No ‘immediate exit’ from NATO for Mélenchon, but a vote in Parliament

With the new left-wing alliance not being united on the NATO question, Mélenchon was questioned on how he would deal with the issue once in government during a press conference on Thursday (19 May). EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON [EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON]

French parliament would vote on the country’s membership in NATO if radical left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon wins the June legislative elections and is nominated prime minister, the France Insoumise chief suggested on Thursday (19 May). EURACTIV France reports.

Mélenchon noted that an “immediate exit” would not be on the agenda, however, and the matter would ultimately be settled by National Assembly.

France has been a member of the NATO alliance since 1949, and a member of the NATO Armed Command since 2009, when the former President Nicolas Sarkozy reinstated the country into it.

Since the re-election of president Emmanuel Macron on 24 April, Mélenchon’s France Insoumise movement joined with a coalition of left-wing groups to form an alliance called NUPES.

Since France gives its president full powers in choosing his prime minister, the alliance is hoping that, following June’s legislative elections, Macron will pick Mélenchon to be his parliamentary cohabiter.

The new left-wing alliance, however, holds various positions on the NATO question. During a press conference presenting NUPES’ political programme on Thursday (19 May), Mélenchon was asked what his approach would be, should he find himself in the prime-ministerial seat.

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What’s in the programme?

NUPES’ political programme features a total of 650 campaign proposals. Out of these, 33 proposals contain “nuances” between the positions of different parties in the alliance.

NATO is known as one of these points of divergence. In the document distributed to the journalists at the beginning of the press conference, however, there is no explicit reference to the organisation – instead, the document stated that the coalition will aim to “reaffirm that the UN is the only legitimate body for collective security on a global scale.”

This is in line with what La France Insoumise has previously advocated – for France to leave NATO – albeit less explicit.

‘Immediate exit’ impossible  

Mélenchon conceded, however, that his “point of view is not shared today,” and the current context in Europe must be respected. Proposing an immediate exit from NATO would “prevent the union from taking place”.

Socialist Party representative Corinne Narassiguin, who was also in the room, nodded in approval of Mélenchon’s statement.

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Dynamics between president and prime minister

Were Mélenchon to become prime minister after the elections, he may not be able to influence the government on NATO.

The France Insoumise leader pointed out during the press conference that while the prime minister has “authority, of course” on defence and foreign policy matters – and he is against Macron invoking his powers to ‘dominate’ these areas – since the president “negotiates and signs treaties,” exiting NATO may be more difficult than expected since Macron favours remaining in the alliance.

Mélenchon then went on to add that a win for the left-wing coalition should, however, translate into the implementation of its entire programme because “in a democracy, the winner has the last word.”

A vote in parliament

The left-wing bloc’s programme announced that, should it be elected, parliament will be asked to vote on membership or exit of NATO. It also laid out the different parties’ positions on the vote.

“La France Insoumise will propose the immediate withdrawal of France from the integrated command of NATO and then, in stages, from the organisation itself,” it writes, adding that “the Socialist Party will be in favour of France remaining in NATO”.

Mélenchon made it very clear at the press conference and in the coalition’s programme that “the Assembly will be seized”, even if divided, on this point and will thus be put to the vote. France needs to “speak with one voice in the world,” he added.

However, Mélenchon added, the newly-unified left still needs to hold new debates to settle political attitudes and to “fine-tune the common approach.”

To resolve possible differences, like the one on NATO membership, Mélenchon pledged that it is “the National Assembly that will have the last word”.

According to current projections, the left-wing alliance could obtain between 100 and 160 seats out of the 577 available seats.

While this may still seem far from achieving an absolute majority in the National Assembly, it is clear that, given the distribution of constituencies, La France Insoumise will likely become the dominant group within the left-wing coalition.

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[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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