Julien de Rosa archives Agence France-Presse The New Ecological and Social Popular Union during its first congress, in May 2022. Its logo represents the letter Greek v (naked). On the podium, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
For a week, the soap opera has been going on and on. Not a day goes by without personalities from the French left calling each other names. Is the electoral alliance of the left created just over a year ago for the 2022 legislative elections and called the New Ecological and Social Popular Union (NUPES) on the verge of imploding? This is the question that the entire political class is asking itself as the arguments on both sides have been flying low for several days.
It all started on October 8, immediately after Hamas’ savage attack on Israeli civilians. The socialist deputy Jérôme Guedj was the first to denounce the “lack of compassion which makes up our common humanity” of the president of La France insoumise (LFI), Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The day before, the LFI press release refused to qualify Hamas as terrorist. While all the parties represented in the National Assembly were unanimous, this text was written, according to L’Express, by MP Danièle Obono, close to the Indigenous Party of the Republic, was content to place Israel and the “armed offensive of the Palestinian forces” back to back.
The permanent “bordelization”
The management grouped around Jean-Luc Mélenchon may have tried to plug the gaps by evoking a “war crime” rather than a terrorist act, but that was all it took to trigger an outcry even within its own ranks, as with deputies François Ruffin and Alexis Corbière. Tuesday, the first secretary of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, seemed to sign the death warrant of NUPES by decreeing a “moratorium” on his party's participation in this union of which he accuses the leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of practicing a “permanent messiness” strategy. A decision was expected by many socialist activists.
This decision followed the adoption of a Communist Party resolution noting the “impasse” in which NUPES was and calling for “a new type of union”. In September, its leader, Fabien Roussel, had already judged NUPES to be “outdated”. A statement which led to him being called a “collaborator” by someone close to Mélenchon, Sophia Chikirou, who even compared him to Jacques Doriot, a collaborator who fought under the German uniform. The environmentalists are not left out since their national secretary, Marine Tondelier, estimated that this alliance could only generate “despair”.
151 This is the number of deputies of which the electoral alliance of the left was made up.
It would therefore be the end of this alliance which had allowed the left, despite the collapse of its vote in recent years, to present itself as the first opposition bloc with 151 deputies compared to the 88 deputies of the National Rally . A somewhat forced alliance, since without it, given the hegemonic position of LFI, the socialists, communists and ecologists would have practically no longer had any elected representatives in the National Assembly.
For many analysts, Jean-Luc Mélenchon's strategy can be explained by his desire not to irritate his Arab-Muslim electorate among whom he obtained very good results in the last presidential election. In Seine-Saint-Denis, nearly one in two voters voted LFI in 2022, almost twice as many as the national average. “The refusal to qualify Hamas as a terrorist movement is the ultimate avatar of this strategy of community patronage,” writes journalist Ronan Planchon in Le Figaro. This would also explain why he refused to call for calm during the spring riots which followed the death of young Nahel under the bullets of a police officer. “Candidate Mélenchon’s first electorate comes from territories where visible minorities are over-represented. These are the suburbs of large metropolises: Paris, Lyon, Marseille,” explains geographer Laurent Chalard on the Atlantico website, while specifying that this support was particularly strong in the North African community. An electorate which includes, he explains, a student vote observed in large university towns.
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Could this strategy have its limits? Is Mélenchon “shooting himself”, to use the words of certain left-wing activists? Last week, a CSA poll for the CNews channel revealed that 82% of French people disapproved of Mélenchon's refusal to condemn Hamas terrorism. In his own party, the approval rating is no more than 55%. A descent into hell which is however not confirmed by the voting intentions in the European elections, which on the contrary mark an increase in the vote to 9% (from 6% in 2019) in favor of the LFI list, led by the MEP Manon Aubry.
A “new alliance”?
Is LFI’s attitude towards terrorism the cause of this rupture or a simple pretext? For a year and a half, there has been no shortage of points of friction within NUPES: tensions with Taiwan, the Quatennens affair, pension reform, spring riots. So why is the breakup happening today?
This rupture could also be explained by the approach of the European elections. In this list vote – and not single-member in two rounds like the legislative elections – the small left-wing parties have no interest in presenting themselves as a bloc. They therefore have an interest in distinguishing themselves from their competitors. Socialists, communists and ecologists had already announced their intention to go it alone.
The interest is political, but also economic, because in Brussels, it is enough to exceed 3% (compared to 5 % in the legislative elections) to have their campaign expenses reimbursed. Like the salaries of MEPs, the expense allowances and salaries of assistants (often party executives) are very generous; EELV, the PC and the PS force their elected representatives to return part of it to the party coffers. In reality, an alliance with the Europeans would only benefit LFI. This is perhaps what explains the word “suspension” used by Olivier Faure. Moreover, in the corridors of the Assembly, plans are already being made for a revamped alliance after the European elections. As if this breakup was just a goodbye…