Officially, the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group backs Benoît Hamon for the French presidency. But MEPs are split over his European outlook, with some, especially the British and Italians, preferring Emmanuel Macron. EURACTIV France reports.
Socialist MEPs are no less divided between their official candidate Hamon and rebel former economy minister Macron than their French counterparts.
“The only candidate from the Socialist family is Benoît Hamon. He was democratically elected in the primary process and he has my support,” said Gianni Pittella, the president of the S&D group.
But despite his principled support for the candidate, the Italian MEP has warned against some elements of his programme. “His programme for Europe is correct but I do not agree will all his proposals,” Pittella said.
But the head of the S&D group does not appear to find Macron’s European programme any more convincing. For Pittella, Macron’s vision of Europe is too liberal. “And I think we need a socialist vision, not a neo-liberal vision,” he said.
Pittella is not the only high-ranking socialist to have doubts about the presidential candidate. Just last week, France’s EU Commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, also admitted he has “reservations” about Hamon’s programme, particularly concerning “his plans for the democratisation of eurozone governance”.
Hamon has said he wants to establish a eurozone parliament composed of 80% national MPs and 20% MEPs. He believes this will turn the tide of public opinion, which has been flowing strongly against the euro since the beginning of the economic crisis.
But Hamon’s proposal to fill this new chamber mostly with national MPs does not sit well with his critics. Moscovici insists the solution to eurozone governance lies at European level and has suggested the European Parliament should meet in “eurozone format”.
“Benoît Hamon’s proposal on a eurozone parliament is far from perfect,” said British Socialist MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, but he is “a pro-European”.
For French Socialist Isabelle Thomas, Hamon’s proposal “is a project designed to open the debate, which is what is happening”.
Macron’s programme includes creating a eurozone finance minister “under the control of a eurozone parliament, made up of MEPs”. A proposal closer to that supported by the French Commissioner.
“I know both candidates, I worked with Macron while he was minister for the economy, on the steel crisis. He was very proactive on the issue and made a very good impression on me,” said Kirton-Darling.
“I would very much like to see Hamon win, but if a candidate like Macron with progressive views were to win, that would also be a good thing,” she added, referring to the risk of a National Front victory.
Another Socialist MEP said, “It is true that we are influenced by the polls, but Macron seems to have more of a chance than Hamon against Le Pen. And his views on Europe are more or less in line with the majority of the socialist family.”
On paper, the French Socialist Party delegation in Brussels is a bastion of pro-Hamon sentiment: ten of the 13 MEPs are on his campaign team. Even if they were not thrilled by the first draft of his eurozone assembly idea, which excluded them completely.
“Emmanuel Macron thinks that we should not create a debate around Europe,” said Socialist MEP Guillaume Balas. “And the status quo has strong support among Europe’s social-democrats. But that part of our political family, which has governed a lot, is being challenged more and more.”
For Balas, “The most suitable political family for Macron is ALDE.”
“But the social-democratic family at European level is very broad,” Kirton-Darling added.
“We, the Belgian Socialists, have more of a political affinity with Benoît Hamon, whose programme is more left-wing,” said Marc Tarabella, the head of the Belgian Socialist Party delegation in the European Parliament. “But if I talk to my British or Italian colleagues, they do not always agree.”