France: parties blooming for a European spring?

European Parliament, Brussels CC/Flickr/William Warby

European Parliament, Brussels
CC/Flickr/William Warby

As the EU elections draw closer, France has seen several new parties appear in its political landscape. This is particularly interesting given the recent scandals in French politics: the left has mainly suffered from Hollande’s controversial leadership, while the right is divided and weakened by recent revelations (the Sarkozy recordings for example). Some see the FN as the big winner in this situation, but French voters may very well turn towards fresh alternatives.

Here is a short insight into the convictions of these new political movements. We will be following them closely in the upcoming weeks.

Nouvelle Donne (New Deal)

This leftist party was started in November 2013 by a former socialist politician, Pierre Larrouturou,  who is also a renowned economist and who named his movement after FDR’s New Deal. At the European level, Nouvelle Donne advocates a more social Europe led by its Parliament as opposed to the governments of its member states.

Parti Européen (European Party)

The European Party was created in February 2014 by young politicians looking to renew the very foundations of the European Union. They envision a federal Europe granting more powers to its different regions. Their program presents very concrete proposals in different areas (defense, social rights, environment, security, etc.), such as the harmonization of labor law, and a common European minimum wage. For the anecdote, one of their suggestions aims to protect funfairs throughout Europe.

Nous Citoyens (Us Citizens)

The movement was created in December 2013 by a French entrepreneur called Denis Payre. Nous Citoyens calls for a more democratic Europe that would no more take the fall for the errors of national politicians. They see the Union as an essential tool to control the influence of capitalism over the European society.

Le Rassemblement Citoyen (The Citizen Gathering)

Movement founder Corinne Lepage, who is also a member of the European Parliament, advocates the end of the traditional divide between right and left in French Politics. Since its creation in March 2013, the party has affirmed its belief in political stances such as energy transition, non-discrimination, and a federal Europe.

Five Eurosceptic parties you may not know about

It’s no secret: this blog is about France and the European Union, so we talk a lot about the Front National & its charismatic leader. Yet there is no need to be jealous of France on that account: the Eurosceptics are represented all over Europe in different forms & fashions. Here are five political parties you may not know about.

Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle – Italy)

CC/Flickr/Giovanni Favia

CC/Flickr/Giovanni Favia

The Five Star Movement appeared before the 2009 Italian elections under the leadership of comedian Beppe Grillo, who’s known for organizing the Vaffanculo protest (which literally means Fuck off) in 2007.

Its political agenda is rather anti-establishment, anti-corruption and aimed towards environmentalism, but its most striking feature is its anti-Europeanism. According to Grillo, the  Euro is to blame for the country’s plunging national debt and its difficulties with handling the crisis.

The Five Star currently represents about a fifth of the Italian electorate, but Grillo has sworn to remain in the opposition until his party has achieved the absolute majority. The May EU elections are of course a big objective for the Five Star.

United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP)

The UKIP is a bit older and has been around since 1993. The interesting characteristic of this right-wing party is that despite the fact that it has no seat in the House of Commons, and only one in the House of Lords, 9 UKIP MEPs were elected to the European Parliament (EP) in 2009. Its leader, Nigel Farage, is well-known for its inflammatory statements against the European Union.

Despite having to face the criticism of the Guardian for their lack of implication in the EP (except when it comes to collecting their salaries & allowances), the UKIP candidates still retain 24% of voting intentions in recent polls for the EU 2014 elections.

For the anecdote, UKIP has also been the prime target of the British comedy act John & the Baptists, who just started a “Stop Ukip tour.”

Law & Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Poland)

This Polish party had first supported the entry of its country into the European Union in 2004, but all of that changed when its leaders heard their Prime Minister call for a federal Europe in a 2011 speech in Berlin.

Jarosław Kaczynski, Chairman of the Law & Justice Party.  CC/Flickr/Piotr Drabik.

Jarosław Kaczynski, Chairman of the Law & Justice Party.
CC/Flickr/Piotr Drabik.

Law & Justice chairman Jarosław Kaczynski himself advocated the membership of Poland in the EU as an ‘independent country’ during his mandate as Poland’s Prime Minister (2005-2007), but has had to compromise with the more radical factions of his conservative party. A prime example of this phenomenon within Law & Justice: Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who owns a popular right-wing radio station in Poland and considers the EU to be the source of all sins, such as abortion and homosexuality.

Overall, the party is not that opposed to the European Union, but is rather looking to preserve Poland’s national sovereignty. The L&J candidates currently hold the lead in voting intentions for the upcoming EU elections.

Finns party (formerly known as True Finns – Finland)

The Finns party became the third biggest party of the country in the 2011 elections with 19.1% of the votes. Their understanding of the current situation is that the EU will eventually collapse, and that Finland should prepare itself for that event. As a result of this rather mild Eurosceptic position, the country remains very committed to the European Union & the Euro and has actually gained in influence within the Union because of its strong economy.

Left Front (Front de Gauche – France)

Let’s make a full circle and come back to France. First, because it is the focus of this blog, and second, because it would be a mistake to believe that all Eurosceptics lean right.

The Left Front appeared previous to the 2009 European Elections as a result of the union of two small left-wing parties and won over 6% of the votes during that election. It is now composed of additional parties, such as the Parti Communiste and the Gauche Anticapitaliste). Its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is almost as famous as Marine Le Pen for its outbursts again Europe.
Translation: The EU Commission is assaulting France. It should be put under reinforced popular sanction.

This party tends to advocate the primacy of national law over EU law, as well as a more social Europe. However, the left-wing coalition has struggled in recent years, not only because of the different ideologies of its members on issues such as the Euro, but also because of the similarities between their anti-EU position and the National Front’s ideas.

This may explain why the Left Front is only in fifth place in the EU 2014 run with 9% of the voting intentions.

Average of polls for February 2014.  Source: Quartz

Average of polls for February 2014.
Source: Quartz

3 ways to make EU elections ‘sexier’

It’s a fact: the number of Eurosceptics is growing throughout Europe, as shown lately in Germany. Yet no matter the individual opinion, the only tool available to make the Union better are the upcoming elections. At this point, even EU Commissioner Viviane Reding only hopes for a voter’s turnout of around 50%. So why not imagine things that could make these elections ‘sexier’ for everyone in France and in the EU as a whole?

Not saying we have to go as far as the Norwegian band Kollektivitet (BUT…)

1. Let EU citizens vote directly for the EU Commission president. The Union has already taken a step in this direction by giving more prominence to the nomination of candidates for the post within European parties. Several people oppose this solution, including EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who believes the current institutions do not need to be reformed.

The fact is however that the Union needs solutions to better involve the entire European population in this democratic process. European politics are often overshadowed by domestic affairs : as seen in the 2010 constitutional treaty referendum debacle, EU votes can turn into a popularity contest for the current national government. This is another log added to the Eurosceptic fire in France, given the all-time low rating of President François Hollande. 

We’re talking about the highest office of the sole body with power of initiative within the EU institutions. A direct elections of the Commission’s president may take away the national dimension associated which each party to consider what the candidate may actually be able to achieve at the European level. It is a face people will be able to relate to and associate with the Union. 

2. Create better promotional videos! If you were in the United States during the 2012 presidential elections, you’ve seen the Lena Dunham/Obama video ad. Of course, this one is biased, but there are many other (fun & objective) possibilities. Short videos are a great way to grab the attention of voters from different generations. So far, the EU has remained rather low key: with under 100 days to go before the EU2014, the two promotional videos of the Parliament’s website (actually just one video: most of the images are the same) arguably lack inspiration. The tone is rather serious and historical, with scenes of crisis and the Berlin wall and the EU appearing as a beacon of hope… Where is the European innovation?

UNICEF Ambassador Selena Gomez.  CC/Flickr/ellasportfolio

UNICEF Ambassador Selena Gomez CC/Flickr/ellasportfolio

3. Find some sexy/famous/inspirational/knowledgeable EU ambassadors ! It is the time the EU comes to term with the strategy it has been pursuing for the past thirty years or so: the pursuit of a European identity is in a way the creation of a brand. As a brand, it needs faces to represent the concept, and EU commissioners are not cutting it. Look at the ambassadors of UNICEF! Of course, these ambassadors are advocating children’s rights, but some will argue that the contribution of the Union to peace is worth the go. What impact could celebrities from all member states that are both knowledgeable about the Union and ready to advocate EU elections in their respective countries have in May?

Here is at least one fun step in the right direction.

 This is actually an initiative of Old Continent,
an agency aiming to develop the EU brand!

How about you?
What are your ideas for sexier elections?

Please comment below!

Europe: Five French politicians to watch

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José Bové (Greens) is a colorful figure of French & European politics. He is known for his alterglobalist opinions and his fight agains GMOs, and has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009, as one of the representatives of the South-West electoral region. During his previous mandate at the European Parliament (EP), Bové took part in several debates on topics such as agriculture and international trade. He is in the run for the presidency of the EU Commission (EC). While we doubt he will be a serious contender for the Commission, he remains one of the most active French eurodeputies for the 2009-2014 term.

Michel Barnier (UMP) is the current Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services know for his contribution to the EU banking reform. He is arguably the French front-runner for the presidency of the European Commission, but is still waiting for the support of President Hollande. Tough choice for the French President, which will have to decide whether he wants to support a member of the opposition for the prestigious post of EC President. For the French speakers among you, here is an article explaining Hollande’s dilemma in more details.

Marine Le Pen (FN) – Does she even need an introduction. The controversial leader of the Front National (currently on top of French polls for EU elections with 21%) has made the headlines throughout 2013 with her calls for the downfall of the Europan Union, and her consequent alliance with Dutch politician Geert Wilders. We’ll be cautiously watching the steps of her party before, during and after the May elections. No matter your take on her politics, you have to recognize the fact that she might be able to federate enough Eurodeputies to create a true anti-European faction within the European Parliament.

Françoise Castex (PS) will NOT be representing France in the EP after May 2014. Then why is she on this watch list? Because of her eviction from the EU elections list, which has at least started a little debate on the way French parties decide on the composition of their European electoral lists. It’s not about experience, it’s about internal politics. Which may or may not account for the relatively small influence of France on EU affairs…

Rachida Dati (UMP) – Sorry to include one more UMP member, but this one is worth it given the surprise of the author when she saw Mrs. Dati on top of the EU electoral list of the UMP in Île-de-France. Known for her lack of interest in European Affairs, the French politician turned to the European Parliament after a rather rough exit of French domestic politics, and was caught on tape in 2009 complaining about having to attend the Parliament’s meetings because the press was there (the full recording in French). She “could not stand it any more.” Nevertheless, Dati apparently wants back in for one more term!