Interview France Elections Political groups

France in the wake of the May 2017 elections

An analyse of the new French political landscape by Valérie Rabault

Christophe Pinard

Valérie Rabault was re-elected MP of the French Socialist Party in 2017. She answers to the questions of #ProgressiveEurope about the prospects of the Socialist Party. She also comments on the first actions of the new presidential majority, led by Emmanuel Macron and his party “La République en Marche”.

Within a few months, LREM (La République en Marche) disrupted the French political landscape. Did the traditional right and left-wing parties outlive their usefulness? Should we be afraid of  an outbreak of extremism, and especially a new rise of the National Front? How can the Socialist Party (PS) recover from the heavy defeats it suffered?

At this point, I cannot tell if the PS will be able to recover at all from our defeats in the presidential and legislative elections. In order for a political party to move forward in politics, citizens must identify either with a strong leader (that was the case for Macron), or with a programmatic line (that was the case with Jospin in 1997). In the ideal case,  both features are given (that was Mitterand’s case in 1981). As for today, we do not have any of these features, which makes the task way more complicated. Thus, the goal for the next few months is to lay the foundations for the programmatic line that we were missing for these electoral battles. If we do not achieve this, the future of the PS will be compromised.

You are among the few socialist members of parliament who were re-elected in 2017. What lessons did you learn from this unusual electoral campaign? Which assets enabled you to win the second round of the election against the En marche candidate?

Most of the campaigns of En Marche candidates were “non-campaigns”. Their sole weapon  was to concoct a poster with their photo and Emmanuel Macron’s portrait.

Facing this 100% national strategy, I opted for a “local” approach, in particular for the most rural parts of my district (half of which is composed of a big city with 60.000 inhabitants, while the other half is made up of 62 small-sized municipalities). Actually, these rural parts made me win the election.

Despite an outspoken willingness to strengthen the democratic process, some defenders of democracy take a dim view of the lack of a true opposition and of the apparent docility of the presidential majority. This feeling is reinforced by the distance that Emmanuel Macron and his spokespeople keep from the media. Should we fear the strengthening of a potential democratic deficit in the upcoming five years?

The situation is the following: 60% of Emmanuel Macron’s voters are left-wing and were expecting a social-democrat approach. Still, Emmanuel Macron is now announcing a right-wing economic policy. Hence, there is a democratic deficit from the outset, since the current announcements on the economic front do not match the voters’ expectations. But this deficit is not really visible yet, because it is hidden by Emmanuel Macron’s energy and capacity to occupy the European field.

Within the next few months, things are of course likely to change and could translate into “disenchantment” towards the President. In this case, either there is a true, credible social-democrat alternative, hopefully embodied by the PS, or there is nothing, and this would play into the hands of the far-left and far-right.

The ideology of La République en Marche ! is above all the renewal of the political sphere : young people from civil society becoming members of parliament, a “neither left-wing nor right-wing” platform, as well as a declared European progressivism. And yet, Emmanuel Macron’s opponents point out some sort of a populism of the center, which aims at reforming the established social rights in favor of a stronger economic liberalism. In your opinion, how is the new presidential majority going to change France and Europe?

I do not believe in the transformation of France without assuming clear choices that do not hide behind this “neither left-wing nor right-wing”. Unlike what some may say, France is very politicised.

As for Europe, I do not believe in its transformation if we cannot negotiate compromises. Such negotiations with 27 to 28 parties involved is almost impossible. We may have to renegotiate some areas for improvement with the countries willing to go further. On this particular issue, I share President Macron’s opinion.

Reform of the labour law, extension of the state of emergency, budget costs, increase of the social security contribution… The first parliamentary debates addressed a series of controversial issues. How would you describe the atmosphere in the chamber? Do the discussions meet your expectations?

No. Emmanuel Macron’s parliamentary group behaves as a group that holds the absolute majority and that consequently does whatever it wants. At this point, the group does not show any willingness to negotiate a consensus on some issues with the opposition groups, as it is common practice in other European countries (for example in Germany with the coalition government). Things may change within the next few months. To be followed.

Valérie Rabault is a MP of the Socialist Party in the French Assemblée Nationale since 2012. Besides, she is a member of the parliamentary group “Nouvelle Gauche” and Secretary of the finance committee.