March 4. 2024. 7:12

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French left buries divisions to unite against pension reform, for now


France’s left-wing parties generally differ on political strategy, but when it comes to the planned pension reform, the left camp, grouped in the NUPES alliance, is united against the government’s bill. Other topics they agree on include social justice, ecology, the place of women in society, or a more redistributive tax system.

Some more divisive topics were excluded from the electoral agreements signed before the parliamentary election last June. These include mainly the relationship with the European Union, secularism, nuclear energy, and international alliances – particularly NATO.

Is this coherent stand against the pension reform just a facade or an expression of fundamental unity?

French left fractures over tactics following failed no confidence motions

Cracks are appearing in France’s leftist opposition coalition NUPES, as the various groups and parties constituting the parliamentary left question whether to be part of an opposition that is as loud as it is radical.

Debates over NUPES leadership

The left-wing alliance formed for the June election has always been dominated by La France Insoumise and its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. However, this leadership is increasingly being contested in NUPES ranks.

During the various congresses held by the Socialist Party (PS), French Communist Party (PCF), and Europe Ecologie les Verts (EELV), debates focused on the functioning of the NUPES, and the results confirmed this trend.

At EELV, the main candidates favoured the alliance with the left. But Mélissa Camara, who even pleaded for “anchoring [the party] in the NUPES” and did not rule out a joint list for the 2024 European elections, was largely outnumbered by Marine Tondelier and Sophie Bussière, both more reluctant to a closer alliance.

Indeed, as soon as Tondelier was elected, she underlined that her party would run alone in the European elections. “We want a more federal Europe,” she stressed, targeting those for whom “these questions seem secondary” – especially LFI.

In the Communist Party, Fabien Roussel won more than 80% of the votes with a line opposed to the current structure of the NUPES and quite critical of LFI.

A party executive admitted to EURACTIV that “the fear of LFI’s hegemony is completely legitimate”. However, he stressed that unity remains essential, given the current state of the left and the PCF.

Roussel’s entourage agrees that unity is indeed essential but insists on a better representation of PCF in the media and the polls to “put an end to PCF’s erasure, especially behind LFI”.

These two positions also clashed at the Socialist Congress, to the point where rumours of a party break-up spread quickly. The key divisive issue was the NUPES and the alliance with Mélenchon’s party.

Olivier Faure was re-elected to lead the party but had to make room in the leadership for his competitors Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol and Hélène Geoffroy. Mayer-Rossignol, who became the PS’s first deputy secretary, wants the party to be “allied, but not aligned” with LFI and the NUPES.

In reality, for parliamentarians and party activists, the question of the balance of power is more important than the idea of a union. Those most opposed to the NUPES, among greens and socialists, did not gather much support and declined compared to previous congresses.

French left is still divided on Europe

The French left, now the strongest opposition facing Emmanuel Macron’s presidential majority in this year’s legislative elections set for Sunday (19 June), remains divided regarding issues related to the European Union.

Distrust of LFI among socialist and ecologist supporters

These trends can also be seen among supporters.

In a note published at the end of January, the director of the Jean-Jaurès Foundation’s Opinion Observatory, Antoine Bristielle, noted that a majority of socialists “disapprove of the way LFI behaves in the National Assembly” (55%) and consider opposition views pushed by their ally “too radical” (61%).

Meanwhile, a large majority of EELV and PS supporters (77% and 79%, respectively) consider that “compromises” are possible with the government and refuse to be a constant opposition, Bristielle pointed out. Among LFI’s supporters, this idea is not as widely accepted (52% against 48%).

Moreover, one out of two socialist voters thinks that LFI “stirs up violence” (56%) and that Mélenchon’s movement is even “dangerous for democracy” (51%). The greens are less radical but share this point of view, and all the indicators have increased from one year to the next.

Extract from the Jean-Jaurès Foundation’s study, Fractures françaises, on the image of La France insoumise among supporters of the various political parties.

Contacted by EURACTIV, an LFI deputy rejected the idea that his parliamentary group was to blame. The MP also refused to concede that Mélenchon, who is no longer an MP, had contributed to the alleged tensions within the NUPES, adding that the different parties in the NUPES communicate well.

“The battle over pensions has brought us all together and brought us closer together”, the LFI lawmaker added, voicing optimism that his party’s frontal opposition to the government will allow differences to be brushed aside and enable the leftist parties to focus on the issues facing France.

However, tensions are likely to arise again soon within the NUPES. In addition to the internal debates within LFI, the upcoming European elections in May 2024 could again split the alliance.

Decoding the French pension reform

Legal age, special retirement plans, arduousness… As the pension reform bill is being debated in the National Assembly before going to the Senate on 20 February, EURACTIV France has analysed and summarised the text proposed by the government.