17th April 2017
Photo: Jean Luc Mélenchon – offering hope for France?
The upsurge in support for left-wing candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in the French presidential election, is an illustration of the fact that so called populism is not the preserve of the right-wing. In many polls the race is too close to call, with four candidates positioned to be in the final two on 7th May, when first round voting is concluded on 23rd April. Not long ago the contest was regarded as a straight battle between variations on the right, involving official Les Républicains candidate, François Fillon and far right demagogue, Marine Le Pen of the Front National.
The ground first shifted with the rise of centrist, Emmanual Macron, and his self styled En Marche! movement, initially popular with the middle classes as a pro-EU alternative to Le Pen but increasingly looking like a victory of style over substance. Macron benefitted from the Fillon campaign having to fight a financial scandal and for a while looked like the best option to stop Le Pen. A recent Le Monde poll however shows support for Le Pen and Macron neck and neck, at 22% apiece, Fillon on 19% and Mélenchon edging into third place with 20% of the potential vote.
These figures must be seen in the context of one third of the 47 million strong French electorate being undecided and a further 30% claiming such disillusionment that they will abstain. Mélenchon, the candidate of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), has been able to tap into the disillusionment with the establishment which is common across the EU and communicate policies which appeal to the traditional working class base of the Left.
Mélenchon proposes to raise the minimum wage and the salaries of civil servants. He is proposing to limit fat-cat pay by fixing maximum salaries and imposing a 90% tax on those earning over €400,000 per annum. He is proposing that France quit NATO, quit the IMF and quit the World Bank, all instruments of failing globalised capitalism. Crucially, Mélenchon is proposing to renegotiate EU treaties and put them to a referendum, aiming to break the power of the corporate and banking grip on the European Union. The rise of the Mélenchon campaign has been based on a programme of traditional mass rallies across France, attracting thousands, and a bypassing of the traditional anti-left media through a direct blog found at http://www.melenchon-2017.fr/pages/blog-melenchon
This combination of modern and traditional methods of reaching the electorate has seen Mélenchon rise from a written off no-hoper to the only credible option for the left, easily bypassing official Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon, floundering in the shadow of the failed presidency of François Hollande. Mélenchon also has the support of the French Communist Party (PCF) thus ensuring additional organisational strength to the campaign.
The outcome of the French election will have a profound impact upon the future of the European Union and Europe itself, as well as France. A Mélenchon victory could see the beginnings of a progressive future for Europe, released from the corporate grip of the EU and working towards a Europe of the people’s. Such an outcome will not be achieved without a fight but Mélenchon offers the prospect of taking a small step in the right direction.