As the EU elections approach, European political parties from all sides are gearing up to nominate their candidates for the European Commission’s top job.
Things initially got off to a good start for the Party of the European Left. In mid-December, the national member parties of the European Left officially agreed at their Madrid Congress to nominate Greek politician Alexis Tsipras as their candidate for the EU's most coveted position.
The French Left Party (Parti de Gauche), a member of the European Left, warmly backed the Greek nominee.
“We welcome Alexis Tsipras’s candidacy as a symbol of the peoples’ struggle against austerity policies,” Martine Billard, co-president of the French Left Party, said on 15 December.
In her view, the European Left party bears a “responsibility to chart a political alternative and bring back hope to the people, while two-thirds of the European Union’s governments are from the right".
But relations between the French Left and their European comrades turned sour when Pierre Laurent, the national secretary of the French Communist Party, was re-elected president of the European Left with 78% of the votes at the Madrid congress.
The French Left is opposed to Laurent because of electoral agreements he passed with members of France's ruling Socialist Party ahead of local elections taking place there in March. Arrangements with the Socialists, notably in Paris, are unacceptable in their view.
Paris, bone of contention
As a way to “condemn the attitude of Pierre Laurent”, the French left decided to suspend its membership of the European Left until the French municipal elections on 25 March.
Gilles Garnier, a French Communist party member in charge of European affairs, tried to play down the events. “We were very surprised by the decision of the French Left Party. There is a simple rule in the EL – it is not a federal party, it does not intervene in national politics. There is no single ideology. We will not explain to Die Linke that they should not forge alliances with the SPD at local level! It’s a different issue.”
Garnier still thinks that a common political platform can be envisaged for the forthcoming EU elections between the three French leftist parties – the Communists, the Left Party and the United Left. This "common front" allowed the three parties to win five parliamentary seats in Strasbourg at the 2009 EU elections.
But internal political jockeying might derail a "common front" in 2014.
Patrick Le Hyaric, an MEP who is close to Pierre Laurent, is expected to run again for a Brussels seat next year. However, his candidacy is opposed by the president of the French Left Party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Le Hyaric strongly denied the suggestion. “There is unanimity around the idea that the MEPs should run again and we have good chances to gain new representatives,” he told EurActiv.fr. “I have invested a lot in issues like posted workers, the Common Agricultural Policy, the preservation of European funds and help for the poorest. I did it also by making alliances with the Greens to help our projects and amendments to pass,” Le Hyaric explained to justify his candidacy.
Meanwhile, campaign slogans are already well rehearsed. They center on the rejection of austerity policies, the opposition to a new transatlantic trade agreement and tackling the EU's democratic legitimacy.
“The fact that Tsipras could win the next parliamentary elections in Greece is a strong symbol for us,” Le Hyaric says.
“We are establishing lists and hope they’ll be ready by mid-January,” said Garnier, adding that each list would have one candidate from the French Left Party, two from the Communist Party and one for the French overseas departments alliance.
“We are asking Jean-Luc Mélenchon to put his intelligence at the service of the Left but we cannot accept his unilateral decisions, we need to build a consensus,” Garnier explains.
Mélenchon can still hold back his decision for the European elections until the local French ones, which will seriously delay the establishment of the candidates’ list for MEPs.