the alliance is a mirage and their plan will fail.

OPINION: France's 'left alliance' is an optical illusion and Mélenchon will not be PM
Will Jean-Luc Melenchon really become prime minister? Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the most quarrelsome man in French politics, has achieved something unprecedented in the history of La Gauche Française.

President Emmanuel Macron’s Centre is squabbling. The Right is deeply divided. The most united tribe in French politics as the June parliamentary election approach is the perennially scattered Left.

The Gauche  has often come together to fight elections in the past but always around a consensual, moderate “party of government”. Mélenchon has built an electoral alliance around his own anti-market, anti-Nato, anti-EU, anti-American, anti-German, some say anti-democratic, radical party, La France Insoumise.

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It is an extraordinary achievement. It is also an imposture – an optical illusion, an exercise in trompe d’oeil. The Greens, Communists and Socialists have signed up for the New Popular Ecological and Social Union to save their parliamentary skins.   

Without some kind of deal with Mélenchon – emboldened by his 22 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election – they risked near-exclusion from the new National Assembly.

Worse, they might have to forego their share of the €37 million a year in public subsidies which goes to parties which do well, or even reasonably well, in parliamentary elections.

The Socialist Party, in power until five years ago, has  become a vassal of the Socialist renegade Mélenchon, in order to survive. In doing so, it looks likely to fall apart.

Even before the National Council of the party rubber-stumps the electoral alliance, leading Socialists are jumping ship. They include the party’s last prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve and the President of Brittany, Loïg Chesnais-Girard. Others will follow.

 Some soon-to-be-ex Socialists, including several of the party’s remaining 28 deputés, may run independent campaigns in the first round of the parliamentary elections on June 12th.

The dissidents object to any deal with Mélenchon, a rancorous man who has spent the last 20 years insulting his former Socialist party colleagues. They object in particular to the Eurosceptic, even Europhobic, tone of the common platform adopted by the Ecological and Social Union.

 Although watered down by the Green party (EELV) and then again by the Socialists, it still speaks of “disobeying” or “derogating” (temporarily withdrawing) from European Union rules on the economy (ie free competition and trade) and the size of national budget deficits. It also insists that a putative Left government would never break national or EU law.

How can both be true? They cannot. The Popular Union’s programme is just as dishonest on European Union membership as the manifesto pedalled by the Far Right leader, Marine Le Pen. It implies a kind of Frexit by disobedience: a Red Frexit which dare not speak its name.

Much of the rest of the programme – including returning to 60 as the standard retirement age and freezing fuel and food prices – is also incoherent. It runs counter to the core policies of other non-Mélenchoniste elements of the alliance.

A freeze on fuel prices? Really, Greens? Abandoning nuclear power? Weren’t we told that nuclear energy was precious to the Communists?

But there is an even greater imposture by the Popular Union: the suggestion that it can win an overall majority of the 577 seats in the National Assembly on June 12th and 19th and impose Jean-Luc Mélenchon as prime minister and de facto ruler of France.

There is little likelihood that the Left can win an overall majority of seats. With Mélenchon as self-declared “candidate for Prime Minister” there is no chance at all. The posters created by La France Insoumise with the slogan “Mélenchon Premier Ministre” are an effective campaign tool – for Emmanuel Macron.

The parliamentary elections will be fought by three almost exactly equal forces of Left, Centre and Right.

The Right is hopelessly divided between its two Far Right movements, the Lepennists and the Zemmourists and the weakened and internally split centre-right ex-party-of-government, Les Républicains.

 Each of these parties will run competing candidates in most places in Round One. Their chances of reaching Round Two in enough seats to win a parliamentary majority are zero.

The pro-Macron Centre is divided between four or five parties or factions, including Macron’s own centrist party, La République en Marche. Difficult and bad-tempered negotiations are under way to allocate the 577 seats to a single “Macronist” candidate. They will succeed – eventually.

The Left is nominally united behind Mélenchon’s  Popular Union. Blocs of seats have been allocated to its four main components and a couple of smaller fragments. They will do reasonably well. They will probably win more seats united than they would have won separately. But they will not win a majority.

Why not? In theory more than one candidate can reach round two. But the bar for a third candidate is very high if turnout is, as expected very low. To reach the second round a candidate must score 12.5 percent of the registered electorate in Round one. If turnout is below 50 percent, as seems likely, that means 25 percent of the actual vote or more. There was only one “triangular” second round contest out of 577 five years ago.

In the second round in June wherever a Mélenchon candidate faces a Macron candidate, there will be a surge of right-wing votes to defeat the Mélenchoniste Left. In other words, the parliamentary elections will resemble the presidential elections in reverse. A Harris Interactive poll this week suggested that Macron’s camp might win well over 300 seats and the grand Mélenchon alliance less than 100 – even though the Left may have more votes overall in Round One.

I expect that the outcome on June 19th will be somewhat tighter than that.

Mélenchon repulses many people (including many on the moderate Left). But he also inspires many young people and residents of the multi-racial suburbs, who usually vote little. In the first round of the presidential election, Mélenchon outscored poll predictions because he turned out the young Metropolitan and banlieue vote in larger than expected numbers.

If he can do that again on June 12th (possible but doubtful), the Left can win many more than 100 seats the following week. It might just conceivably help to deny Macron a working majority.

But in rural and better-heeled constituencies, Mélenchon is more scarecrow than pied-piper (cf Jeremy Corbyn). There are not enough Mélenchon-friendly, Metropolitan and suburban seats for the Left to force Macron to surrender de facto power to Mélenchon or any other left-wing prime minister.

Member comments

  1. Melenchon epitomises the political narcissism of the French Left which has brought them to near irrelevance. It’s also a dreadful warning to the British Left (especially Labour) in a ‘Xmas yet to come’ way of where they would have ended up if they had persisted with Corbynism.

  2. I haven’t read such utter twaddle before on this site. For one, the Socialist party stopped being socialist, with voters totally disengaged with their lack of vision in the party. Secondly, Mélenchon has a popular backing and will do well – the advert John refers to in favour Macron is somewhat disingenuous, speaking more to his political inclinations.

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France and Netherlands ink deal on Caribbean ‘footrace frontier’

France and the Netherlands have signed a historic accord demarcating the border between the two countries on the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean.

France and Netherlands ink deal on Caribbean 'footrace frontier'

Around 400 years ago, two groups of runners — one Dutch, one French — are said to have set off from the same point on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin to trace the border between their nations.

Starting from a bay on the east coast and running in opposite directions, the runners in 1648 eventually met on the west coast of the island, with a straight line between the two points forming the international border ever since.

According to the legend, the Gallic runners were faster, handing France by far the larger share of the roughly 90-square-kilometre (35-square-mile) tropical paradise, which they called Saint Martin.

The Netherlands took the southern part, which they named Sint Maarten, with the athletic feat and the peaceful coexistence of the two colonial powers leading to the territory being dubbed the “friendly island”.

The agreement was signed for France on Friday by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and for the Netherlands by Silveria E. Jacobs, prime minister of the autonomous government of Sint Maarten.

“This historic agreement will help facilitate the process of rebuilding the island, which was severely affected by Hurricane Irma in 2017,” the French interior ministry said in a statement.

The text of the agreement “preserves the principle of free movement of goods and persons established by the Concordia accords of March 23, 1648”.

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The agreement also “establishes a joint monitoring commission charged with monitoring and maintaining the border” which had been disputed at its eastern end.

“It illustrates the quality of the friendly relations between France and the Netherlands, eager to reinforce their trusting cooperation on the island of Saint Martin,” it said.

It stressed “the shared desire of the territorial council of Saint Martin and the autonomous government of Sint Maarten to continue to develop their close ties and their joint projects of cross-border cooperation,” it said.

Darmanin is due to travel to Saint Barthelemy, the other island in the north of the French Caribbean.

The island of Saint Martin is divided in two, with a French community in the north and a state under the Dutch kingdom in the south, Sint Maarten.

France’s half of Saint-Martin became a French overseas territory in its own right in 2007, having previously belonged administratively to Guadeloupe, France’s biggest possession in the Caribbean.

It had a population of just over 32,000 in 2020.