France's ruling Socialist Party (PS) kicked off its European election campaign on Monday (3 March) with the ambition of securing the majority of French seats in the European Parliament, which is currently held by the country's centre-right party, EURACTIV France reports.
At a press conference, the French Socialist Party’s first secretary, Harlem Désir, confirmed the Party of European Socialists’ (PES) ambition to take over the majority of seats in the EU Parliament and the job of EU Commission president.
Europe, Désir said, "must turn the page of Liberal and Conservative governments, which for years have harmed the European dream. Their blind support to deregulation, widespread competition, fiscal and social dumping, has only led to austerity, unemployment and soaring populism across the continent."
"The current president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has made the achievement of turning even the most convinced European into a eurosceptic," Edouard Martin, a former trade unionist who joined the Socialist Party to campaign in France's eastern constituency, told EURACTIV.fr in an interview.
The launch of the French campaign follows the election of German MEP Martin Schulz as candidate for the Commission president's job at the PES congress in Rome on 1 March.
At the congress, “we adopted a strategy and a common programme, the Manifesto, which defines the key elements of our European policy reorientation … and we have nominated our candidate to embody this programme and strategy,” Désir explained.
For its part, the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) has not yet nominated its official candidate for the May election although former Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker seems to be the favourite, along with Michel Barnier from France, who is the current internal market commissioner.
The presidential candidates are expected to confront each other in a series of televised debates, in an attempt to mobilise voters ahead of the EU elections.
“We sincerely hope that there will be a debate with the EPP candidate,” Harlem Désir said. “It’s a democratic necessity.”
For the Socialists, the “presidential” debate is also an opportunity to equate the EPP with the incumbent Commission’s results, notably on issues such as social dumping and crisis management.
“We are starting in a European climate of sanction towards the outgoing team on the right wing, which led a policy of austerity, recession and stagnation on the economic and social plan,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the campaign director for the EU elections.
Opinion polls encouraging at EU level
In France, the Socialists are credited with 16% of the voting intentions, according to a survey by Opinion Way for Le Figaro and LCI in February 2014, which puts them behind the centre-right and the far-right, which score respectively 22% and 20%.
At EU level however prospects are looking better for the left. According to estimates from the website Pollwatch 2014, the European Socialists and Democrats (S&D) would get 217 seats, while the EPP would get 200.
Employment as priority
The PS secretary general stressed that employment would be at the heart of the European campaign.
“Jobs will be our priority,” said socialist MEP Catherine Trautmann, who took part in the press conference, mentioning the fight for a minimum wage at European level. To curb youth unemployment in particular, the PS secretary general has announced plans to strengthen the budget for the Youth Guarantee Scheme.
Other priorities include the commitment to a European energy community, the fight against tax evasion, banking regulation and the introduction of a European tax on financial transactions.
But France’s electoral priority for the moment is the forthcoming local elections in March.
The Socialist Party currently set on an interactive campaign with the launch of a website, in which voters can put questions to Martin Schulz and to candidates in the European election. The first major election rally will take place in Paris on 17 April.
During the European Parliament elections in May, each member state has the right to elect a fixed number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) based on population.
Elections are contested by national political parties but once MEPs are elected, most opt to become part of transnational political groups. Most national parties are affiliated to a European-wide political family so one of the big questions on election night is which of these European groupings will exert greater influence on the decisions taken in the next legislative term.
The European Council must take the election results into account when choosing a nominee for the post of president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU.
>> Read more background about the European Parliament elections here.
- 23 and 30 March: Local elections in France
- 17 April : first election rally
- 22-25 May 2014: EU Parliament elections in all 28 member states