A grassroots movement has sprung up on the French left that is looking to avoid another showdown between French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, seen by many as the inevitable rematch in France’s 2022 presidential election. By uniting the left and the Greens behind a single candidate, the nascent movement hopes to offer a viable alternative. But not everyone is convinced.
Weary of the eternal divisions splitting the left and the likelihood of another Macron-Le Pen run-off in the second round of the 2022 presidential election, a group of young French activists has decided to shake things up with what they are calling a “popular primary”.
Among the founders of the Rencontre des Justices (roughly, Meeting for Justice) collective behind the primary are Mathilde Imer, who helped establish the Citizens’ Climate Convention on environmental action, and Samuel Grzybowski of the association Coexister, which supports interfaith dialogue.
The group received the support of 178 left-wing and green MPs on July 30. They also have the backing of a number of well-known figures including former presidential candidate Noël Mamère of the Green party, noted French climatologist Jean Jouzel and actress Juliette Binoche.
“We want to go beyond the parties to find a candidate that can bring together all the key elements of the major demonstrations during Macron’s five-year term,” explains Grzybowski, speaking with FRANCE 24. Macron’s first term saw the birth of the populist Yellow Vest movement; protests against pension reform and police brutality; and demonstrations for more action on the environment.
The organisers of the primary believe that the same citizens who have mobilised for such causes in recent years might be able to form what they call a “justice league” in the face of the “right-wing” and “neoliberal” blocs represented by Le Pen and Macron, respectively.
“We are at a turning point and the next decade will be decisive for ecology and solidarity. Despite our past differences, it is now essential that we come together to meet the major challenges of the next 10 years, starting with 2022,” the group says on its website.
There are normally two rounds in a French presidential election, with all eligible candidates facing off in the initial round. An absolute majority of all votes cast – i.e., more than 50 percent – is required for a candidate to win the election outright. If no candidate wins 50 percent, the two candidates with the most votes face off in a second round of voting.
Candidates despite themselves
“We were inspired by the main demands of civil society to draw up a joint framework of 10 radical measures,” says Grzybowski.
These measures are undeniably left-wing: They include the introduction of a climate law that would adopt all the proposals in the Citizens’ Climate Convention; the provision of a universal income from the age of 18; a reduction in the overall wage gap; equal parental leave; a reduction in working hours; and a crackdown on the trillions sitting off-shore as a result of tax evasion by the wealthy.
In total, 13 political parties – from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party to the liberal Green CAP21 party – took part in meetings to draw up a proposed framework, but stopped short of endorsing the idea of holding a primary.
Citizens have also been invited to propose their own candidates. “This is something new because everyone, by registering for free on our platform, can propose the person of his or her choice whether or not he or she is a member of a political party,” says Grzybowski.
This has created a sprawling list of names and some confusion, since most proposed candidates have not been consulted as to whether or not they would be interested in running. France’s former minister of justice, Christiane Taubira (in the lead with 13,063 endorsements), La France Insoumise MP François Ruffin (8,963 endorsements) and economist Gaël Giraud (5,215 endorsements) have all been nominated.
At the end of this initial stage, which should run until October 11, the five women and five men who have received the most nominations will become the official candidates of the popular primary – provided they accept their nominations.
This is the main challenge for the organisers: to convince the representatives of the Green and left-wing political parties to take part in an unprecedented primary – which will take place at the end of November – and to recognize the results.
“We call on them to assume their responsibilities. If they want to be part of history, they will have to put aside their specific party interests and think of the greater good. The one who wins our primary will have a real chance to win both the Green and Socialist votes in 2022. Divided, it is certain defeat,” says Grzybowski.
The organisers of the primary are also counting on popular pressure. They hope to have at least 300,000 supporters registered to their platform before the beginning of October, putting them in contention with the 237,000 who support La France Insoumise leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon for president and the few thousand voters registered for the Green primary in September.
But despite Grzybowski’s resolute optimism, reality can be cruel. No party has formally committed to take part in the popular primary and several candidates have already dismissed any possibility of participating.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, likely presidential candidate for the Socialist Party, declared on May 2 that she was “not in favour of a primary” while Mélenchon himself has claimed since the autumn of 2020 that he will remain his party’s candidate.
“From the start we said that we wanted to contribute to the framework debates, but that in no way would we participate in a popular primary,” says La France Insoumise deputy Eric Coquerel, contacted by FRANCE 24. “To create a primary between candidates who have such different agendas is not realistic. And even if we assume that there is a chosen candidate at the end of this primary, the outcome will be the same as in 2017 – we will have losers who refuse to support the winner.”
“It’s clear that today we’re facing a wall,” acknowledges Grzybowski about the struggle to unify the left. “But I hope that all these politicians will hear the cry of a generation and that they will eventually understand that there is only one way to win in 2022.”
This article has been adapted from the original in French.