France – Percents or Principles?
Fr Lynn Tabak commenting on the first Green primaries in history
Three years after its start Europe Écologie, the coalition of Greens and ngo personalities that has saved French political ecology from a near death experience, has arrived at a decisive point. If it manages to give France’s left and progressive forces enough credibility to beat the ruling president Sarkozy, its mission will be more than accomplished.
The joint enterprise of politicians and civil society started before the European elections, with a combined Verts-civil society list. After two successful elections (16,2% for the Européennes in 2009, 10-13% for the cantonnales in 2010) it resulted in a merging of Les Verts and Europe Écologie into a new parti-coopérative Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV), in November 2010, and the decision to have the ecological candidate for the presidential elections elected by the public, not the party, in primaries in which even non-French citizens living abroad most of the time, like myself, can participate.
These primaries push the process of opening up of the former Verts to its ultimate consequences. Almost 33.000 people have registered to vote, more than twice as many as Europe Écologie has members. So not the former Verts, who still make up most of the active membership, or even the EELV members decide who’ll represent them during France’s most important elections, but we, the outside world. And the quartet we can choose from, counts only one original Vert: Henri Stoll, mayor of the Alsatian village of Kaisersberg. Member of the European Parliament Eva Joly, favoured by most ex-Verts, has only joined as an external candidate after Europe Écologie was born. And former tv presenter Nicolas Hulot and anti-nuclear activist Stéphane LHomme didn’t join at all.
The choice we have to make between June 14 and 23, is a real dilemma. Not because of LHomme, whose sole aim is to expose Hulot as a traitor to the antinuclear cause, because his tv programmes were sponsored by companies with links to nuclear industry. Neither because of Stoll, who just seems to be there to give his long-time comrades the feeling that they still count.The real alternative: Joly or Hulot?
Joly, a well-known former anti-corruption lawyer, perfectly impersonates political ecology. She can make you feel how the loss of biodiversity affects the livelyhood of people in Senegal as if she were one of them. She knows how to confront president Sarkozy on issues as far apart as the drougth that hit the country and the control of the banks. And in the 3 years she now has represented EELV, she has won so many members’ hearts that she got, during a debate in a Parisian conference hall that was filled to the rafters, a very long standing ovation.
The problem: that was before, not after the debate. Joly presented her arguments as if she read a verdict in court. She avoided to answer to direct attacks. And confronted with direct questions, she felt ill at ease.
Branch of the left
Hulot on the other hand, knows how to get messages to the masses. Having spent most of his carier in front of the cameras, he perfectly understands the ecologists’ limitations in this respect. And as opposed as they are to climate change, he is determined to help them to overcome their handicaps. ‘We have a historic opportunity to get double figures’, he told the Paris audience. ‘We might even beat the Front National. But we only succeed in doing so if we start talking to everyone instead of behaving like a branch of the left: to the jobless as well as the workers, to the public sector as well as the market. We’ll only succeed if we stop being the ecology of punishment and start to be the ecology of action.’
His main handicap are the principles. Only after Fukushima he declared himself against nuclear power. Whereas for Joly a nuclear opting out is a condition sine qua non in negotiations about a future Left-Green government, for Hulot it is ‘one of many issues‘ to talk about. And whereas Joly favours a left-Green coalition, Hulot prefers looking at the centre and centre right. ‘Do you think’ he asked Joly during a debate in Lille, ‘that you can build a majority by sticking together?’
In general polls, Hulot scores between 6 and 13 percent, whereas Joly is hardly mentioned. And when asked whom they prefer as a Green candidate, in a poll published by Libération today, 52 % answered Hulot and only half as many Joly. In short:
The dilemma isn’t new. But during previous elections, newcomers from civil society brought so many extra seats that there was space to accomodate both. But job sharing isn’t applicable to the French presidency yet. So now a choice is inevitable.
When participating in these elections, EELV runs two risks. The first: a score that is too low to negotiate, after the first round in which they’ll doubtlessly be eliminated, a price for their support to the PS. A second: a score that is too high. Most of EELV’s votes will come from the social democrats. And if not the PS but the Front National – now at around 20 % in the polls – gets a ticket to the second round, the battle will be between the right and the extreme right, just like in 2002. And most of the efforts of the past three years will have been in vain.
That is why Dany Cohn-Bendit, one of the initiators of EELV, has been pleading for an agreement with the PS before the first round instead of after it. And I think he is right. A huge victory for EELV is highy improbable; because most French voters haven’t forgotten what happened in 2002, they’ll play sure and vote PS. If EELV dares to step out of the game it doesn’t feel comfortable with in the first place – concentration of power within one person – it is sure it can use the credits it has obtained in 2009 and 2010. And instead of competing with the future ally for a presidency it never will win anyway, it can concentrate on unifying the left and reanimating and inspiring the worn social democrats.
Videos of the primary debates: