Disunity on European issues within France’s governing party on European issues was once again laid bare at the party congress in Poitiers last week. Opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is one of the rare points of consensus among the Socialist Party. EURACTIV France reports.
The French Socialist Party has struggled to agree a common line on European policy since the failed referendum on the EU Constitution in 2005.
The party’s vocal left wing is equally critical of the EU’s economic stance, seen as too liberal, and the French government’s unwillingness to challenge it.
This topic was picked up by dissenters, including the former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg, who called for a coalition of European countries to implement a strategy of “lowering taxes to help families”. The call was published in an editorial co-signed with investment banker Matthieu Pigasse, one of the three main shareholders of the Le Monde newspaper.
“The absurd conformism” of the EU executive’s policy “has become a giant vote factory for the National Front,” Montebourg and Pigasse wrote in in Le Journal Du Dimanche, a Sunday paper.
In Poitiers, it became clear that Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ mild austerity measures had eroded the government’s support within the party. Anti-austerity feeling and solidarity with Greece and Spain was palpable at the conference. Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon, was heckled by left wing party members for his criticism of Syriza and Podemos.
No to austerity, no to TTIP
Socialist party Secretary General Jean-Christophe Cambadélis tried to bridge the gap between his party’s expectations and his government’s actions.
He said, “There is a conflict that we need to address in Europe. To those who support austerity, we say investment, investment, investment!” He went on to detail all the motions of opposition to TTIP submitted by Socialist party members in preparation for the conference.
“As Europe suffers greatly from its bureaucratic language, I would like to be perfectly clear. At this stage we say ‘non’, ‘no’, ‘nein’! We say ‘???’!” [Greek]
But the French government has so far struggled to rally members of its own party to a common position on TTIP. Between the strong opposition of the left and the French president’s pro-American stance, this is no easy undertaking.
French responsibility in the EU
Pervenche Berès, the head of the French Socialist delegation to the European Parliament, reminded her party colleagues of France’s responsibility to the European left.
“Today, France is the only large country in the European Union to be governed by socialists. We have a tremendous responsibility for the future of social-democracy on the continent,” the MEP said.
In spite of party divisions, the congress did result in a resolution on Europe, in which party members called for social issues to play a more central role in European policy.
In June 2013, the heads of state and the governments of the EU gave the Commission responsibility for negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, along with strict guidelines on how this should be accomplished.
Among these guidelines was the requirement that any agreement must include clauses on investment protection and dispute settlement between investors and states.
European countries have signed 1,400 trade agreements with investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, some of which date back to the 1950s, so the case for reform is strong.
The EU executive carried out a public consultation into investment protection and the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP, the aim of which was to establish whether or not the EU's approach respected the balance between investor protection and the EU's ability to legislate in the interest of its citizens.
This chapter of the negotiations stalled in January 2014, and will only be revived when the Commission is satisfied that ISDS will not cause national courts to be undermined by private tribunals.
The final decision must be ratified by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, but will be subject to approval by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who holds a veto on the subject.
A note from the European executive offers the assurance that Frans Timmermans will ensure that ISDS conforms to the EU's principles of equality and transparency.
>> Read our LinksDossier: TTIP for dummies