• Analysis
  • A New Popular Union? Remarks on the French Left Political Agreement for an Alternative Government

  • Paul Elek | 26 May 22 | Posted under: France , Elections , Levá
  • After the presidential election, in which Jean-Luc Mélenchon missed entering the second round by only 1.2 percentage points, Greens, Socialists, and Communists formed an electoral alliance with La France Insoumise for the upcoming legislative elections: New Ecological and Social Popular Union (Nupes).

    It took Jean-Luc Mélenchon thirteen days to reach an electoral and political agreement with its main leftists competitors. A year ago, the topic of a left alliance occupied a long time of public debate without obtaining any kind of concrete achievement. The left arrived in the battle of the 2022 presidential election as if the results of the previous one were to be considered as a purely conjectural event. The Greens (EELV) as well as the Socialists (PS) and even the Communists (PCF) believed that they could overthrow the central place that La France Insoumise (LFI) had reached in French politics, notably as the movement had known rather modest results in local ballots. During the campaign, Mélenchon had stated numerous times his opposition to an alliance with other leftist partners. The leader of the Popular Union[1] has deemed that an alliance forged “at the summit of political forces” would be detrimental to the political proposition that he could champion in the election after years of working on its programme and believed it to be an obstacle for massively mobilising the electorate. He bet that he could achieve a “popular union”, “unity from the bottom up” and that will draw on a later stage tactical voters and more moderate leftist.

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    After the first round of the Presidential election, his strategy has proven rather successful. Therefore, it is surprising that such an historical agreement that will gather under the same banner all of the electoral leftist forces for the first time in French politics could be reached as quickly. Especially after a violent political campaign where all of Mélenchon’s opponents smeared him for months whilst strong political divisions remained on questions such as international and european policies, the degree of rupture with capitalism, the antiracist struggle and the question of laicity.

    An agreement to anchor the presidential election’s results

    Different reasons explain why an electoral and political agreement could be reached in a negotiation that lasted less than two weeks. First, the contested centrality of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (and of its political proposition) has been shattered by the impressive support he received on 10 April, in a very close run where he was distanced by Marine Le Pen by only 1.2 percentage points (421 308 votes). From a position of strength, the Popular Union could therefore take upon the responsibility to call its former opponents to the negotiating table. Secondly, the disappointing results obtained by the Greens, the Socialists and the Communists put them in position of weakness, especially in the context of a general frustration of the leftist electorate that was confronted with the same Macron-Le Pen second round again. Whilst the PS, the PCF and EELV were ogling at the chance to save some seats for the upcoming legislative elections, the Popular Union seized the opportunity to confirm its central role in the left. It conditioned the electoral repartition of MP’s Seats of any potential alliance to a political agreement mainly inspired by its political programme as well as the promise to support Jean-Luc Mélenchon as the next Prime Minister in case of electoral victory.   

    A political clarification

    The political agreement is considered as a potential legislative coalition that would establish a cohabitation (refering to the situation in which the president and the majority in parliament do not share the same political affiliation), with the government agenda being set by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s political platform. The new banner that is therefore shared in the upcoming elections is called New Ecological and Social Popular Union (Nupes).

    The agreement also defines how the parliamentary seats will be divided among the parties forming Nupes, which will depend on the results of each partner at the last presidential election and the current number of MPs in the National Assembly. In constituencies represented by an MP of the alliance, none of the other parties may nominate their own candidate. According to this agreement, LFI will present candidates in 360 constituencies, the Greens in around 100, the Socialist Party in 70, and the Communist Party in 50.

    However, the main strength of the agreement remains political as LFI has set its programme at the centre, forcing the other parties to clarify their position regarding the degree of break with neoliberalism. The unification process therefore was not at the expense of the programme. Numerous eminent socialist members such as François Hollande have for example publicly denounced the agreement. Yannick Jadot, the former Green presidential candidate, has been discrete since the ballot and rather reluctant to see his party joining forces with the radical left. By reaching an agreement with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, EELV seems to have disavowed his moderate political stance. In a nutshell, the agreement has brought its ex-opponents to approve most of its platform, has confronted them to external pressure from the leftist electorate that majoritarily favours an alliance, has exposed them to internal crises with their right-wing factions that opposed such alliance and has created an historical political situation that could lead to an electoral success where one month ago, the risk for the far right to win the ballot was consuming the country.  

    A national campaign: towards a third round of the presidential elections?

    However controversial Jean-Luc Mélenchon might appear, his strategic talents are not underestimated. For the upcoming challenge, he has already put forward another trick. Leading the Nupes to the battle, the unfortunate candidate of the presidential candidate has, ever since the ballot, engaged in an institutional stunt: promoting the legislative elections as  third round of the presidential election, counting on the popular classes and leftists electorate’s frustration and the opportunity opened by the electoral agreement. Since the president usually nominates the leader of the strongest party of the National Assembly as prime minister, Mélenchon has called upon the people to “elect him prime minister” by voting for a majority of Nupes MP’s. By helding a national campaign in an election that is traditionally considered as “577 local elections rolled into one,” he hopes to mobilise its electorate rather known to fall back into abstention after the presidential race. For the first time in numerous years, the radical left could overcome its marginal representation in the national assembly and even the actual antidemocratic institutional framework might not be able to confine it to the position of a minor opposition. Some optimists even dream of having Jean-Luc Mélenchon as Prime Minister in a few weeks. One thing is for sure, the rooted political crisis in France has not come to an end. Every new political event seems to destabilise the traditional tendencies and practices and every actor engage in battle blinder every day in regards to what to expect for the foreseeable future.

    Reference:

    [1] It is the name of the political campaign of Jean-Luc Mélenchon 2022 as well as the name of the proposed strategy and of the activist network gathered around his candidacy, gathering people outside of the France Insoumise.

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