France’s long-established Socialist Party has sided with far-left France insoumise, joining a left-wing alliance aimed at depriving President Emmanuel Macron of a majority in parliament in next month’s elections. Some party heavyweights see it as the final nail in the coffin of fractured socialists; others think it’s an opportunity for revival. But does the PS really have a choice?
With just 1.8% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election in April, the Socialist Party (PS) hit a new low in its steady decline towards political oblivion.
In the red corner, Jean-Luc Mélenchon with his far-left La France Insoumise (LFI) movement won almost 22% and is now running in what he calls the “third round” vote. The 70-year-old wants to force the newly re-elected Macron into a power-sharing government, with himself as prime minister.
It’s a long way off, but Mélenchon came closer on Wednesday when LFI convinced the PS to follow the French Greens (EELV) and the Communist Party (PCF) and join the “Popular Social and Ecological Union” (NUPES) .
This means that they will present a list of candidates rather than face each other in the legislative elections on June 12 and 19.
Former socialist president François Hollande had warned that huddle against LFI “challenged the very history of socialism” and could lead to the “disappearance of the socialists”. He swore to refuse any agreement.
But PCF leader Fabien Roussell sounded the alarm, saying no one on the left could win alone. The leaders of the PS subscribed to his message and ignored that of Hollande.
“We want to elect deputies in a majority of constituencies to prevent Emmanuel Macron from going ahead with his unjust and brutal policy and beating the far right,” the PS and LFI said in a joint statement.
The alliance must still be approved by the governing bodies of the PS on Thursday evening.
Some former Socialist Party heavyweights, known as the Elephants, remain staunchly opposed to what they see as a threat to the party’s social democratic identity.
Former Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he had leave the party and would follow other personalities with a view to rallying Macron.
Good or bad deal?
But the elephants are no longer representative of the left. Indeed, many disgruntled socialists blame Hollande himself for leading the party down a more economically liberal path, paving the way for Macron and spelling death for the party.
A recent Ipsos poll showed that 56% of voters wanted Macron to lose the legislative elections and enter into a “cohabitation” with the hard left, while 57% supported the union of the left to present common candidates.
So joining NUPES can be a worthwhile bet.
“What is certain is that given the score of LFI, it is impossible [for the left] stay out of the LFI alliance,” explains political historian Christophe Batardy.
Parties must win at least 12.5% of the vote to qualify for the second round. The results of the presidential poll based on France’s 577 constituencies suggest that “the left would not even feature in half of the constituencies in the second round”, Batardy explained.
“Mélenchon alone would get 15% and the left alliance 30%,” he told RFI.
The PS and its affiliates hold 28 of the 577 seats in parliament – peanuts compared to the ruling LREM party’s 267.
Under the agreement, the parties will run on the united ticket in a maximum of “winning” seats. LFI should present itself in the greatest number of constituencies, EELV in 100, the PS in 70 and the PCF in 50.
“Seventy constituencies is a good deal”, political scientist Christophe Bouilloud told RFI.
“After his memorable defeat in the first round, the only ambition that the leaders of the PS can have is to save what can be saved, to save the outgoing deputies.”
If the bet is successful, it would be “the affirmation of a left-wing political force”.
But some socialists refuse to withdraw. Stéphane Le Foll, a former minister under Hollande, said he was ready to lead them in a separate campaign.
“It’s tinkered with,” exclaimed former Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, denouncing the “exorbitant price” paid by the PS by being absent in some 500 constituencies.
Fill the boxes
There are also solid financial reasons why the PS needs more MPs.
Like EELV and the right-wing Republicans (LR), the PS obtained less than 5% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election. This means that campaign costs are not reimbursed.
MPs provide much-needed funds.
“The parties receive €37,000 a year for each deputy, and there is also €1.64 for each vote obtained by a candidate,” explains Batardy.
“So there are both existential stakes and very big financial stakes in this election.”
“It was either lay down or perish,” says Jean Petaux, political scientist in Bordeaux. “Some PS heavyweights think the party will end up being a branch of LFI.”
But Bouilloud is more optimistic, seeing in the alliance, although risky, “an extraordinary opportunity” to clarify the political spectrum on the left.
“People opposed to the deal will most likely rally around Macron’s majority and that will clarify a lot of things because LREM has always been, structurally, a breakaway from the right within the Socialist Party.”
It is a reminder, he says, that much of Hollande’s electorate in 2012 switched to Macron in 2017 and is still with him in 2022.
“There is no need for a PS in the center or on the right of the political spectrum. LREM occupies more than enough this role in French politics.”
Spread over Europe
The agreement reflects common ground between the PS and LFI, particularly on social policy.
Candidates under the NUPES banner will advocate raising the minimum wage, lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60, capping prices on essentials and reversing some of the market reforms introduced under Hollande.
But it involves major compromises, particularly on Europe, with Mélenchon’s Eurosceptism contrasting sharply with the history of the Socialist Party as the engine of European integration.
The agreement signed with EELV mentions unilateral “disobedience” to the provisions of certain EU rules if they prevent the implementation of social and economic objectives.
The agreement signed by the PS, however, refers to “temporary exemptions” rather than disobedience and says they must remain “within the framework of the rule of law”.
Nevertheless, the very idea of defying EU regulations caused consternation in Brussels.
“EU law is already suffering verbal attacks from people like [Hungarian Prime Minister] Victor Orban and [leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party] Jarosław Kaczyński,” Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens group in the European Parliament says Politico Online.
“If the French do it too, there is a risk that the whole European construction will collapse.”
This could all be a storm in a teacup, however, with observers suggesting that a forced cohabitation between Macron and Mélenchon remains an unlikely scenario.
“It would be a democratic miracle if this left-wing alliance were victorious,” Bouilloud said.
“This is the first time there’s been a push in a term to try to overturn the outcome of a presidential election by forcing cohabitation on a newly re-elected president, and we have no idea what the reaction will be. ‘electorate.”
The PS elephants may be annoyed by what they see as humiliating concessions to Mélenchon, who broke with his own party in 2008 after failing to water down his pro-EU stance and has criticized him ever since. But LFI also needs the PS.
“LFI needs the rest of the left to obtain an absolute majority and govern”, believes Elisa Steierauthor of Genesis of the plural left.
“There is still great fragility within LFI and the PS has not forgotten it,” she told RFI.
“LFI is not anchored locally, whereas the PS has both local notoriety and in-depth knowledge of the country.
“It’s difficult for the PS, but we should probably not bury the party too soon.”