A non-partisan journal of the left.

French Canadian battles to speak for London in Paris

Tue 5th Jun 2012

The French Presidential elections are done and dusted and France now has a Socialist President, Francois Hollande, who has replaced the centre right incumbent, President “Bling Bling” Sarkozy.

Now France is embroiled in its elections for parliament. Nothing in French politics seems easy. There were two rounds of Presidential elections and, whilst voting is underway for MPs, the final outcome will not be known till the second round on June 17.

Life is too short for me to give a full account of the French electoral system. For the wider centre left in the UK, there are only two questions. First, will the French voters elect a Socialist majority to support Hollande and second, will the voters in the Northern Europe constituency return the Parti Socialiste’s French Canadian-born candidate to the 14th National Assembly of the Fifth Republic as their MP?

French nationals à l'étranger have previously been able to vote for their President and in elections for the Senate. Now the French parliament has decided that for this election there will be overseas constituencies to represent its nationals abroad. I personally applaud the concept but given the size of the Northern Europe constituency, I wonder how effective will the voice of the voters be in practice.

When an MP stands for a seat, he or she campaigns in their constituency which covers a relatively small confined area. National leaders of the party are expected to travel from one corner of the country to another to canvass for votes. However, Axelle Lemaire, the Parti Socialiste candidate in the Northern Europe Constituency, and her rivals have to campaign in the UK (which is home to 80 per cent of the voters), the Irish Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Greenland. I understand Lemaire has visited 25 cities on her campaign trail so far.

Axelle Lemaire is a true French international. Born of a French Canadian father and a French mother, she lived in Canada until she was a teenager. She graduated from both high school and university in France and subsequently did a post graduate law degree in London, where she has lived for the past ten years. Her two children are as “international” as she is. The former advisor to a Labour MP now heads the Socialist campaign in a constituency that the Parti
Socialiste is tipped to win.

The initial omens are good. In the first round of voting, held on Sunday, Lemaire took 30.16 per cent of the vote. Whilst in the second round of the French Presidential elections, a month ago, 53.1 per cent of voters backed Hollande compared with 46.9 per cent backing Sarkozy. However, it remains to be seen whether the voters in Lemaire’s constituency and those throughout France give Hollande the Socialist led parliament he desires. Fingers crossed for June 17.

To gauge the predicted outcome in France, I turned to Pierre Kanuty, who runs international affairs for the Parti Socialiste in Paris. Pierre told me:

“We hope our expectations will match the pundits' predictions. In a couple of weeks, the French voters will [have] decided whether they want a Left majority or not in the National Assembly, after the victory of François Hollande three weeks ago.”

So how have French voters taken to Hollande’s new administration? Pierre states:

“As the first steps of the government led by Jean-Marc Ayrault seem to get positive media coverage, we believe a victory for the Socialists is possible. The stakes are high. We need to find the tools necessary to shift from austerity to growth. Even if François Hollande's debuts on the diplomatic level and the first public appearances of our new members of government brought fresh air, style and determination, we cannot depend on an artificial momentum. There is no time to rest!”

In a Presidential system of government how important is it to also have a majority in the National Assembly? Pierre is in no doubt:

“We need an absolute Socialist majority…, we should, without arrogance, be able to count on our own in case there are hard decisions to make. By claiming so, we ask our voters to vote for us. But we have also decided to endorse candidates from the Green party so maybe, for the first time they will have a parliamentary group after the one they gained in the Senate last September.”

And what of the conservatives and Sarkozy’s supporters?

“The conservatives are very strongly divided and they have already started a violent fight between current UMP leader, Jean-François Copé and the former prime minister François Fillon. The quarrel goes from the leadership vacuum left by Sarkozy and the strategy towards the National Front. Copé claims he wants no deal with the National Front, but he and his friends use a NF like rhetoric,” warns Pierre.

“Most of all, the conservatives haven’t recover yet from their electoral hangover as they call for national unity and a new cohabitation. They consider the victory of the Left as a danger, and the results of implementing our programme as [a] catastrophe for the nation. It is weird to see a party, in power for ten years, kicked out by a clear vote, trying to keep its hooks in what they believe [is] their property.”

Pierre has a clear message to those who supported Hollande on May 6. He states: “We also use the scarecrow of cohabitation and the victory of the right to mobilize our voters. There won't be a mechanical effect just because on May 6 more than 51 per cent of the French voters chose François Hollande.”

The centre left fight back started in France, on May 6, with the election of Hollande as President. However, it is clear that for Socialists the job is only half done and the outcome of the June 17 parliamentary elections is vital. Let us hope for a Parti Socialiste victory and that French Canadian Axelle Lemaire will be London’s first French MP in Paris.
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