Left-wing alliance in northern France: a taster for the 2022 presidential election?

In 2017, several civil society representatives already called on the candidates Benoît Hamon (PS), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI) and Yannick Jadot (EELV) to unite. To no avail. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON [CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EPA]

After the announcement that France’s left-wing and Green parties will present a common list for the regional elections in the North of France, EURACTIV.fr looks into whether such a strategy could also be adopted for the upcoming 2022 presidential election.

“It’s a great satisfaction to be on the same list as the ecologists and communists,” said Ugo Bernalicis, a radical leftist MP from La France Insoumise party.

Bernacilis was speaking a week after the French Green party Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV), La France Insoumise (LFI), the French Communist Party (PCF) and the Socialist Party (PS) announced they would present a common list for the regional elections set for June 2021 in the Hauts-de-France region.

“Going solo in the Hauts-de-France region meant taking a very big risk of not being able to be in the second round,” said Bernalicis, who admitted the alliance ensures “left-wing elected officials are again in the regional hemicycle of Hauts-de-France”.

The agreement was made possible due to the specific “regional context” in Hauts-de-France, Bernalicis explained. In the last regional elections, the left refrained from presenting a list to block far-right leader Marine Le Pen. As a result, right-wing Les Républicains MP Xavier Bertrand was elected with 56.3% of the votes in the second round, according to interior ministry figures. Meanwhile, left-wing parties had completely disappeared from the regional hemicycle.

According to Juliette Grance, a philosopher who authored a book on the philosophy of ecology, Bertrand should not be given “the red carpet once again”. After “a sincere discussion about who would lead the list,” Grance confirmed that the coalition will be led by Green MEP Karima Delli, who Grance pointed out has civil society and diplomacy experience.

“What has happened in the Hauts-de-France region shows us that we are capable of putting aside old resentments and letting go of egos,” said Joséphine Delpeyrat, spokesperson for the centre-left and green party Génération.s.

‘2022 or never’

Could this attempt at a union be repeated for the 2022 presidential elections? This is what Samuel Grzybowski is hoping for. Together with his collective Rencontre des Justices, he is behind the “2022 ou jamais” (2022 or never) initiative, which seeks to facilitate the nomination of a single candidate to “carry the banner of social ecology”.

According to him, the union of left-wing movements is necessary to face the “capitalist bloc” and the “identity bloc” represented by French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who both currently lead in the polls.

Delpeyrat wants to believe in it too and is delighted to see that environmental issues can “serve as a cement, a common programmatic pillar for discussions and alliances”. Although such a union is “no sure thing” as there is just one year to go before the elections, the MP is counting on peoples’ awareness about the “threat” of the extreme right.

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A different political context

In 2017, several civil society representatives already called on candidates Benoît Hamon (PS), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI) and Yannick Jadot (EELV) to unite. To no avail.

“The context is not the same” today, assured Grzybowski, who bets on “a well-conscious necessity” and “a much greater sense of urgency”.  According to him, Macron was perceived in 2017 as left-wing. An Ipsos study confirmed that 42% of PS sympathisers had voted for Macron’s party in the first round of the 2017 elections.

“Today, nobody thinks this, except maybe two or three ministers”, he added. A more recent Ifop poll, published in March, confirmed this, as it revealed that only 17% of socialist voters intended to vote for Macron again.

So what about 2022? Bernalicis, member of this new coalition for the regional elections, believes that it is “unthinkable” to reproduce such a feat at the national level.

“With EELV, in the Hauts-de-France and elsewhere, we agree on regional issues, but as soon as we go back to national issues, there are still differences,” he observed, referring in particular to “relations with European treaties, the EU, or more institutional issues.”

Two very different elections

While the LFI MP indicated that the political stakes are very different in the presidential elections, Grzybowski also admitted that the voting system – voting for a list – is what made the alliance possible in the North.

“These are parties that usually pull at each other. The regional elections are easier than the presidential elections. There is less visibility for the leader,” said Grange.

In contrast, presidential elections are traditionally embodied by a single personality. “These are elections that are less based on personal image ambitions, there is less symbolic hierarchy,” she added.

Could this just be a matter of ego? “The egos will be part of the machine but within the stables, not between stables,” said Grzybowski, noting that future candidates should above all take into account “their capacity to win”.

Yet, according to Depleyrat, “the problem is that we often hear the words ‘get together, but behind me”.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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