EU elections in France: Parties and programmes

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France’s political parties are preparing to launch their campaigns for the European elections in June, despite internal squabbling over the composition of electoral lists within the ruling centre-right UMP and opposition Socialist parties – EURACTIV France offers an overview.

Background

According to the Treaty of Nice, France will have 72 MEPs in the next legislature, 2009-2014. The allocation of seats, established by the latest census of the French National Institute of Economic and Statistical Information (INSEE), will be divided as follows: 

  • 10 seats for the North-West (Lower Normandy, Upper Normandy, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie);
  • Nine for the West (Brittany, Pays-de-la-Loire and Poitou-Charentes); 
  • Nine for the East (Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne-Ardennes, Lorraine and Franche-Comté);
  • 10 for the South-West (Aquitaine, Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées);
  • 13 for the South-East (Corsica, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Rhône-Alpes) 
  • Five seats have been allocated to the constituency of the Massif Central-Centre (Auvergne, Limousin and Centre); 
  • 13 for the constituency of Ile-de-France; 
  • Three for France's overseas territories (Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Reunion Island, Mayotte, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna islands).

France has asked voters to go to the polls on 6 and 7 June. The election will be run in a single round of voting, under a proportional representation system and the rule of the highest average, with closed lists and no preferences. Seats are allocated across the regional lists, and parties must obtain more than 5% of the votes cast in the constituency to be in with a chance of winning seats, which are distributed according to the list order. 

The French political system does not allow for politicians to cumulate various mandates. An MEP cannot be at the same time a member of his or her national parliament, or a regional councillor. However, under legislation dating from 11 April 2003, MEPs can hold the presidencies of regional councils or general councils, or be mayors of municipalities. 

Parties that obtain at least 3% of the vote will see their election expenditure reimbursed. 

You can find an updated table of the top candidates here.

Issues

Sarkozy's party runs 'protective Europe' campaign

On 24 January, the UMP party officially presented its top eight candidates for this summer's European elections. The move provoked criticism, with many political analysts considering the nomination of French Justice Minister Rachida Dati to be a disgrace. Speculation is rife that she may have accepted the demotion in exchange for guarantees of a future leading role in national politics. Meanwhile, she is only second on the list, behind Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier.

French MEP Alain Lamassoure reluctantly accepted third place on the UMP list in the South-West, and clearly expressed his displeasure at the decision during the UMP's national council in January (EURACTIV.fr 26/01/09). 

'Protective Europe' was the motto of the French EU Presidency, and will also be at the heart of the UMP's campaign for the European elections. In a Cercle des Européens debate on 4 December 2008, Labour Minister Brice Hortefeux said: "The French Presidency has allowed the perception of Europe to change from one that does not protect and is worrying to one that is protective." He added: "Given the financial crisis and the Georgian crisis, Europe has shown that it is capable of protecting collectively." 

Socialists divided over candidates, but united on campaign motto 

The Socialist cast includes some surprises. Gilles Savary, a member of the European Parliament's committee on transport and a prominent defender of the EU action plan on urban mobility, was not retained among the candidates. The same is true for Anne Ferreira, a member of the Parliament's environment committee, who is very active on health and environment-related issues. 

In an internal vote on 12 March, members of the 'Parti Socialiste' from the Limousin region rejected Martine Aubry's proposed list for the constituency of Massif Central-Centre by a majority of 80% (EURACTIV.fr 15/03/09). 

Party members also voted on guidelines published by the Socialist party on 28 February (EURACTIV.fr 02/03/09). They are largely inspired by the manifesto adopted by the Party of European Socialists (PES) in Madrid in December 2008, and call for an "ambitious European recovery plan" and a "European social progress pact". 

In addition to the above objectives, French Socialists are suggesting that the EU's budget be increased with its 'own resources'. They also want to establish a right to borrow to fund short-term investment, harmonise taxes, define a fair-trade policy, coordinate national economic policies and strengthen European defence policy. 

Centrist MoDem wants Europe to defend fundamental rights

The centrist Democratic Movement (MoDem) led by Francois Bayrou, a former presidential candidate, unveiled its final list on 3 April. 

Bayrou maintained his promise to bring in representatives of civil society organisations, like judo champions Stephane Traineau and Karim Boumedjane, as well as Emmanuelle Bour, a former director-general of French horse-racing organisation France Galop.

Former Environment Minister Corinne Lepage, who wanted to head the list in the West, will in fact run in the North. Same is true for MEP Jean-Marie Beaupuy, who agreed to run in the Massif Central-Centre region since he did not want to occupy third place on the list in the East, which is led by Jean-François Kahn, a former director of the magazine Marianne (EURACTIV.fr 09/02/2009

At the end of March, François Bayrou and the party's number two and top candidate in Ile-de-France Marielle de Sarnez presented an outline of the programme, which will be adopted in May:

  • Economic governance and reforms: Reforming the Eurogroup to give it more weight. Creating a European investment fund using 3% of EU GDP to help small and medium enterprises. Boosting the EU budget so that it can double financial support for research.
  • Social Europe: Education, health, training, postal services and local transport need to be preserved.
  • Environment: Imposing the same environmental standards in every country. Have the WTO integrate new environmental, health and social requirements.
  • Financial system: Creating a European regulator "able to discuss with the world's big regulators," preventing financial institutions from working with tax havens and supporting the logic of companies against the only logic of shareholders.
  • Development: Preserving Africa's capacity for self-sufficiency and enhancing Europe's role on the global stage.
  • European Parliament: Strasbourg should become the single seat of the EU assembly. 

Left-wing alliance campaigns for common EU energy and security policies

The French left-wing gathers the Communist party (PCF), the Left party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (PG) and the Citizens' and Republican Movement (MRC) of Jean-Pierre Chevènement. 

On 9 March, Olivier Besancenot announced that his party, the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), would not join the Left Front. He decided not to do so because the Left front has not yet ruled out an alliance with the Socialist party for the upcoming elections, including the regional ones. However, some members of the NPA decided not to abide by their leader's decision and joined the Left Front anyway. 

The left-wing programme includes ten proposals. The movement is calling for the creation of a minimum wage equal to 60% of the average EU wage. It is also suggesting a ban on redundancies and the establishment of a right to control dividends. The movement also supports an EU common energy and security policy. Finally, the alliance is calling for a moratorium on all EU directives on deregulation, and for voting rights to be granted to nationals from third states for the European elections (EURACTIV.fr 09/02/09). 

Nihous and de Villiers under the same Libertas hat 

The Movement for France (MPF) of Philippe de Villiers and the CPNT (Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Tradition) of Frédéric Nihous will run the same campaign for the European elections (EURACTIV.fr 12/03/09), under the common banner of Libertas, a European party created by the leader of the campaign against the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, Declan Ganley. 

In the coming months, both parties will argue for "another Europe". Reducing the European Commission's powers, enhancing national parliaments' role in the decision-making process and preventing Turkey from joining the EU are among the main themes of their campaign. "We want to turn this election of 7 June into the referendum we were deprived of," said Nihous. 

Workers' struggle sets the tone for 'Lutte Ouvrière' 

The Lutte Ouvrière (LO) party will present independent lists in seven out of the eight constituencies for the European elections. 

When announcing the top candidates, LO spokeswoman Nathalie Arthaud outlined the main message of the party's campaign. "LO runs in these European elections mainly to denounce this situation [the origins of financial crisis]", she said. 

"During the campaign, we will of course criticise Sarkozy's policy, who only rules for bankers and employers," she said. 

But LO wants first to tackle the deep origins of the crisis. "We will try to show to workers that this crisis is the result of the private sector's domination of the economy, which worsens poverty on one hand to increase wealth on the other," Arthaud added.

Gaullist campaign for an à la carte  Europe 

Led by former UMP Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout la République (DLR) has presented self-financed lists. Its campaign is called 'Five euros to change Europe' (EURACTIV.fr 11/02/09). 

Among others, this 10,000 member-strong party is calling for the European Commission to be dismantled and wants to transfer its dossiers to agencies, which would operate on a project-based mandate. "We should change from a Union blocked with 27 members to a Union à la carte, with a simple agency system," said Dupont-Aignan. Funds would be directly linked to member states' investments in each agency. 

Calling for institutional reform to be adopted by a EU-wide referendum, Dupont-Aignan also advocates a "clever European protectionism" to tackle today's market distortions. 

'Europe Ecologie' will run a 'greener' campaign 

Europe Ecologie's list is made up of members from the Green party, representatives of NGOs and civil society. MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit defined the principles of his campaign strategy a year ago. 

After getting the support of former French Green leader Noel Mamère, 'Danny the Red' suggested that the French party enlarge the platform for the European elections in order to include representatives of NGOs and civil society. 

The proposal was discussed at the Green party conference last summer, in the presence of anti-globalisation activist José Bové and Green national secretary Cécile Duflot. It was adopted by the party in September 2008. 

But if the programme of the 'Europe Ecologie' movement has attracted a consensus, the same cannot be said for the draft manifesto of the European Green Party, according to Danielle Auroi, in charge of European affairs for the French Green party. In France, the European text was rejected by the party's Inter-regional National Council (Cnir) on 18 January for being "too moderate," according to Duflot. 

The movement is calling on the EU to urgently convene a 'Brussels for employment' summit to tackle the economic crisis and transform Europe into a low-carbon economy, which it believes could potentially create 10 million jobs within five years. 

Front National marred by divisions 

Former Front National (FN) general-secretary Carl Lang, in competition with vice-president Marine Le Pen, left the FN to create the Party of France (Parti de France). 

The FN's political plan suggests a return to the nation state and economic patriotism as a means of solving the economic crisis. FN candidates therefore oppose any transfer of competence to the EU. The party has also campaigned in other elections against a common EU policy on migration, and will likely oppose any new legislation in this regard. 

The French nationalist party is also completely against the concept of European defence, which it fears would "ruin France's diplomatic capacity in favour of the European super-state". 

The party hopes that a victory in the June elections could revive the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group (ITS) in the European Parliament, which collapsed less than ten months after its launch as a result of strong internal divisions. 

During those few months, French nationalist MEPs and their European colleagues received 150,000 euros of EU funding, in addition to five paid assistants, a secretariat and administrative and credit facilities (EURACTIV.fr 16/03/09). 

Positions

"Do you really think we can continue carrying out policies while ignoring Europe? While ignoring the European Parliament, which has become an influential place? While ignoring the European Commission?," asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the UMP national council on 24 January. 

"France has better to do than criticizing Europe. France should work with it to try and build some compromise solutions. This is how France can become influential again in Europe, by sending its best politicians to the European Parliament and by avoiding easy criticisms of the Commission."

"Europe does not request permission any longer," said French Agiculture Minister Michel Barnier. "It is now the solution, and no longer the problem." 

In her New Year speech to journalists, the Socialist Party's First Secretary Martine Aubry called for "a new Europe" to be created in 2009, but also a Europe that remembers its founding fathers. "The right wing proposes to adapt to the market. We propose to define our future," she said. 

On his blog, MEP Gilles Savary regrets that "French political parties from all sides leave the control of the European Parliament, and therefore of EU legislation, to member states, which know how to be influential and how to have high-level figures in the long term". 

Timeline

  • 7 June: European elections in France.

Further Reading

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