The Greens turning red with 'envie'

In a series of translations into English of French media coverage of the French presidential elections, the result of a cooperation project between Mediapart and Lille University masters degree students in translation, this report examines why a significant number of Green party supporters are planning to cast their vote not for their own candidate, Eva Joly, but for radical-left Front de Gauche firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

In a series of translations into English of French media coverage of the French presidential elections, the result of a cooperation project between Mediapart and Lille University masters degree students in translation, this report examines why a significant number of Green party supporters are planning to cast their vote not for their own candidate, Eva Joly, but for radical-left Front de Gauche firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

It is one of a a wide range of reports on the campaign, including profiles and interviews of candidates, published in the French media and selected and translated by students from Lille 3 University masters degree course in English-French translation, MéLexTraJET. Their English versions, complete with glossaries and information notes, provide a rich insight into the campaign, the candidates and the manner in which the elections are reported in France.

For a glossary of party names, click here, for another on the French media click here and for an A-Z of key terms, personalities, dates and events, click here. For more about this project between the Lille University students and Mediapart English, click here.


The article translated below is from from the original “Ecolos de toujours (ou presque), ils voteront Mélenchon” by Marie Kostrz published on French news and features website Rue89 (27/02/2012).

'Lifelong environmentalists (more or less) who are going to vote Mélenchon'

When spokeswoman for the Front de Gauche, Clémentine Autain, addresses EELV activists, she says: “Welcome to the Front de Gauche!”

Since the agreement made with the PS in November, disappointed EELV activists have tended to turn their gaze toward Jean-Luc Mélenchon. And according to Parti de Gauche national secretary for the environment, Corinne Morel-Darleux, there are quite a lot of them.

Many say they want to vote for Mélenchon without leaving the EELV, she adds. The Front de Gauche have made repeated efforts to get them on board since the end of 2011.

In a text entitled: Camarades, et si l’herbe était plus verte ailleurs ? (“Comrades, what if the grass were actually greener on the other side?”), former Green Party leader Stéphane Lavignotte, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s spokeswoman Clémentine Autain, call on EELV activists to join them:

“It is in a brotherly and sisterly manner that we address our friends in EELV (of more than twenty years in some cases) who have been campaigning for a true alternative** to the current system, and who we see unhappy. […] If you leave EELV, do not vanish into thin air: ecological politics still needs you. We believe we can, and should, campaign together.”

Those who answered this call explain their choice.

EELV: a “PS satellite”

Not only will Thomas Giry vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, but he is now actively involved in the Front de Gauche election campaign. As a member of the EELV Federal Council, his resignation did not go unnoticed.

A former Green Party senior executive, he made his decision public in January, two months after the agreement with the PS had been made, “because after eighteen years of dedication to a party, you don’t leave overnight.” And yet the alliance with the Socialists is definitely the reason for his resignation:

“I began to have doubts when I realised this agreement meant that, in case of a possible change of government, EELV would give up any opposition to a genuine austerity policy.”

He is far from being the only one for whom this agreement was the last straw. The far-left background shared by some environmentalist activists is one of the reasons for their rallying behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

When environmentalists’ far-left tendencies catch up with them

Mireille Teulé was “born a Communist.” She is the granddaughter of a PCF Deputy Mayor who influenced her a great deal. The former History and Geography teacher joined the Green Party two years ago. She too has decided to cast her vote for the Front de Gauche candidate:

“There isn’t anybody else left I can vote for! EELV has set itself up as a satellite of the PS, which represents neo-liberalism, as far as I’m concerned.”

Living in the Aquitaine region in South West France, she began campaigning in 2005 in opposition to the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE). The retired teacher expressed her opposition to the TCE in anti-capitalist committees “which PS activists close to Mélenchon also belonged to.”

Her assessment of local elected officials from the PS in Aquitaine has also played a part:

“They stand by the TGV-Aquitaine project* which has placed the region in debt for the next fifty years, whilst doing absolutely nothing to improve transport links to isolated villages.”

Mélenchon: clearer views on nuclear power

One thing is certain: Mélenchon’s campaign is wrapping itself in a green flag and ecologist activists like it. Sandrine Figuié, an EELV local councillor in Martigues, near Marseilles, announced she was putting her political affiliation on hold during the campaign, in order to dedicate herself to the Front de Gauche.

She is disappointed by her party’s softening line on environmental issues, a direct consequence of the agreement signed with the PS:

“The Socialists aren’t opposed to nuclear energy. Today, when I see that the Greens allied to the PS, I feel that we have a lot more in common with the Front de Gauche. You don’t see PS party members mobilising on this issue.”

On the other hand, she points out that the Front de Gauche members are “people with practical experience, firmly established in associations, who stand side by side with us at demos.” In a word: people “with whom a natural alliance can be forged.”

Consulting citizens on nuclear power: “I totally agree”

This is also what attracted Anne-Marie Imbert, who has voted green for 38 years, to the Front de Gauche manifesto.

“I live not far from Tricastin nuclear power station, in the Rhone valley, and here a lot of the Sortir du Nucléaire (anti-Nuclear) activists also belong to the Parti de Gauche.”

In her opinion, this year Jean-Luc Mélenchon is “the only suitable candidate.” She thinks that the EELV’s agreement with the PS went nowhere near as far as it should have on nuclear energy, that is: the complete shut-down of all nuclear power stations. She added:

“Even if all the different groups that make up the Front de Gauche don't agree on this point, they propose to organise a referendum, which I totally agree with.”

Weary of infighting within EELV

This quality of “open-mindedness” in the Front de Gauche has also appealed to EELV activists who are often disenchanted by the destructive infighting within their party.

The backstabbing suffered by Eva Joly at the hands of members of her own party has caused Sandrine Figuié to lose interest in the campaign:

“I am shocked as a woman. I am shocked as a person.”

Almost unanimously, the activists and elected officials interviewed denounced the overweening ambition of the party leadership: “Cécile Duflot and Jean-Vincent Placé are power hungry,” said one, “everybody in the Green party wants to be elected, and this causes problems,” commented another. They end up looking elsewhere.

This exasperation was not lost on Mélenchon. As early as November, when Eva Joly was under fire from a party divided over the agreement with the PS, he killed two birds with one stone by expressing even more sympathy for the “brave” Eva Joly:

“She is making very strong commitments on nuclear energy and the EPR [European Pressurised Reactor], and people bring her down and contradict her, I can understand why she is taking it to heart.”

A “tactical” vote

However, no genuine environmentalist really considers Mélenchon the man for the job. First and foremost it is about casting a “tactical vote”. Member of the EELV Federal Council and chair of the committee on immigration, Simon Imbert-Viers, has also decided against renewing his EELV membership. He will vote for Mélenchon in the first round of the elections.

He is in total disagreement with the immigration policy advocated by the PS, but can find no fault with the way the Front de Gauche deals with these issues. Clarifying his position, he said:

“This is not a vote of total commitment to the Front de Gauche. I’m not saying ‘everything's great, everything’s wonderful,’ I’m just giving my opinion as a citizen, to get a message across.”

The aim is often to lend weight to the Front de Gauche, in order to put pressure on future decisions taken by the PS if François Hollande were to make it to the second round. “To assure a genuine changeover and not just an alternative**,” as one campaigner put it.



* The construction of a high-speed rail link to the South-West of France. (Translators’ note).

** The final quotation in this article plays on the dichotomy: alternance (‘changeover’) and alternative. It is important that the word alternative, used to mean ‘a different option’ (as it is in the first quote) is considered to be an anglicism in Standard French and is eschewed by the Académie Française. Instead the word is supposed to be used the way it is at the end of the article: to refer to a choice between two options (and not one of the options in that choice). To offer someone une alternative is therefore properly to offer them a choice between two options. The implication here is that a choice (alternative) between the two standard options (UMP and PS) can not offer a genuine changeover (alternance) without pressure from a credibly radical third position: in this case the Front de Gauche and not EELV. (Editor’s note).


Translation: Clémentine Rayer and Juliette Rosard

Editing: Sam Trainor

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