Pascal Durand: ‘Sometimes you have to fight behind enemy lines’


The European election campaign will see French Green Party representative Pascal Durand joining forces with President Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM), a party not exactly known for its ecological sensitivity. EURACTIV France reports.

It’s a strategy designed to prevent a radical centre-right and far-right alliance from having too much of a say in the next Parliament.

A lawyer by training, Pascal Durand spent years as a grassroots campaigner for the Green Party before his appointment as Secretary General of Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV) and subsequent election as a MEP in 2014. A member of the animal rights intergroup, he backs an ambitious ecological agenda but sets out above all to “make things happen”.

He talked to EURACTIV France’s editor-in-chief Aline Robert.

You are leaving the Greens to join the LREM list for the European elections. What prompted this decision?

I’m not a member of LREM, I’m not even a supporter of the party. When I left the EELV secretariat, I broke away from French politics. My focus today is on taking the battles I have fought within the Green Party in France to the European level. To do that, some conditions have to be met.

Is your pro-European stance taking precedence over your ecological commitment?

No. Ecology isn’t just an afterthought in Europe. But rolling out joint policies in favour of the planet depends on a Europe that has the capacity to act. Europe without the social and ecological aspects will disappear, but it all begins with Europe.

I asked the Greens and the Socialists to come together behind a common platform. The answer was no. The parties continue to think along compartmentalised lines, the Green Party do green, the socialists do social and the centrists would have continued to tow the centrist line. But if we don’t manage to build this progressive majority, we all stand to lose together at the end of the day.

Do you think the European Parliament is in danger of lurching towards the right?

The European Parliament can tip over into a very right-wing alliance between the ECR, EPP and the centre. A plan hatched by those who want an inward-looking Europe, hunched together over defence issues. It is the Europe of Orban, Salvini, Le Pen, the ECR, some of the Poles and part of the CSU. This Europe exists. It doesn’t have the majority, but if the centrist group joins their ranks, that situation can’t be ruled out.

If someone like Guy Verhofstadt, for example, decides for reasons of political expediency to conclude an agreement with Manfred Weber and the ECR, the Europe as I see it is in danger.

Why would prompt the centrists to do that?

There are two blocks among the centrists. Some are very liberal, especially when it comes to trade. I’ve seen the alliance formed between the EPP, ALDE and the ECR on certain subjects, such as the approval of vehicles. It’s an alliance that fills me with dread. If there is a shift towards that kind of Europe, towards the defence of private interests and the defence of regulations, you can say goodbye to Europe.

There are also members of the centrist group with a greater environmental awareness. I think we can sway the group in that direction. If that is the case, the Socialists and Greens will have a chance to rebuild a majority in the European Parliament one day, if an alliance with the centre is possible.

So you don’t think that the left will come out of their slumber for the European elections?

If I thought that the Greens were capable of rallying people, I would stay with the Greens. In France, there’s talk of a green wave, we want to take our inspiration from the German Greens. But 70% of the Greens would be excluded from the Greens in France! Because they are either too right-wing or too environmentalist. However, the Grunen’s success is based on this very capacity for openness, and a real ability to become a force to be reckoned with, especially at the local level.

Liberalism is not compatible with ecology, that goes without saying. But a trade unionist doesn’t say that there’s no point negotiating working conditions because the economy obeys the rules of capitalism!

Leon Blum introduced the concept of paid holidays: it didn’t change anything in terms of capitalism, but it changed the lives of millions of people. That is what I want to do: make things happen, so that we can breathe decent air in Paris and Brussels, so that cows and chickens are not considered as objects, so that we can stem the erosion of biodiversity.

On environmental issues, LREM’s record is rather poor

That’s for sure. But at the European level, you have the ALDE, and the possibility of changing things, of bringing the group over to our side, to the side of Europe.

But you also have the radical liberals. Do you want to break up the ALDE group?

If the centrist group wants to break up, it will break up. Majorities may change during the next parliamentary term. I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know whether the French socialists, for example, will be further to the left than their lead candidate Timmermans. Given the Hongt rule, the groups will remain formed at the beginning of the parliamentary term, but then I predict a shift.

What the new configuration will be is anyone’s guess. Will it be a progressive group as Macron says, and a conservative group? Or a centrist group? I think LREM will want to create its European party.

You make a distinction between party and group. But for the time being in the European Parliament, the parties correspond to the groups they join…

The En Marche electorate includes people who come from the left of the political spectrum. I imagine that they’re not too comfortable with the government’s policies. They remain committed to more solidarity at the European level. Maybe we can try to build this Europe. With the Italian Democrats too, perhaps the Spanish Socialists. I think the time is ripe to build a fully-fledged European party based on Christian and non-Christian, humanist values.

And this party would not correspond to a European political group?

If a pan-European party is created, it could have a very strong influence on the centrist group. And the centre of gravity could be changed. But at that point, it isn’t just the name of the centrist group that will have to be changed!  I’m thinking of a fully-fledged pro-European party ranging from Michel Barnier, a Christian Socialist, to the Greens. With different practices: the Greens would keep their own group, the Socialists too. This block really could form a majority. I believe that there are voters who are suffering from the absence of this humanist, pro-European model.

Macron was elected in part by these people: those who had lost faith in ecology and socialism.

You talk of priorities that don’t seem to be shared by Macron in France.

In France, Macron has a strong right-wing policy. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe comes from the political right, and makes no secret of it, just like Bruno Le Maire, and Darmanin. The keys to French politics are on the right. But in Europe Emmanuel Macron has more enemies than friends on the right! Who attacked him on his European statement: the German right, while the left-wing SPD applauded his message.

For domestic political reasons, the German right will be tempted to veer increasingly to the right, but Macron’s friends won’t be on the right: he won’t side with Orban, Salvini or Kurz. We must be able to build these bridges with the British Labour Party, the Italian Democrats and the Spanish Socialists. Not in France though: the French socialists will always be against Macron, because he has swallowed up their electorate.

How will you bring environmental issues to the table within La République En Marche?

Macron has called for the creation of a Climate Bank. It will be one of the symbols of our campaign. On the other subjects, I’ll have to fight my case. Macron is intelligent enough to understand: nuclear energy, of course people no longer want it, but above all the cost is exorbitant. Take diesel for example, after dieselgate in particular, he changed things: it’s the end of the road for diesel. The same goes for nuclear, we’re going to win these fights.

But these wars have to be waged! And the LREM doesn’t seem to be getting ready for that battle.

Civil society will win in the battle against nuclear, as it did with diesel, as it did with paid holidays: we need people to join the battle, and on the climate it will be the same.

The animal issue is being badly handled by the current government, because of lobbies such as the FNSEA and the hunters. That being said, this same government has introduced two bears into the Pyrenees. Then you have the wolves, of course you shouldn’t shoot wolves; but the government will realise that hunters will be wiped out by the voice of the people at some point. Young people don’t care about hunting, they’re tired of seeing animals being persecuted, bulls being tortured in the South. It is up to them to convince.

How will you defend these ideas on your own, among the En Marche MEPs to start with?

I like convincing people. It would be a shame if I were the only Green, but if I am, I will do my best.  And I do it out of conviction. Nicolas Hulot left the government: are environmental policies better off as a result? I don’t think so. Sometimes you have to fight behind enemy lines.

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