Leftist Mélenchon as French PM Would Shake Europe – Renaud Lambert

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Yves here. As most readers know, even though Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election, not only was there not much enthusiasm for him, there was plenty of outright antipathy, with demonstrations breaking out after his win and again on May Day. Among other things, protestors are unhappy about wages and Macron’s plan to increase the retirement age. Can socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon capitalize on these issues and become Prime Minister? And if so, can he counter the labor-crushing policies of the EU?

By Paul Jay. Originally published at theAnalysis.news

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. In a few seconds, I’m going to be joined by Renaud Lambert from Le Monde Diplomatique to talk about the state of the French elections. Please don’t forget there’s a donate button, subscribe button, and most importantly, come to the website and join our email list. Back in a few seconds. So I’m now joined by Renaud Lambert. He is a deputy editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in Paris. We’re going to talk about the French elections. Thanks very much for joining me, Renaud.

So Renaud, tell us who is [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon and just how significant is this unity of the Left? Where is he at with unifying the Left?

Renaud Lambert

Okay, well, Mélenchon is a former member of the Socialist Party in France. He was even a Minister in the late 1990s under the [Lionel] Jospin government that was the so-called plural Left, but that was fair and neoliberal in terms of the economics. Mélenchon is an admirer of François Mitterrand, but he was trained as a Trotskyist, in a very serious Trotskyist organization.

Paul Jay

For people who don’t know what that means, and I’m not entirely sure what I know what it means because I think there are about 105 variations of Trotskyist organizations. What did that mean in terms of his background?

Renaud Lambert

That means that he is very well trained. Now, obviously, Trotskyists go in very different directions in France. We have plenty of former members of Trotskyist organizations that have gone to the Right or that have pulled the Socialist Party to the right, but generally, they are very well-trained people. They know what it is to sit down and talk about strategy and tactics and to organize a program. His life is about politics. He started politics when he was 16. So like I said, he was a member of the Socialist Party and he left the Socialist Party after a big vote that took place in France regarding the European Union. We were basically entering into the Constitution that the European Union was going to be a neoliberal organization, market-oriented. [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon was against that. So he went on to create a Left party that was its name, Parti de Gauche. And from then on, he’s built up pace and a position in the Left in France. And he was at the helm of a reconstruction of the left in France.

He was a three-time presidential candidate, first of all with an alliance with the Communist Party and this time without an alliance. Basically, if you fast forward, he’s been an active tool of the displacement of the Left from what was the Socialist Party initially to now a certain level of hegemony for Mélenchon’s organization in France.

Paul Jay

For viewers, especially in the U.S. but in Canada too, when they hear he was in alliance with the Communist Party, they’re not sure what to make of that because most of Europe did not go through McCarthyism and House of un-American Activities Committee, which in fact Canada did, which is another story. There’s an interesting book called The Uncanadians about that. So the Communist Party in France and much of Europe is pretty much a social Democratic party of sorts itself. Is that right? And it’s part of the mainstream politics in one way or the other?

Renaud Lambert

Absolutely. The Communist Party today would be to the right of Mélenchon, definitely. But when you talk about the alliance with the Communist Party, you’re talking about the fact that it is connecting with a part of the Left that was itself displaced by a former alliance that took place in the 1970s between [François] Mitterrand, who was the first left-wing President in France, elected in 1981. But before that, he got into an alliance with the Communist Party. And before that alliance, the Communist Party was a dominant party in France. It could count on 25% of votes during presidential elections after the Second World War, and it had very dedicated militants or members all across the countryside, people who go out and canvas.

But slowly after that alliance with the Socialist Party, the Communist Party got displaced and reduced to accounting for very little. But Mélenchon decided to reconnect with them. First of all, because their past is pretty glorious in France. They push for very good politics. So that was a way of saying we’re going to align with you, we’re not trying to replace you. And second of all, at that time, the idea was to have alliance between parties.

That was a strategic choice. Now, Mélenchon was moved from that alliance between parties to something that is more a movement. Now that is a very effective tool in order to create large coalitions because people can come with their own priorities and add them on, as long as they’re not contradictory, add them on to the general platform and that’s what happened. It was very successful in that way. Now, obviously, that raises questions once you’re in power, because if you ally between parties, if you work within a party, then you have Congress’s, general discussions within these organizations that allow you to organize your priorities. When you function on the basis of a movement, then everybody probably thinks that their priority is going to be prioritary, but it cannot function like this. On the one hand, it’s a very effective tool in order to gain space during elections. Now, in terms of actually governing and implementing your measures, it’s a different ball game.

Paul Jay

Okay, well, let’s break down a bit just to give a little bit of context here. In the presidential election, Mélenchon came in third, but only a very small amount behind Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, although the way politics is moving far-right is mainstream now in many countries, including France, the next set of elections in June for the National Assembly and while the President, in theory gets to select the Prime Minister, in fact, it’s the Parliament, the National Assembly, that really gets to pick if they don’t agree with what the President’s going to do. In theory, whatever party has the majority of seats should be able to pick the Prime Minister. So that’s what this next election is about. So he did very well in the presidential election. He almost came in second and would have been in the runoff. So what is the significance of these allies he has picked up electorally? He’s now allied with the Green Party, with the Socialist and the Communist. How much vote does that represent?

Renaud Lambert

Well, he came very close and to give viewers an idea, he got over 7 million votes and Mélenchon just about made it to the second round. He was lacking only 400,000 votes out of the total that he got of over 7 million. So it was a very successful presidential campaign for Mélenchon. Now there were calls before the presidential election to unite the Left. Of course, everybody in the Left wants the Left to win. But the phenomenon that you’ve been seeing is a slow displacement of traditional left-wing parties. Like I was saying, the Socialist Party still claimed before the presidential election to be a major Left party and said well Mélenchon, you need to talk with us and we need to come up with the platform. Mélenchon said no and he was reproached with that because people say oh, you’re not a Democrat, you don’t want to talk with people, you don’t want to ally. And he said no, I just want to put on my program. Our programs are not compatible. So let people decide. And that happened.

Paul Jay

And there in fact was a substantial difference in the program between Mélenchon and the Socialist Party.

Renaud Lambert

Absolutely. The Socialist Party at that stage was still and will come to a major rift that has taken place since. The Socialist Party was definitely a neoliberal party at that stage. And to give viewers an idea and have and have I think Mélenchon was right in that strategy not to align before the presidential election Mélenchon got almost 22% of the votes. Then came the Green Party wanted to ally as well and they got under 5%. The Socialist Party got 1.74%. So that party that claimed to be a cornerstone up the Left got below 2%.

Now once all that happened and Mélenchon could claim to embody what people wanted, some form of opposition to [Emmanuel] Macron and his business-friendly politics and obviously trying to resist the rise of the far-right. Then on that basis of who weighs what it was possible to talk about, what do we want to do? So on the 2nd of May, Mélenchon got into an agreement with the Greens. Now the major difference with the Green Party was the relationship to Europe. Mélenchon always said that some of the policies he wants to implement and some of them are very radical in the context of a neoliberal European Union. Some of these policies could not be implemented because the European Union prevents them, it rules them out.

Paul Jay

And let me just remind viewers that European Union to a large extent is the Union of European bankers and finance. Much of the — not all and there’s some progressive stuff comes out of the EU, but a lot of the economic policy, the EU is driven by bankers and particularly German bankers.

Renaud Lambert

Yes. For instance, one of the main issues at stake during the presidential election was the pension reform, and that directly comes from the European Union. Now, right-wing governments get into a kind of implicit agreement with the European Union because when they want to push through a very bad reform, they’ll say, oh, it’s the European Union. We have no choice. Obviously, we are sweet as pie, we wouldn’t want to do that. But the European Union definitely has its own agenda. It’s a free-trade, business-friendly organization. So say if you want to make sure that next time there is a pandemic and it might happen, France is in a position to produce a vaccine, then you need to spend money in order to kick start an industry that’s been obliterated by the market, that the European Union prevents you from doing this.

Paul Jay

And one of the big issues I know, it was in Greece, and I believe it’s also in France is the age of retirement. The EU bankers want the age of retirement to be high, not lower, and people want it lower with more money.

Renaud Lambert

Absolutely. In France, Macron calls himself the extreme center, as opposed to the far-left and the far-right, he would be the far-center, but he’s been rebranded the far-market because it’s just plain market all the way. But what he wants is the retirement age, the minimum age you can retire to move up from 62 years of age to 65. Now, people should know that in France, working-class people, their life expectancy in good health conditions is 65. So what basically Macron is saying to the working-class employees is you will not get a good health retirement and people are adamant they don’t want this.

So let me get back to the agreement with the Greens. The Greens have always been very pro-EU. They are still thinking that it is possible to change the EU from inside. And that’s been at loggerheads for years. But they came to an agreement saying that we will implement our program and the EU says we can’t, we will disobey, and they managed to agree on this. It’s been very close to Mélenchon’s position for the last presidential election. But anyway, they came to an agreement. With the Communist Party, they came to an agreement the following day. And one of the main issues that they had with the Communist Party was the fact that the Communist Party is pro-nuclear and they don’t show is against it. And what they did there is to say —

Paul Jay

Now by nuclear, you mean nuclear energy?

Renaud Lambert

Absolutely, yes. Nuclear energy. Absolutely. What they say is that the alliance is going to be an alliance where members of Parliament unite for big policies, but they all will retain the right to have their own group inside the Parliament, and the Communist Party will be able to push for the development of new nuclear plants. So disagreements are allowed. And the following day they came to an agreement with the Socialist Party and that was very interesting because it’s been a very busy week at the Socialist Party. Basically what happened is the former heads of the party were all saying, well, if you go into an agreement with Mélenchon, I’m out. And basically what the party said was, go away. And so you have all these elephants, former big figures in the Socialist Party who are not orphans because they’ve been pulling the Socialist Party so far to the Right, some of them actually taking part in Macron’s government, the current President, neoliberal President, they’ve been pulling so hard the Right, it’s torn. The head of the party was speaking yesterday at a convention for that new alliance, and he had very strong words against his former comrades, very strong words.

So it was, adamant, that the Socialist Party needed to go back to a form of radicality that it used to have, and it definitely used to have in France. So that’s the context. You have this alliance against pushing for a platform that is very progressive. It’s the most progressive that we’ve seen.

Paul Jay

What are some examples of that platform? I know lowering the age of pension is one. To what extent is public ownership part of the program?

Renaud Lambert

It’s a very strong part of the program to be able to nationalize industries in order to be able to invest in them. They promise to raise the minimum wage to make sure that wages are revised upwards, which is something that is inscribed in the law but never put into place. They want to cap prices for essential products in the context, that of inflation. They want to revise the laws that organize the workplace. Now, these have been attacked massively by Macron and the previous President, who was a Socialist, but he’s been very critical of the new alliance. They want to invest in culture, invest in schools. Schools have been attacked, under a massive attack by Macron. And the environment is going to be a major cornerstone of the program. They want to assess all the measures that will be implemented against the ecology priority. For instance, water, which is already running scarce in France. We’re only in the month of May, and some localities are saving water, preventing people from using them the normal way and that would only happen in August normally. It’s happening now.

Paul Jay

France has a very major oil company, Total. What is the program in terms of phasing out fossil fuel and transitioning to sustainable energy?

Renaud Lambert

Well, there’s a massive program to invest in wind turbines and all of that. Now that platform has been assessed and independently assessed to be the furthest any party went in terms of the environment, that program and the one defended by the Greens, it’s going very far. But Mélenchon always talked about the transition. And I think it’s a key issue because obviously, we all know that it’s going to take transitioning, and the transition is going to be tricky. We are all used to using a lot of energy and everybody wants their beer to be fresh, but at the same time, they want to protect the environment. So it’s going to take some discussion.

Now, the discussion is going to take Mélenchon to become Prime Minister, we’re going to have a lot of discussions with the European Union. And in the context where the ECB [European Central Bank], the central bank in Europe, has announced that it was going to reduce its policy of purchasing assets or basically quantitative easing. That means in coming days vocabulary. That means that tensions on the Euro, the currency we use over here, is going to build up and we could see the start of a new debt crisis.

Renaud Lambert

If Mélenchon was Prime Minister, that would be very interesting to observe, because definitely, you would have a dissident voice and at that time with all due respect to the Greeks, it would not be a country the size and the weight of Greece. We tried to go into a resistance in the year 2015 it would be France, one of the two key countries in the European Union at the moment.

Paul Jay

And there’s a lot of sentiment in France, which is unsympathetic to the EU because a lot of Marine Le Pen’s vote on the far-right was also an anti-EU vote.

Renaud Lambert

I mean, the crisis in Greece has left wounds, massive wounds. The story used to be that Europe is freedom and prosperity and peace and we saw what kind of prosperity the EU was thinking of for the Greeks who were compelled to slash budgets, where poverty shot up. We saw what kind of war was waged against that population just because they wanted wages to be paid, they wanted to be able to have a health system. So people have seen this and people have heard when they’ve been told, well, we have to raise the retirement age because the EU demands it.

Plus, with the business in Ukraine at the moment, the war in Ukraine, the European Union has taken it upon itself to close TV channels because they were said to be too close to Russia. In France, for instance, we have billionaires on most of the publications, and the media, and that raises no issue whatsoever. So, yeah, there is definitely an anti-EU sentiment. I would say that during the presidential candidate, all this was cautioned by the fact that the ECB was purchasing so much on the markets that the tension as far as debt was concerned, was smothered. Once it reduces that program, I think we might see this crisis rise again.

Paul Jay

And does the Russian invasion of Ukraine help Macron? He tried to position himself as sort of the person who could help negotiate an end to the war. Now there’s been a great strengthening of NATO [The North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. Sweden and Finland are talking about joining NATO. Germany is going to increase its budget, as are some other EU countries, are going to really increase their militarization. Does this affect these elections for National Assembly?

Renaud Lambert

For the National Assembly, I would say not so much. For the presidential elections, Macron did indeed try and present himself as the President that could not be campaigning because there was urgent business to be dealt with. I don’t think that served him so much because he was so discreet. People have been resenting this. Now, on the other hand, some media have attempted to reproach Mélenchon with what was deemed to be a positive attitude to [Vladimir] Putin. I think that was an unfair accusation. What Mélenchon has been talking about is the problem raised by NATO. You can criticize NATO without being a Putin ally. I think 2 hours after Putin invaded Ukraine, Mélenchon had a Press release. I think he was one of the first presidential candidates to totally condemn the invasion. So at the moment, what people are concerned about is bread and butter issues and pensions, for instance. Ukraine is not that present.

Paul Jay

So with these elections really only a matter of weeks away now, what is it, about a month? To what extent is the competition against Mélenchon and to what extent is it about trying to get some of the working-class votes that went for Marine Le Pen? If I understand it correctly, she was stronger in the countryside, which is in rural France, which is why she came a little bit ahead. Are they going to be able to eat into some of that vote?

Renaud Lambert

She was stronger in some of the countryside where there was always been a traditional right-wing vote. The rest of the countryside either voted for Mélenchonor or didn’t vote. Abstention like not voting would be the main attitude. The key will be participation to the elections. To give you an idea, 28% of the population did not turn up to vote during the presidential election. This time in 2022, during the last National Assembly elections, below 50% of the population turned out to vote under 50%. People just didn’t care.

You have to remember that, I can’t remember now, I should have checked this, but it’s only recently that National Assembly elections were organized just after the presidential election. The idea was to ensure that the President would have a National Assembly that he would master. It’s kind of ironic that the system is in such a bad way that what was supposed to give all the cards to one man, it’s turning out to perhaps prevent Macron to be able to implement his policies.

Paul Jay

Well, actually that was my next question. For the sake of argument, let’s say Mélenchon’s party and the United Left Front actually wins the majority of the National Assembly. Mélenchon is the Prime Minister who has the power between the President to the Prime Minister?

Renaud Lambert

Well, there’s nothing automatic about Macron naming Mélenchon Prime Minister. It would be very, I think, unwise for him not to follow what has been a tradition up to now. We’ve had what is called cohabitation. That means you have a President, in one political party and a Prime Minister in a very different one. So all presidents have accepted results that came from National Assembly elections and decided to name a Prime Minister from the majority party or group. So I hope and I think Macron would follow that tradition. So say if he did like you’re suggesting, it’s going to be a form of power-sharing, but in France, the President is first and foremost in charge of foreign policy and defence, but all the politics is implemented by the government, and the Prime Minister can do a lot. Mélenchon has been very clear. All the policies that I’ve been describing, he’s in a position to implement them.

Paul Jay

Who controls the money? Isn’t it the National Assembly?

Renaud Lambert

No, it would be the Ministry. So he can organize decrees. That means that he doesn’t have to go to the National Assembly. If he has a majority, he can get the National Assembly to vote —

Paul Jay

No, I mean, in terms of relationship to the President. If the Prime Minister’s party controls the National Assembly, do they control the money?

Renaud Lambert

Oh, yeah, they control the money. They have their own economic Minister. Mélenchon will be naming that person. So yeah, absolutely.

Paul Jay

Now, if Macron doesn’t want to appoint Mélenchon and Mélenchon’s party does control the National Assembly, can’t the National Assembly appoint Mélenchon Prime Minister anyway. They don’t need Macron.

Renaud Lambert

No. Only the President can name the Prime Minister.

Paul Jay

Okay, because there’s reporting in some of the American press the other way. So that’s wrong. The National Assembly cannot overrule the President on this.

Renaud Lambert

Well, I’m not a Constitution expert, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a prerogative of the President to name the Prime Minister. We would go down a very serious constitutional crisis if Macron decided to go against this. I mean, the next government that would be elected, because the person who he would name to form a government would have no legitimacy. So I want to believe that Macron will do it and that there is no option for him but to do this.

Paul Jay

Now, Marine Le Pen, the far-right party did very well, the best it’s ever done I think, in a presidential election, are they going to be a serious factor in the National Assembly election?

Renaud Lambert

National assembly elections are quite tricky in France because you have a first round. Now, you might get someone elected during the first round, but you can have up to three candidates for the second round. So that makes it very difficult to know how votes will split in what direction, and projections are complicated.

Now, what was interesting was that the French presidential election was characterized by the fact that you had two very right-wing candidates, Macron, obviously, and Valérie Pécresse, the traditional conservative candidate and yet three far-right candidates. Now two got very strong results, Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour got something like 7%. Now Zemmour and Le Pen didn’t come to an agreement and he will have his own candidates in some areas. So that’s a bonus for the left, obviously, because it’s got to thin out the far-right vote. But the arithmetic for National Assembly elections is a very tricky one.

We had been talking about a week ago about all this, the possibility of Mélenchon making it to the Prime Minister position, as far as I was concerned, was very limited. I must say that I’m looking at this in a very different way now. The agreements that have taken place, very few people thought would be even imaginable a week ago, and not only what they imagined, but they actually happened.

Paul Jay

Now, when Bernie Sanders looked like he had a real chance of winning the Democratic Party nomination for President, the American elites went nuts and tons of money went to Hillary Clinton, and the media certainly tried to isolate and diminish Sanders, and there was a real closing of the ranks. Is that happening in France? If Mélenchon really has a chance to be Prime Minister, one would think the French elites are going to go nuts or already have.

Renaud Lambert

They are. They are going absolutely nuts you know, and the spearhead for this was the right-wing element in the Socialist Party. It’s very interesting that the way that panned out, that is that they are outside. You have a former Prime Minister from the Socialist Party who is now a candidate for the National Assembly for Macron, a very despicable man who actually wasn’t in alliance with the far-right in Spain when he travelled over there, his name is Manuel Valls. These days he’s saying that his main enemy, his adversary in France at the moment, it’s not the far-right, it’s Mélenchon. I mean, that level of aggression is terrible. And the media are full of stories that Mélenchon could never manage these agreements, now he’s managed them, but he could never become Prime Minister, or if he’s Prime Minister, he will never be able to implement his policies. A lot of nightmare scenarios, but there’s always something quite exciting, seeing the mainstream media panic. It suggests that something is happening and they are panicking.

Paul Jay

In the United States, the billionaire class has an activist section and with their money have a lot to say and influence the outcome of elections. Is it the same in France? Are there any spending limits? Does billionaire money have a big role to play?

Renaud Lambert

We don’t have the funding system that people have in the United States, Luckily. But the way they do try and influence the discussion is through the media. The main economic news diary in France is owned by the richest man in France, and the second-largest general diary is owned by not a billionaire. They’re everywhere and they’re known to intervene in the way stories are covered.

Now during the campaign, there’s only a certain element of things they can do. I think the picture I’m painting needs to be counterbalanced by another picture, which would be if Mélenchon actually makes it to the position of Prime Minister and he starts enrolling his program and implementing it. The level of aggression there is going to be terrible. I mean, we’re going to have capital ad-flow and we are not allowed to impose capital control under EU regulation. So the economy is going to go it’s going to go into a crisis. The interest rates that investors require to purchase French assets, they are going to shoot up. That’s going to put pressure on the economy. The media is going to be full of stories about the way Mélenchon is racking the economy.

I like to remind people I talk to of this story. When [François] Mitterrand was first elected and back then, he was left-wing. The fiscal deficit reached 3.2% when the media said, well, that socialist experiment has got to stop. This is impossible. Now you fast forward to the crisis in Ireland after the subprime chaos. The fiscal deficit, reached 32% of GDP, 32%. And what the media said, well, we have to implement more neoliberal reforms. So the media is always, as you know, in a position to spin whatever the reality is, 3% deficit for the Left is just terrible. But when the neoliberal are in Paris, a 32% deficit is just an invitation to go even further. So we’re going to have a lot of this and we don’t have media to counterbalance that narrative that they’re going to impose on the population. And some people might get really scared. Now if the level of resistance we encounter in the European Union is really strong, the coalition might be finding it hard to stay together because they have come to an agreement between parties.

If Mélenchon starts to implement his program, when things start to become tenser with the European Union, then the question of people’s desire to stay within the European Union is going to be an issue. Some people do want Mélenchon and that Coalition’s program to be implemented but with the hope that the European Union would accept a certain level of variation to the script that it tries to impose on all the European capitals. Now I wonder whether they will accept this. And if we come to a crisis with the European Union, what level of support will that coalition in power receive in the streets? We have people take to the streets to say no, we do want to cap the retirement age at 60. And that’s a big question.

Paul Jay

I asked my friend who lives in Paris what she thought of Mélenchon and her answer was, of course, I would vote for him against Macron, but I didn’t like his attitude towards Europe. I liked being part of Europe and she would have voted, I guess, Green or something. But how does he overcome that feeling amongst a lot of progressive people? But they want to be part of Europe, they don’t want to get out.

Renaud Lambert

Well, what he says, he was talking about this today, actually. He says, well, what we want is democracy and we’re sure that Europe wants democracy as well. So if the people vote for a program, the democracy demands that we implement that program. Then if the European Union is making a fuss, then it’s going to teach everybody a lesson. Now you have to remember what happened in Greece. So in Greece in early 2015, [Alexis] Tsipras, left-wing, was elected in order to renegotiate a memorandum of understanding, with the so-called troika, that was the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. People in Greece, they wanted to stay within Europe. They didn’t want to leave, but they didn’t want that austerity imposed on them. And over six months Tsipras tried to negotiate with the so-called partners and saw that what he had in front of him was a bulldozer adamant that they’re going to crush the aspiration of the Greek people to review that austerity. And when Tsipras organized a referendum in July 2015 and asked people, do you want to scrap the memorandum of understanding, that means do you want to do away with austerity, implied, even if that means we’re going to be kicked out of the Eurozone, people voted yes, we do want to do away with austerity.

Six months was the time it took for people to understand what I think the European Union is about containing democracy. So I think for your friend, it would be interesting to see if she did vote for someone like Mélenchon, she was allowed to vote in France. What would she make of the way the European Union is reacting to his attempt at implementing measures that have been democratically voted? And how would that opinion evolve in the course of six months?

Paul Jay

As you said earlier, and I would say not just one could one should denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine and denounce the eastward expansion of NATO. I’m a dual citizen, so as a U.S. citizen and a Canadian citizen. I would like to see the end of NATO completely. That said, what is the attitude in France? How much is the issue of NATO an issue?

Renaud Lambert

Well, in the context of the alliance that has been formed. In the run-up to the National Assembly elections, NATO was a point where no agreement was reached. So Mélenchon wanted France to leave the integrated command system for NATO and to develop a neutral position. The way Ireland has a neutral position, that means you’re not bound by treaties. You can basically have your own defence policies. But other parties like the Socialist Party, and the Green Party, would not want to leave NATO. So that question has been left aside. When he talks about it because obviously, people say, well, the President is in charge of defence but the Prime Minister is in charge of security in the country and we do want France to be able to have a United position in the context of a war that might very well go nuclear.

Paul Jay

Well, if it goes nuclear they don’t have to worry about what the position is.

Renaud Lambert

You’re right. Mélenchon has been stressing the fact that he would make sure that there isn’t a slight difference between his position and Macron’s. As a matter of fact, Macron has not been doing too bad on that issue. He has been trying to talk with the Russians and to organize discussions that obviously some of the belligerents are not interested in at the moment. I think it could work.

Paul Jay

Okay. Well, thanks very much and let’s do this again as we get closer to the election, maybe a few days before the vote and then we’ll talk about it after the vote. Thanks very much, Renaud.

Renaud Lambert

Thank you for having me.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget the donate button, the subscribe button and join our email list and thanks again.

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  1. ChrisRUEcon

    Yes! Thanks for covering this. I meant to follow up with a comment on an earlier posts, but now we have “Les NUPES“!!! Maravillieux!! (via france24.com)

    PJ with the truth: “And let me just remind viewers that European Union to a large extent is the Union of European bankers and finance.” ~chortle~ Yes, a financial dictatorship run by banks as one finance blogger put it.

    Thanks to RL for explaining why this was not done before the presidential election – leverage. I will confess to having questioned that strategy. It makes sense now.

    And finally: “Well, if it goes nuclear they don’t have to worry about what the position is.”
    Indeed, one of the most odious things about this proxy war is how the US is basically pushing the EU, which is waaaaay closer to Russian nukes, to put Europe in harms way to satisfy America’s imperial belligerence. Every European who is supportive of NATO should watch that Russian TV video that was shared here last week – 200 seconds is not a lot of time for regret, retaliation or even to have one’s life flashing before oneself. #CaveatEmptor

      1. JustTheFacts

        You’re welcome.

        For what it’s worth, “Journal” translates both into Diary and Newspaper. So when Renaud Lambert said “Diary”, I think he meant “Newspaper”.

  2. Quentin

    Except it’s not going to happen. The EU needs more than a shaking up, a totally undemocratic organisation of appointed bureaucrats who can easily ignore the wishes, if any, of the parliament. Ask a citizen of a EU country who their representative in Brussels is but don’t waste your time waiting for an answer because hardly any know. Who does Ursula von der Leyen represent? Definitely herself. A more apposite question would be does she represent any one else?

  3. Ignacio

    I didn’t read the interview in full but found it meaty. It is difficult to notice but many of the developments in France Left parties and politics are paralleled by the same in Spain even if the electoral outcomes are absolutely divergent in both countries. A French prime minister from Melenchon’s coalition would find support in current Spanish government but unfortunately short lived if the the current Spanish coalition looses in the next general elections. At EU level it will be extremely difficult to see a coalition of left-leaning governments any day in the future and the EU Parliament Group named the Progressive Alliance (with socialist parties and the like) is an ‘extremely centrist’ group not that different from neolib Macronites.

    I liked that Macron self-definition as ‘extreme centrist’ that shouldn’t be interpreted as political centre amongst the various ideological trends of the population but centrist as embedded in managing dominating elites that control everything. That is what extreme centrism means. The connected people and the owners of the ‘politically correct’ (compliant with the will of the ‘centre’, the PMC). It is at the same time centre and above the populace.

  4. KD

    EU is an interesting issue. The Blue-Check libs seem to regard the EU as a check against European nationalism/chauvinism, and possibly the foreshadowing of the coming international system without nations consisting of Peace/Love/Dope “end-of-history.” The reality is that is it not designed to capsulize nationalism, it is intend to capsulize democracy, so that capital is free of constraints from democratic governments reacting to popular pressure. It is antithetical to social democracy by design per Hayek and his buddies. Its not very clear what the benefits of the EU are if you are not German or part of the pan-German manufacturing basin. Its really about eroding pension rights, benefit cuts, privatization, easy capital flight and cheap labor in a race to the bottom–not to mention debt arbitrage for bankers. That’s why the Tories were for it, before they were against it (when opposition served cynical political interests).

    The second point is that so long as NATO exists, Western Europe remains essentially vassalized to the US foreign policy establishment and the vagaries of US elections as it cannot defend itself. On one hand, this is financially helpful to Europe, but it puts serious limits on the capacity of Europe to act autonomously either economically or militarily. You can see the pro and con for Europeans here, especially given 20th century history, but it means Europe will be joined at the hip to the Neoliberal American Establishment in perpetuity, and it does not appear that America is sending her best if Tori Nuland is representative.

    Its too bad Le Pen beat out Melenchon, although its hard to believe that was not done by design.

    1. Kouros

      “On the morning of May 29, 1787, in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, opened the meeting that would become known as the Constitutional Convention by identifying the underlying cause of various problems that the delegates of thirteen states had assembled to solve. “Our chief danger,” Randolph declared, “arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions.” None of the separate states’ constitutions, he said, had established “sufficient checks against the democracy.””


    2. digi_owl

      The basic thing is that said checkmarks are invariably PMC adjacent, and thus the kind of people that most benefit from the pillars of EU freedoms.

      Thus it is impossible for them to see that the same freedoms are ruining the livelihoods of the industrial workers. and that in turn leads to the rise of right wing nationalism and racism, because the left no longer have a good alternative for those workers (though that may be, albeit belatedly, changing).

      The one two of COVID and Ukraine may well have shocked the system. But it has had 20+ years to build up momentum, and the old ship is not a fast turner.

  5. Randy

    They couldn’t figure out that they should ally until now, huh. Not expecting much from these clowns.

  6. lance ringquist

    should we be surprised!

    the founding fathers of the free trade E.U. included former Nazis, an Italian fascist, and a French collaborator

    nazi lawyers even stated that the roots of fascism can be traced back to free trade, and fascism is based on free trade

    the nazis knew there was no evidence at all that free trade helped people, its exactly opposite


    Robert Tombs – Perry Anderson: A Devastating Indictment of the EU
    January 26, 2021 EU politics, EU-Institutions, National Politics

  7. Alice X

    Would it to be so, but alas, as Renaud notes, many of Mélenchons proposals could not be implemented in the present EU as it is a Neoliberal project.

    Greg Palast 2015:

    Robert Mundell, Architect of the Euro, Always Envisioned Deregulation


    Enrico Tortolano at OpenDemocracy 2016:

    The EU and other neoliberal nightmares


  8. David

    OK, well, the first thing to say is that the journalist concerned is from Le Monde Diplomatique, not the daily newspaper of the same name. LMD is normally a much saner and better balanced publication, but it still speaks from within the politico-media bubble. Hence, for example, talk of “combating the extreme right”, as though the parties and candidates labelled “extreme right” had not attracted support because of the failure of the Left (including Mélenchon) to offer anything meaningful to ordinary people. He also gets the point about NATO wrong. France has been a member of NATO since 1949, but in 1963, De Gaulle took France out of the Integrated Military Structure, and that remained the position until 2010, when Sarkozy, for reasons that have never really been clear to me, re-entered it. Mélenchon’s position is therefore a return to classic Gaullism. As he should have added, France has both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons which are not under NATO control, and devotes a lot of time, effort and money to making sure they stay that way.

    The journalist says he’s not a Constitutional expert. In fact, the Constitutional position is quite clear. The President can name anyone they like to be Prime Minister. The outgoing PM, Castex, wasn’t even a Deputy: he was a career civil servant and local politician. Obviously, the PM has to be able to command a majority in Parliament, but under the Constitution, the PM can ask for a confidence vote on any issue, with another election if the vote is lost, which is a kind of nuclear deterrent in itself. But Mélenchon is deeply unpopular across the political spectrum, and, unless his party has an absolute majority of seats, which for technical reasons is unlikely, he’ll find everyone ganging up on him to impose another candidate. Many on the Left regard Mélenchon as an ego-obsessed traitor, and I keep running into lifelong leftists who say they would never vote for him under any circumstances.

    The journalist is speaking from what’s known as the “sovereignist” perspective, which is very anti-Brussels, and anti-NATO, and has quite a lot of support across the political spectrum. It tends to see the ills of France as imposed from outside, rather than generated from inside. But in fact Brussels has no need to impose neoliberalism on France: French elites adopted it enthusiastically a generation ago. Blaming everything on German bankers (a favourite target) obscures the fact that the French establishment itself is keen to do things like increasing the retirement age.

    There are a couple of glaring omissions. One is that the vote for Mélenchon (and for Le Pen) in April was essentially a protest vote. Most French people wanted Macron out, but most also wanted to avoid another Macron-Le Pen second round. Broadly speaking, the better-off and better-educated voted for Mélenchon, the less well-off and less well-educated voted for Le Pen. In each case, the hope was that Macron would come third. The detail of the different programmes was irrelevant, as it largely will be in the parliamentary elections as well. April was a contest between Macron and anti-Macron, and the parliamentary elections will be, at least partly, about that as well. So you can’t simply read across from one set of numbers to another.

    Secondly, the “union” is rickety at best, and there are fundamental disagreements, for example over Europe. There is no way that a government could actually be formed from the three parties that make it up. Bear in mind also that the name chosen is “National People’s Economic and Social Union”, which is to say that the words “Left”, “Socialist” or any reference to the economy at all are no to be found. It’s essentially a coalition of Good Thinking People, and the Greens and the PS have joined as much to save their own skins by getting seats allocated than anything else. The “union” is not a serious long-term prospect.

    Finally, the elephant in the room is Mélenchon’s cuddling up to Islamic extremism. This makes sense for him in terms of votes, because his lieutenants have been cutting deals with radical imams in the suburbs of major cities, who are very influential in the voting choices of their flock. Quite what the imams were promised in return is unclear. For many traditional voters of the Left, this is a red line. Secularism, and the idea that religion should not play a role in politics, have always been fundamental tenets of the French Left. Mélenchon is not so much a leader, as a spokesman for an unwieldy movement which contains people who hate each other: homosexual rights activists sitting next to islamic fundamentalists who think homosexuals should be put to death. As secular Muslim intellectuals have been warning for years, if the islamists ever get a whiff of power, it’s people like Mélenchon who will be first up against the wall. He thinks he’s using them, but actually they are using him, and doing quite well. Already, one LFI parliamentary candidate with strong links to extreme islamic groups was forced to step down today. If you want a US equivalent, I suspect the Religious Right would be quite close: they have many of the same objectives, such as making abortion illegal.

    It shouldn’t be thought, either, that immigrant groups as a whole will vote for LFI. Many middle-class Muslims vote for the Right, and some even for the RN. Le Pen swept the board in the overseas territories in the West Indies and the Indian Ocean.

    That’ll do for now.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, David.

      With regard to Sarkozy and NATO, I tagged along with French friends and former colleagues to his London fund raiser / rally in early 2007. He was in town for a couple of days and met political and business leaders, never missing an opportunity to slag off France and promise a Thatcherite / Reaganite revolution, much like Macron a decade later (but without a public rally). Sarkozy saw integration into the military structure as part of cementing France not just into the military alliance, but as part of a wider modernisation drive. A tick box / check list of neo con and neo liberal targets.

      Sarkozy referred to the US political and business links of his stepmother and siblings. Not long after reintegrating France into the NATO command structure, Microsoft was given a contract to modernise the French military’s software. The bill was paid to Microsoft’s tax dodger arm in Ireland.

      Sarkozy pere et fils, Nicolas and his father and Nicolas and his sons, aren’t that wealthy and, like Boris Johnson and the Clintons and Obamas, feel a need to ingratiate themselves into the circles of the wealthy, vide the election victory celebration at Fouquet’s. One wonders if one reason for the reintegration into NATO was a favour to be cashed in later. The Sarkozy family is sordid to say the least.

      1. YassineA

        Has the favour not already been cashed in ? ie the NATO support for the Sarkozy-led Lybian war to prevent Khadafi from revealing how he had bankrolled the Sarkozy 2007 election ?

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Yassine.

          I was thinking of the Sarkozy family pockets, not this favour. I don’t disagree with you, though.

          1. YassineA

            Thank you Colonel Smithers. Sarkozy and his entourage have been embroiled in so many corruption schemes that entangling the web of quid pro quo is a full time job.

            What still remains a mistery to me is how he has managed to convince Macron, the self-declared slayer of the ‘Vieux Monde’, to give him almost total protection from prosecution by abusing the control that the executive branch can have on the judicial branch. To the point that Eric Dupond-Moretti, the former celebrity defense lawyer turned Justice minister, close friend of Thierry Herzog, Sarkozy’s lawyer, is now under investigation for using his administrative power to launch unfounded disciplinary procedures against prosecutors working on one of Sarkozy’s many ‘dossiers’.

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, Yassine.

              Macron pretends to be many things, but his backers / sponsors are the vieux monde.

              Two decades ago, my then employer, HSBC, worked with the bank owned by the descendants of some of its founders, the Rothschilds. We keep in touch and joke that Macron’s rapid rise at bank puts the family employees to shame. They laugh about the precocity and prowess of Macron before we start talking about horse racing and summers in Chantilly and Deauville.

    2. YassineA

      I appreciate all the contributions you have made to NC, especially on the subject of Brexit but the views that you have expressed on the French Left really baffle me.

      In particular, I am at a total loss when trying to understand why you would give credence to the ‘Islamo-Gauchisme’ accusation levelled on LFI by the far and mainstream right. How can you not see that this is the direct descendant of the 1930s ‘Judéo-Bolshévisme’ conspiracy theory ? The idea is exactly the same : cunning ‘Others’ that are a danger to ‘Our’ way of life use the tolerance of the Left for ‘Others’ to infiltrate it and subvert it in order to take power. Why resort to such ridiculous theories when the support of part of the muslim electorate for the Left can be easily explained by their economic disenfranchisement ? In particular, your insinuations that LFI’s locally elected representatives have cut deals with imams is pure far right propaganda used since 2012 without any basis in fact. If you cannot substantiate such nauseating claims, they have nothing to do on a site like NC.

      I am also appalled by the condescension you show towards the Mélenchon and, to a certain extent, Le Pen voters. Yes, part of the vote was pure protest but reducing it to just that is absurd. In an IFOP-fiducial poll after the 1st round, 80% of Mélenchon voters declared that they voted for him for his “electoral program and projects”. The fact that you cannot personally understand why people would vote Mélenchon for rational reasons does not mean that all his voters are nothing more than angry atavistic beasts. Mélenchon Derangement Syndrome alert has been issued.

      Even your ‘translation’ of the name of the electoral alliance is wrong, as there is -obviously- no mention of anything ‘National’ or ‘Economic’ in the name. Of course, it is also very obvious why there is no reference to socialism in the name : it is now associated to the massive betrayal of the Left by the Hollande’s PS and cannot be used to symbolize anything related to the Left for the time being. Your reasoning is tantamount to saying that a US Left third party would not care about democracy if it did not use ‘democratic’ in its name.

      Finally, NUPES is an electoral alliance with a repartion of parlementary seats between the allied parties (PC, EELV, LFI, PS). So your contention that Mélenchon would need to have the absolute majority from his own party (LFI) to be prime minister is plainly wrong. If NUPES has a majority of seats, Mélenchon will be prime minister because there would be nobody around which the Mélenchon-hating NUPES members could coalesce.

      All in all, I am very surprised that a perceptive NC commenter like you could be falling for the mainstream media propaganda of demonizing the Left to ensure that the acceptable political debate would remain a fight between the Centre Right and the Far Right. How is that any different that what happened to Sanders or Corbyn ?

      1. David

        Well, I think we’ll just have to differ about Mélenchon. I’m an old-fashioned leftist, and I think that what describes itself as the “Left” in France is mortally wounded and has to die, as is true in some other countries as well. The destruction of the Socialist party over the last forty years has been terrible to watch, and not least because that destruction is largely its own fault. It’s the familiar story of believing that it can take entire groups (notably the working class and the immigrant community) effectively for granted, and they will vote Left because “they have nowhere else to go.” In this, as in other areas, French politics grimly and determinedly follows the Anglo-Saxon example. I know that some see Mélenchon as the saviour of the Left, and they’re entitled to that view. I don’t share it, because I don’t think he has the personal qualities to do it. I’m not sure anyone has, though I have been impressed by Fabien Roussel, the Communist Party leader, who does actually seem to favour a return to class-based politics. And Mélenchon is far too close to religious extremists for my view (this closeness is a matter of record, and is only the latest in a series of peregrinations by French intellectuals to worship the exotic ideas of others, From Germany and Italy in the 1930s, to the United States from the 1940s onwards, to Cuba, Nicaragua, even Iran). I don’t think Mélenchon actually supports bringing back religion as a force in French politics, but, like many intellectuals of the Left, he’s unable to distinguish cultural issues from ideological ones, whereas the Islamists certainly can. He’s playing with fire.

        But what you think about Mélenchon doesn’t really affect the point I was making. I don’t think he has a coalition behind him which is stable enough to take power. I don’t think he’s capable of getting a majority, if only because we can expect the Red Scare machine to be wheeled out again. I don’t think he could put a government together that would last, and in any event I don’t think Macron would ever nominate him as PM. We’ll see if I’m right.

        1. YassineA

          Thank you for this clarification.

          Your points about the “Vichy Left”, ie the Socialist Party, needing to finish dying and the reasons for its self-inflicted downfall are undebatable.

          However, what I don’t understand is your utter “défaitisme” in the face of this situation. Yes, Mélenchon is, like every one of us, a flawed human being and, as such, will never be a Savior on his own. Why do we on the Left need to fall for the “homme providentiel” trap ? If we choose not to, we can look at what Mélenchon has done since 2008 and see how he has a built a broad coalition of support for a truly Leftist program as a very real sign of hope.

          On the subject of the supposed “Islamo-gauchisme” of Mélenchon or his supposed closess to “Islamic extremism”, I note that you have not yet substantiated your claims on the quid pro quo with imams that you alleged in your first comment. If his closeness to “religious extremism” is a matter of public record, as you claim, you should have no problem pointing to something concrete. And then this would give you the occasion to define what you consider “Islamic extremism” because I suspect that this is something very different from what is generally meant (Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Wahhabites or the like).

          To be clear, I am not saying that Mélenchon is assured to be the next Prime Minister, but that, if NUPES holds the majority, the member of the coalition will vote him in. Even those like you who hate Mélenchon with all their heart. Not because they like his program. Not even out of the loyalty for the pledge they made when they got invested in the name of the coalition. But out of pure self-preservation instinct.

          1. David

            I don’t hate Mélenchon, in fact I have no strong feelings about him at all. There are loathsome politicians in France (Sarkozy, Fillon, Zemmour if he counts) but I think Mélenchon is primarily wrong and misguided. My interest is really trying to understand what’s happening and why. And I do think that the Left (inasmuch as that’s a meaningful term) is in a situation as bad as, if not worse than, 1958, and will have to be rebuilt from the ground up, on a traditional class basis, if it is to have any future. The argument is essentially a tactical one. Backing Mélenchon will enable those groups which see themselves as “The Left” to carry on a few more years, just as Macron’s victory will enable the larger political system to survive a little bit longer. But I don’t see a long-term future for either. So it’s a choice between crash the system now, or hang on, hoping things will get better. Those seem to me to be the only choices. A vote for Mélenchon in the first round (as for Macron, really) was essentially a statement that the system was repairable, and could be saved. I know quite a few people who registered a blank vote in the second round, simply because they could not bring themselves to vote for either candidate, and wanted to register their lack of confidence in the system as a whole. A lot of other people simply abstained. If there’s a substantive change (and of course Mélenchon himself has been pushing the Sixth Republic for years) I’m beginning to think it will come from the streets, rather than attempts to work within the system. And no, that’s not a very enticing prospect, but I’m starting to think that Macron’s victory has made it probable, if not actually inevitable.
            Islamic extremism here means political Islam, the idea that Islam should be the basis for an actual political platform, rather than just a religion and a culture. There’s a huge literature about this, and its success in places like Tunisia and Algeria. Have a look at the writings of Bouamlem Sansal, for example, the Algerian writer forced into exile by death-threats from islamists, who has been warning about the danger for years. France is a major target because it has a quite large Muslim population, not necessarily all served by imams. Qatar in particular, as part of its soft power strategy has been sending imams to France. (Qatari influence in France has been strong for years, recounted in books like this one.) It was this network of radical preachers that was at least in part responsible for large number of young French people going off to fight in Syria, and the radicalisation of a number of those who carried out attacks in 2015 and after. In the particular case of Mélenchon, Marianne has been covering this problem for some years, in the face of total lack of interest by the MSM and the political system, which wants to avoid trouble above all else. The particular story I had in mind was this one, but they have been covering the subject for years. And I have some involvement in, and contacts in, the education system, where the results of this pressure are starting to become evident.

            1. YassineA

              I understand your point of view on the need to rebuild the Left from the ground up in the context of the US Democratic party or the British Labour party. Progressives like Sanders or the Squad will never be able to reform their party from the inside and thus will keep playing the shepherd for neoliberal centre right wolves in progressive sheep clothing. However, the equivalent to these people in the French context is not Mélenchon or LFI, it’s the left wing of the PS that stayed inside after the 2005 vote on the european constitution who then became ‘Les Frondeurs’ under Hollande, utterly failing to get any meaningful concessions.

              Mélenchon, on his part, campaigned for the No in 2005, against the majority position of the PS, of which he was a long time member. After the No won, against the wishes of all the establishment parties, Mélenchon stayed for 3 years inside the PS, trying to convince them that embracing the neoliberal ideology would ultimately kill them. When he lost internal PS elections in 2008 against a neoliberal bloc, he made the diagnosis that reforming the PS from the inside would be impossible if he could not convince them even at a time of acute global financial crisis. And so he left and founded the Parti de Gauche with the few people that followed him from the PS. At the time, the mainstream political commentators considered that he was committing political suicide, by entering an already crowded field on the radical Left (PC, NPA, Les Verts, LCR) with so few supporters and trying to go against the PS well-oiled electoral machine. They predicted that he would become just another “candidature de témoignage” (a candidate that advocates for a specific cause without a chance of winning), taking 5% of the vote on a good day.

              Boy were they wrong. As soon as 2012, he captured 11% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, coming in 4th place (PS had 28%). Instead of parlaying his support into cushy Ministers, legislative seats and meaningless programmatic concessions from the PS like Les Verts did, Mélenchon only asked his supporters to beat Sarkozy in the 2nd round and then entered the opposition to the PS immediatly after the election. And it was not just a media or political opposition denouncing the impasse of the policies proposed by the PS, while honing the radical Left platform. It was also an active participation in every major fight involving the Hollande government and the ‘street’ : pension reform, labour code reform, police brutality, factory closures, etc with the notable and understandable of the fight against gay marriage launched by the conservative Christian Right.

              And this strategy paid dividends in 2017, when it became obvious that the PS would explode much faster than expected following its disastrous term in office and the massive Macron treason. Macron took with him the right wing of the PS with the aim of merging it with the Modem and the centre wing of LR, while Mélenchon welcomed the remnants of the left wing. The result : 19% for La France Insoumise, 7% for the PS. And then he applied the same strategy he did after 2012 : political opposition, improving the platform (especially on the ecological front) while maintaining its radicality, taking part in every fight on the street against Macron policies : Gilets Jaunes, pension reform, police brutality, vaccine mandate, overseas territory revolt, frontline workers fighting for decent working conditions, climate change direct action etc. What has made this strategy particularly strong is the fact that the platform has been improved through a democratic Popular Assembly process in which not only LFI militant could participate but also militant from allied ‘organizations’ (GJ, nurse union, anti police brutality associations, etc.), thus giving a political outlet to popular mobilizations.

              In the runup to the 2022 elections, there were a lot of calls to unify the Left in order to prevent Le Pen from going to the 2nd round. LFI’s position on the subject was always very clear : they are willing to ally with others on the Left to share power, but on the condition that they accept the radical platform that LFI has been working on for 10 years. Doing otherwise would be a betrayal of the support they had garnered up to that point and would also decrease its appeal to the absentionist bloc. This proved unacceptable to the other parties on the Left more for tactical reason than ideological ones : EELV got fooled by meaningless European election results making them think they could be the biggest party on the Left, PC thought LFI had no change to be in the 2nd round and so maintained their “candidature de témoignage”, PS needed to keep the shreds their “brand” alive in the presidential election in the hope that their local presence could survive their national downfall.

              The result : 22% for LFI, 5% for EELV, 2% for the PC, 1.7% for the PS. Now the alliance on the terms of LFI (no negociation on the platform, but negociations on legislative seats) becomes possible as the electorate of the Left has spoken loud and clear : ally yourselves with LFI to try to take power or die.

              I am not saying that everything will be rosy from now on (the fight with the EU in case of a NUPES government will be bloody) but France is uniquely positioned among Western countries to have a real Left party take power with a truly radical platform. Instead of trying to fit what is happening in France into an analytical frame built for the US and British two-party systems, leftists from the anglo-saxon sphere should look at it with an open mind and maybe, just maybe, try to extract some useful lessons or, at the very least, a glimmer of hope that not everything is lost in our neoliberal hellscape.

  9. Tom Bradford

    Tangentially, I abandoned the UK 30-years ago as a sinking ship and have never regretted it but at the time I left I had no problem with its membership of the EEC as it was then, and to the extent I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of things there would probably have voted ‘remain’ in the Brexit referendum had I been there.

    Hence I’m puzzled by a dichotomy, almost split personality disorder, I repeatedly notice in NC and its commentariat. Often in articles and comments I read that Brexit was a foolish, self-inflicted idiocy which will prove to be an economic disaster everyone will eventually come to recognise and regret. Yet articles and comments like this one paint the EU as an un- if not anti-democratic, unaccountable machine controlled by the rich and powerful for entirely their own (and the US’s?) benefit.

    Just an observation.

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      I think this is a case where “both things can be true”, even if they seem mutually exclusive.

      Neoliberalism persists both in the EU and outside it, so it’s fair to say that BrExit was definitely a case of #KenWatanabeLetThemFight (via knowyourmeme.com) to a certain degree. Coming from the #MMT side of the house, I was not so much anti-Brexit to begin with. In fact many people in the UK #MMT community and even Bill Mitchell himself are still of the opinion that in the end, decoupling from the EU is better from a monetary sovereignty and fiscal freedom perspective. What I learned from NC was, well … that’s all well and good, but there was a lot of trade stuff to be detangled and sadly, much of what the Tory government felt was in the offing from the EU was frankly never going to be. And that’s proven to be disastrous. The other thing is that decoupling from the EU brings no benefit if the government in control, be it neoliberal Tories or neoliberal (New) Labour can’t or won’t go beyond endemic graft on behalf of the wealthy and austerity for the masses.

      It also goes back to a point I’ve made over the years here and elsewhere. They greatest fear of the EU is not that a country within it will fail, it’s that a country could exit and succeed – see also Greece. The UK is now a country that left, and they will be shown the way of the transgressor, pour encourager les autres.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Brexit was about the UK’s relation to the EU. The UK exercised much more power through the EU, both economically and geopolitically, than it ever could on its own. It also had access to the Single Market, which it lost and the work-arounds are hurting it economically.

      The idea that smaller countries can actually meaningfully exercise sovereignity is a myth, since they don’t have the heft to defend themselves and are not autarkies or even big enough to negotiate trade deals. The US dictates terms to the likes of the UK in its trade pacts.

    3. IsabelPS

      “Often in articles and comments I read that Brexit was a foolish, self-inflicted idiocy which will prove to be an economic disaster everyone will eventually come to recognise and regret. Yet articles and comments like this one paint the EU as an un- if not anti-democratic, unaccountable machine controlled by the rich and powerful for entirely their own (and the US’s?) benefit.”


    4. PlutoniumKun

      As Chris above says, both things can be true. You could condemn as idiots, for example, a political organisation that tries to turn South Carolina into an independent state without necessarily thinking that Washington is a wonderful example of good national governance.

      I get very frustrated with anti-EU arguments which come down to ‘well, its neoliberal’, or ‘its undemocratic’, without bothering to engage with the history and mechanics of the organisation. The EU is neoliberal because, surprise surprise, neoliberals keep winning elections in each and every member State, with just a few very isolated exceptions. How could it not be neoliberal when all its members, large and small, are run by elected centrist or centre right political parties? If anything, its a bastion of statism and regulation against the instincts of many of its member states (most particularly the UK when it was in it of course). As to undemocratic – the Commission is answerable to the Council of Ministers, it is explicitly run as a technocratic organization answerable, and under the control, of the elected heads of state of each country. Sure, there are other possible ways it could be run, but I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument made that there is an obvious better model. And no, an elected Commission would not be sensible, as this would create a constitutional crisis in most member states as it could be implied that an elected Commissioner would not be subservient to the national head of state.

      Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with European history will know that its gone through every possible model of transnational governance from brutal Empire to full on libertarianist warlordism and every variation in between. Of course you could argue that Europe was more peaceful and prosperous under Roman Emperors, or when the big powers carved it up over claret and cigars in the 19th Century, or when you had settled and relatively stable tribal systems in the early Medieval period, but I doubt there are any takers for these models in the modern world. The Brexiteers had no model for Europe, only (for the most part) a hankering after an imagined 19th Century freewheeling world of liberalism. The small number of Lexiters had a nice dream of local action and MMT, which is wonderful, so long as you ignore the realities of international relations.

      The EU, for all its faults, is very popular throughout Europe, especially among the smaller countries. It gives them both protection and a stronger element of sovereignty. All small European countries know that without the EU, their foreign policy (and much domestic policy) will be dictated by their larger neighbour, whether they like it or not. The EU also gives concrete benefits to millions, in particular freedom of movement and work, and a solid transnational regulatory system that genuinely protects consumers, as UK passport holders are discovering to their chagrin when they check their mobile phone bills after they have a trip to Spain.

      The only argument against the EU that is worth listening to is one that articulates a coherent, practical alternative. And no, ‘every sovereign country do its own thing’ or ‘lets pick China as our overlord instead’ is not a coherent alternative. Maybe I’ve missed one, but in decades I’ve never heard anyone from either left, right, or other political persuasion set out one that makes any sense whatever.

      1. Alice X

        Neoliberals keep getting elected because big money and the propaganda it buys makes it so.

      2. David

        There’s quite a fierce competition for Biggest Political Failure since 1945, but I would certainly nominate the British failure to constructively engage with Europe for the award. Especially after 1991, the UK could have been a major force in shaping Europe in a direction it favoured, and playing a leadership role for a lot of the smaller states worried about Franco-German domination. But it did nothing, or, worse, it actively tried to stop things happening, and to sabotage them when they did. Meanwhile, it complained all the time about how unreasonable the Europeans were. Ironically, a strong UK lead would actually have been popular elsewhere, and would have helped to frustrate the rise of the international Euro-class which runs most of the national governments now. Talk about missed opportunities.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, David.

          I don’t disagree and also think of how the North Sea oil bounty was wasted (plus Sterling became a petro currency, soared and helped ruin manufacturing).

          If one wants to quantify failure, my auditor and civil servant mum calculated the shopkeeper’s poll tax cost £21 billion to set up, collect, police, abolish etc. and thinks it would have been cheaper to stack pound notes in Parliament Square and burn on bonfire night.

      3. ChrisRUEcon

        > Maybe I’ve missed one, but in decades I’ve never heard anyone from either left, right, or other political persuasion set out one that makes any sense whatever.

        I think Bill Mitchell has probably written a lot about how best to reform the EU/EZ. Without the luxury of time at the mo’, I’ll just throw this over the fence:

        Why Would Any Nation Want To Join The EuroZone?

        I think the things #MMT economists like Bill would like to see change about the EU/EZ are included in the article:

        • No SGP – dispense with the ridiculous and arbitrary deficit limits
        • LOLR – ECB should function as a lender of last resort
        • Use common fiscal space to ensure better lives and social safety nets for all EU citizens – avoid center-periphery disparities.
        • Regulation – Just like the US ought to do, establishing a delineation between investment and consumer banking.

        Bill’s conclusion section from that article suffices as a TL;DR:

        “An essential requirement for an effective monetary system is that the citizens have to be tolerant of intra-regional transfers of government spending and not insist on proportional participation in that spending. The other side of this coin is that a particular region might enjoy less of the income they produce so that other regions can enjoy more income than they produce.

        To achieve that tolerance there has to be a shared history which leads to a common culture. Language is an aspect of this but not necessarily intrinsic.

        That shared culture etc also has [to] exist within a fully integrated fiscal and financial system. An effective federal system has to share common elements to ensure that the macroeconomics of the monetary system dominate more regional concerns. That capacity is non-existent in the Eurozone.”

  10. Acacia

    Q: Why is the Communist party like a bad bottle of wine?
    A: It never gets above 12%.


  11. James E Keenan

    Renaud Lambert writes:

    [P]eople should know that in France, working-class people, their life expectancy in good health conditions is 65.

    This claim needs better explanation. A very cursory internet search (e.g., https://www.statista.com/statistics/460418/france-life-expectancy-by-gender/) suggests that birth life expectancy in France is approximately 79 for men and 85 for women, averaging out to 83. While I would not be surprised to see working-class life expectancy below that number, to have it be lower by 18 years strains credibility.

    1. Martin Davis

      I think he means Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) at 65 – number of years in good health, presumably as defined by the WHO. And the qualifier ‘working class people’. WHO stats on HLE give expectancy for whole populations at 60. In France’s case about 20 years. So we’re looking at a class-based evaluation of the age of retirement given relative expectations of good health (i.e. will you live to enjoy your retirement). Delivery drivers need to retire at 60, the PMC not so much.

  12. Alex Cox

    “Now, people should know that in France, working-class people, their life expectancy in good health conditions is 65”

    Mais ce n’est pas vrai. According to thelocal.fr, “A professional 35-year-old man has a life expectancy of 82 while his blue collar compatriot can expect to live until he is 76.”

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