This 22 April and 6 May, the French elect their president, the head of state, the most powerful figure in the country. The election takes place with an economic and financial crisis in full swing, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon railing against it and those responsible. He is the candidate of the ‘Front de Gauche’, or Left Front – defending those to the left of the socialists, communists, Trotskyists, the ‘indignant’ movement. The former minister in the government of Lionel Jospin entered the fray of the campaign lashing out at the wealthy, the speculators, Europe, international finance. He swears he is not a populist, and he detests the candidate of the ‘Front National’, Marine le Pen.
euronews journalist Farouk Atig went to find out what makes this angry man tick.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon in conversation with Eva Joly, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Both are members here, and candidates in the electoral race for France’s presidency. They are therefore political rivals. One of the differences is that he, a former Socialist Party apparatchik, is aiming for a double-digit vote score, while she, the Green Party candidate, is barely registering in surveys. He was elected to the European Parliament in 2009, a politician intent on changing the present model.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon said: “It is exasperating being here. It’s a parliament that can’t propose a law in any case. It’s the only parliament in the world like that – which doesn’t have legislative initiative. It has no rights in the internal market or taxation – none! It can’t debate those matters. Those subjects are denied it by the Treaty of Lisbon. And naturally, it can not change the treaty.”
Atig asked: “You don’t like the treaty?”
Mélenchon: “No. The treaty is killing Europe. In 2005, we were proposed a constitutional treaty and we voted ‘no’. Nicolas Sarkozy, once elected, cut it up with a big pair of scissors, then put it in a sack, shook it up, threw it on the table… They used some glue and they said, ‘we’re signing it.’”
In 1986, this former Trotskyist, a teacher by training, got into the French senate, five years after he had gone over to the side of François Mitterrand. In 2000, by now a minister in the Socialist government of the time, he distanced himself from the party, and in 2005 campaigned against the European constitutional treaty, contrary to the party’s position.
It’s 12:43, voting time this Wednesday in Strasbourg, on several questions, among them employment policy in the member states of the EU. Mélenchon and most of his colleagues do not stay for the explanatory notes. The place empties within ten minutes.
It is now 12:52. Mélenchon is heading out to Neuhof, to visit a health clinic, an initiative by the socialist mayor to make up for a lack of health professionals in underprivileged neighbourhoods.
The Left Front presidential candidate is adamant about getting health and education back into public debate, as a key part of his programme, under an evocative heading: ‘People first’ – ‘L’Humain d’abord’. After a brief talk with the doctors, it is time for Mélenchon’s favourite pastime: sticking pins in his sworn enemy in this campaign, the Front National’s Marine le Pen.
Mélenchon said: “I want to make her campaign hell, that’s obvious. What she says is absurd, makes no sense. It’s demented. This is not an insult. She is visibly, visibly… There is something ‘off’. She needs to detest someone in order to define herself – a person whose self-definition is based on a need to hate other people.”
Mélenchon defines himself along the lines of a 1,700-euro monthly minimum wage, and establishing a maximum wage, going back to retirement at 60, requisitioning housing and firming up job security. He unwinds a bit in a Strasbourg cafe. His ambition is to be the French Republic’s last president, and then eliminate the position.
Atig asked: “Why is your candidature enjoying support, and aren’t you afraid the wind will turn?”
Mélenchon said: “No. Generally, I’m not afraid of anything, either success or failure. The Left Front programme is to break with the system, with a rupture to the left, through sharing, by definancialising the economy, through political ecology, getting on the same wavelength as the expectations of a society that isn’t finding what it wants from the other candidates.
“I’m not out to build a bunch of groupies. In my meetings, they’re not shouting out my name, we’re shouting out political slogans.”
Atig: “Why do you want to be president?”
Mélenchon: “To bring that function to an end – it’s absurd. It’s a kind of grotesque five-year renewable monarchy. Modern democracies have to be parliamentary democracies, with a suitable ingredient of proportionality that allows people to feel represented. If I am elected, I would call together a constituent assembly to create a parliamentary regime, and I would be the last president of the fifth republic, and I would take the keys of the palace and throw them in the River Seine.”
After talking with Mélenchon, Atig took down a young French voter’s remarks about the candidate.
She said: “We’re fed up of this soft left, which in the end isn’t going to change much. There are some ideas of François Hollande that are fine, but in a democracy we’re supposed to vote for the person we appreciate the most, and for us Mélenchon has something that François Hollande will never have: he’s got the drive, he wants to have ideas shared, wants to change things, and down to the roots, not just superficially.”