It is becoming increasingly difficult to know what to make of the Greens. With a groundswell of public support for their central platform (the world is burning and something must be done) and the privileged position of an electoral pact with the ruling majority party, the Greens have everything going for them. And yet instead they find themselves continuously marginalised by the consequences of their own behaviour. What role therefore for the Greens in French politics?The past few years have not been good for the Greens. Their punchy but controversial leader, Cecile Duflot, declined to stand as party candidate for the Presidential Election of 2012, instead allowing a bitter, personal battle to take place between erstwhile television presenter, Nicolas Hulot, and Eva Joly, a former anti-corruption campaigner and judge. Joly went on to score 2.3%, failing even to qualify for state subsidies for the campaign. The Greens bounced back with Hollande’s invitation to them to join the government with two posts, commented on here.
Now, with the departure of Jean-Marc Ayrault and appointment of Manuel Valls as Prime Minister, Duflot and her ministerial colleague, Pascal Canfin, made it clear that they could not serve in his government (which is odd because normally it is the Prime Minister that chooses ministers, not the other way around…). And so they flounced out of Government and the Greens flounced into policy obscurity.
The Greens had already proved to be a difficult bed-fellow. They had obstructed government measures in the Senate and stood against Socialists candidates in the recent local elections. Canfin had had little impact on policy, unable to shake off Laurent Fabius’s dominance of Foreign policy, and Duflot’s signature law which sought to boost private investment in real estate and impose rent controls in major cities has failed to increase new building of housing. The Socialists have historically been split between the ecologists, who were close to the Greens, and the industrialists, who thought that greenery would interfere with protecting factory workers. With the latter on the wane, the Socialists and the Greens have never been closer philosophically, nor in terms of policy. In the recent local elections, where Greens stood against the Socialists, such as in my own town, the policy platforms were indistinguishable. Duflot and Canfin appear to have left government primarily due to personal discomfort with Valls, rather than political incompatibility.
That explains the anger, but what about the envy? It is a simply fact that the Greens owe their existence as a party in town halls and the legislature to electoral pacts with the left, and primarily the Socialists. Green deputies in the National Assembly exist due to the generous and controversial electoral pact signed prior to the 2012 election. Senators have long connived to allow a share of seats to the Greens. Certain towns, such as Grenoble, have benefited from coalitions on the left that have allowed the Greens to lead some municipalities. Like it or not, the Greens depend on the Socialists for public posts and the public subsidies that come from them. Those pacts are now at risk given that the Greens have officially left the majority in parliament. Outside the Greens’ primary influence will be through leading Socialists such as Segolene Royal, the new Environment Minister (who is more smokey than the Greens would prefer) and some of their leading legislators, including the controversial Senator, Jean-Vincent Place. Place, interesting both due to his political stance on the right of the party, his independent streak (he doesn’t hesitate to criticise his own party) and his slightly checkered past (a story about unpaid parking tickets hangs somewhat around his neck, and he is Duflot’s ex…).
The European Elections were supposed to be the Green’s opportunity to reaffirm their political relevance. Instead, they had a horrible campaign, their vote falling from a high point in 2009, from 16% to 8%, and losing 8 seats. Senatorial elections later this year and Regional elections next year will likely not be kind – they both depend on electoral pacts on the left and the mood towards the Greens amongst Socialist activists and elected officials is not charitable. The next few years for the Greens will therefore be crucial – will they be able to hold their legislative position, perhaps building bridges with their Socialist colleagues, on whom they depend for their very existence in absence of a fully proportional electoral system, and will they be able to find an eye catching and effective Presidential candidate for 2017? Or will they continue to slide into division and obscurity?