France: change is now…for the Greens!

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The year 2012 has been important year for French politics bringing long-awaited  presidential and legislative elections. For the left, the results have been better than the expectations. The Greens could take advantage of this socialist wave, but the price for change was very expensive for Europe Ecologie – les Verts (EELV). Here are a few facts to help you understand the political change happening for the Greens in France.

The EELV was created in November 2010, when Europe Ecologie and Les Verts decided to definitely merge in one and only political movement. Europe Ecologie was created with the support of Les Verts (the historical Greens) before the 2009 European elections. The first results were above any expectation, we won as many seats as the Socialist party (PS) and the French delegation in the Green group is now the most numerous, with 16 MEPs. The following regional and cantonal (sub-regional) elections – in 2010 and then 2011 – also were part of the rise of the Greens as a third political power in France. But the EELV is much more influential in a certain kind of elections than others, depending either on the abstention level or the type of scrutiny. And the presidential elections have always been a nightmare for the Greens in France.

Indeed, the French voters have a great choice of candidates they can elect for the second round (there are always around 12 candidates participating in the first round), but not a lot of choice in the end. Moreover, this year the far left and far right were –according to the surveys- able to contend for the second round, so the two majority/controlling parties (UMP and PS) could once again use the vote divisions to continue ruling the country. And the 21st of April 2002 spectrum (when Jean-Marie Le Pen beat the socialists on the first round) was here to recall the unaware and idealistic voters that the first round was more the moment for realism than idealism. Since then, the debate around the “useful vote” (or “strategic” vote, to be more accurate) is being always held and promoted by the socialist party, to avoid a massive leak of left-wing votes that would enable a socialist candidate to participate in the second round.

During the elections, François Hollande had a simple motto to beat Sarkozy « Change is now » (in French, “Le changement, c’est maintenant”). There was such an irritation against Nicolas Sarkozy and his personality that most of the French – and even the moderate right wing people – wanted to get rid of him. But the crisis was also a good argument to reject the socialist challenger and its ideas to face it, so Sarkozy used the motto “The strong France” (in French, “La France forte”) aiming at reminding the good old days when France was still ruling the world. This reference to our Gaulish past (from the Général de Gaulle) was indeed a nice strategy for the right wing, accompanied by a ‘not that’ surprising appropriation of the populist and extreme right wing ideas. The whole Sarkozy campaign was about discrediting Hollande and the socialists ideas, showing they would only worsen the debt and Euro crisis. There were even ad hominem attacks against Hollande, the campaign was really tense.

In the middle of this big fuss was the slow but strong voice of Eva Joly, the Greens’ candidate. She had been elected by the EELV during the primary elections during the 2011 summer. One year ago, she was opposed to 3 candidates, but only one was a real challenger: Nicolas Hulot, a former TV anchor that got famous with his environmental documentaries. Nicolas Hulot’s reputation was very strong, since he has been one of the favorite personalities amongst the French society for years, and is unanimously recognized for his devotion in teaching the people what is good for the planet. During the primary elections, he was always winning in the surveys…that were apparently not done properly (considering the average voters’ decision but not the Green voters’ decision). In fact the main problem of Hulot was his reputation, since the Foundation he has been leading for years was sponsored by French multinational s like EDF, the main producer of nuclear electricity in France. Therefore there was a strong rejection of his candidacy by the hard core of the Greens. Also, one of his biggest mistakes was to believe that he could win the primary elections while he officially announced his candidacy only 3 months before the Greens’ primary elections. The political spectrum would not have been the same if he had been the candidate of the Greens, since he could have brought voters from the center-left and center-right.

During the presidential campaign, Eva Joly has been the victim of her difference, in a society that is still really conservative. Being an lady in the higher age, moreover with a strong accent and a different cultural background was not a real help: the critics against her personality and ideas were numerous. A few times, the xenophobic red line has been crossed both by journalists and political opponents. France is not that progressive, contrarily to what the French people think: underlining this important fact was one of the merits of Eva Joly’s candidacy. After a tense campaign, Eva Joly reached the score of 2.31%, not that bad considering the nationalistic debate imposed by the two main parties, without any consideration for ecological issues.

In fact, this campaign was calculated in electoral terms by the leaders of the EELV: there was a real strategy of empowerment behind this hard period for the Greens. Indeed, in 2011 the Greens had been negotiating during months an agreement – between the EELV and the PS – in order to prepare a common ground for what would be the 5 next years of action for the left. This was really hard to bear for Eva Joly and her freedom of speech. It has been a strong challenge to continue the campaign: we were then considered as the disrespected allies of the PS, we had no more “added value” in the public debate.

But this agreement we had with the Socialist Party also concerned the share of left constituencies during the legislative elections, happening only one month after the first round of the presidential elections. In a few words, this agreement meant that the socialists would support our candidates in a few constituencies that could be easily won by a common candidate from the left, supported by both the EELV and the PS.

Meanwhile the Greens were expecting to have up to 25 MPs in the new assembly thanks to this agreement, we finally had only 17 MPs. But this was a real political breakthrough for us since we previously had had only 3 MPs.

We now have a good representation at the European, national, regional and local level. We even have two Green ministries. Our new challenge is to show that we can share and assume responsibilities, to take advantage of our position to promote our ideas amongst the socialists and the society. We have to adapt our strategies to this new background. For the Greens, change is now!

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