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article imageFrench ecology parties prepare election battle plans Special

By Michael Cosgrove     Aug 18, 2010 in Politics
The Greens in France are just one element of a loose alliance of several political tendencies. Their Regional Secretary in the Rhône region describes the stakes involved and the tactics being used to harmonize their efforts.
“Is there a pilot on the plane?” That was one of the questions asked by Le Figaro this morning in an article on the ecology movement’s efforts to jugulate internal dissension as well as the strategy and leadership issues which are besetting it. Europe Ecologie, the umbrella coalition organization which regroups the Greens – ‘Les Verts’ – and various other political formations, is trying to find common ground in order to develop a winning strategy for upcoming elections.
Europe Ecologie enjoyed substantial electoral gains in the last European and Regional elections, partially because of the organization’s appeal to voters but also because of voter disaffection with the Socialists, plagued as they were – and still are - are by serious internal squabbles and a lack of clear policy initiatives.
Yves Durieux is the Green Party secretary for the Rhône region and, as an ex-regional spokesman, he is well aware of the doubts and questions that the press and public are expressing about the capacity of the coalition to organize itself into a coherent political force.
I put some of those questions to him during a telephone conversation and asked him to explain the impression that the movement is confused and seems unable to take firm decisions.
“I agree that that is the impression people sometimes have, but they shouldn’t forget that the ecology movement only popped up on the country’s political radar relatively recently. The Socialists and the UMP have existed under one form or another for over a hundred years ago, whereas we are young and still finding our way.”
Is the press being unduly hard on the Greens and the ecology movement in general? “It’s understandable that journalists sometimes get the impression that we are disorganized, but I see no problem with that. It’s true too that we spend a lot of time on structural and policy decisions, but that’s normal because we are not a single political line party. Also, ecology issues do not respect traditional party boundaries.”
But with the national summer rally in Nantes only days away, capitalizing on your past successes in upcoming elections may prove to be difficult unless delegates leave Nantes having made progress on several thorny issues.
“And those issues are all scheduled for consideration during the Rally. We know we have to reach a consensus, but I am confident that we will, and discussions are already underway on the best strategies to adopt for the elections.
One of the most-commonly quoted problems is the tension which exists between prominent ecologists such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the fiery leader of Europe Ecologie, and leading Greens Cécile Duflot and Eva Joly. That tension is partially due to a second issue, which is the urgent need to find a consensus between the widely different potential coalition members such as various ecology groups, the Socialists, Communists and the centrist Modem Party. They will also have to designate a leader capable of embodying the coalition as a whole in view of upcoming local and parliamentary elections as well as the 2012 Presidential Election.
How do you evaluate the different personalities?
Cécile Duflot is a highly capable leader for the Greens. She believes fervently that the coalition should unite as broad a spectrum of political tendencies as our party policies would be able to accommodate. Will she run for the presidency? As you said earlier, she has said that she may find the prospect of a cut-throat fight for leadership unappealing at the moment, so although we don’t know if she’ll run or not, she would undoubtedly be an excellent candidate.”
Daniel Cohn-Bendit has put the cat amongst the pigeons more than once and even threatened not to run.
“He has never actually confirmed that he will run, and is a highly-experienced politician on a European level. He has a brilliant mind, no doubt about it, but he tends to have a million ideas a minute and sometimes mixes things up. That’s just a part of who he is.”
How are the preparations for the local and parliamentary elections going? Will you be able to repeat your past successes?
“We intend to repeat some of the strategies we used for the previous campaigns, most notably the idea of gender-equal candidate designation in a context where each party may well put up its own candidate for first round votes but, and according to the results, tactical coalition alliances will be operated in areas in which we think we could succeed. Practical work has already begun on most issues and the Socialists, our biggest potential partners, have already given their agreement to support and work with us.”
The Socialists have the reputation of being fair-weather ecologists who don’t always follow up their ecology-friendly declarations with the policy decisions which would implement them. Would you agree with that assessment?
“The Socialists are still too much of a productivist party in terms of policy for my tastes, and they are also inclined to see issues from more of a financial standpoint than from the point of view of improving the environment. But although they represent a sizeable potential electorate, we are not their yes men.”
Finally, the presidential elections of 2012 represent another major electoral event. Nicolas Sarkozy and his ruling UMP party have been in power since mid-2007 and they have convinced a certain number of voters that they have done more to further environmental issues than the Socialists and even yourselves. If you are going to perform well you will have to overcome that impression. Have Sarkozy and the government pulled the rug from under your feet?”
“I can’t help smiling when I hear that. The government and Ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo had the right idea when they organized the national debate on the environment – the ‘Grenelle’ – but most of the promises made during it were gradually forgotten over time and even those which resulted in policy changes were watered down from the original. It’s been the same thing for everything they do on the ecology. They make lots of grand and noisy declarations of intent but when it comes to actually putting their promises into action they are nowhere to be seen.”
That’s all very well, but how are you going to persuade people of that and vote for you instead?
“We are preparing tactics to show the reality of this government and President's actions of course, but the most effective way of getting results will be to develop our own policies and – most importantly – explain them in clear terms. It can’t be denied that we have had a tendency in the past to present our policies in overly technical and theoretical terms, but we are working on that.”
Are you confident that you will be able to resolve the current problems and obtain electoral success?
“I’m trying to be, let’s put it that way. After all, politics and politicians are both subject to the hazards and unpredictable effects of human nature.”
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