France Unsubmissive movement
“La “France Insoumise” (Unsubmissive or Unbowed) and it’s chief spokesperson Jean-Luc Mélenchon inspires an emotional response among many on the French left and emerged as a serious contender in the recent presidential run-off. Their movement gives a big nudge to the much-overdue prospect of a return to active participatory democracy.
Here are some examples of their policies as set out in their programme “L’Avenir en Commun” (A Common Future) and in the candidate’s speeches and interviews.
The Economy, Finance and the Workplace
An increase in public spending of 173 billion euros over five years and an investment plan worth 100 billion euros. High incomes of over 400,000 euros a year to be taxed at 90%. Critics have said the plan would mean huge tax rises generally.
A 16% rise in the minimum wage to 1326 euros net a month, based on a 35-hour week.
Abolish the “loi travail” – the labour law introduced under President Hollande designed to make it easier for firms to hire and fire employees. Mélenchon is against localised negotiating practices, insisting France can have “only one ‘Code du Travail’ (Labour code)”.
Limit executive pay.
Lower the retirement age to 60 on a full pension.
Separate investment banks from other banking operations.
Adopt a “Green Rule”: the principle of not using more of the planet’s resources than can be put back. Mélenchon believes this should be Brussels’ “Golden Rule” instead of aiming to get the public deficit under three percent of GDP.
Move to 100% renewable energy by 2050, via a ditching of nuclear power on which France currently depends. “A machine to create millions of jobs”, the candidate says.
Social and Industrial Policy
Make the right to housing a constitutional right along the lines of the right to property.
Compulsory “citizens’ national service”: an obligatory period of nine months for under-25s, including initial military training.
The family allowance system to be replaced by a fixed tax credit of 1,000 euros per child.
Restore protections for French industry; nationalise utility companies.
Not the “massive regularisation of clandestine migrants” as his critics have denounced, but give legal status to undocumented immigrants who have a work contract and “welcome refugees” who are eligible for asylum.
The Constitution and French institutions
Create a Sixth Republic (France currently operates under the Fifth Republic introduced under President de Gaulle in 1958). Move away from a “presidential monarchy” towards a true parliamentary system.
Increased participation from citizens by giving people the power to call referendums and evict elected representatives during their mandate.
Reform the judiciary to make it more independent from the executive.
Negotiate a “democratic reconstruction” of European treaties. In case of failure, withdraw from the European Union. Several conditions attached to remaining in the euro. Pull out of the EU’s Stability Pact and fight for an overhaul of sovereign debt. Stop free-market policies which “ruin developing economies and destroy European industry”. Propose an alliance with southern European countries to counter austerity. Respect Brexit without “punishing” the UK for its decision to leave the EU, but withdraw from the “Le Touquet” accord which places British border controls in France.
Stop negotiations with the US on a free-trade agreement and reject the CETA deal with Canada.
Withdraw from NATO and the World Bank. Refuse any permanent military mission unless backed by the UN.
Develop closer ties with Russia.
Join ALBA: formerly the “Bolivarian alliance” set up by Latin American presidents Castro and Chavez in 2004 – a system of mutual economic aid based on social welfare. Observer countries include Syria and Iran. Even left-wing journalists point out the “democratic deficiencies” of Cuba and Venezuela. But Mélenchon’s team have attacked the way they have been vilified on this, saying adhesion would give a voice to French Guiana and France’s Caribbean territories.
Like one of his mentors, Lionel Jospin, Mélenchon began his political career as a young Trotskyite, before joining the PS in the mid 1970s. If that seems unlikely, it should be remembered that, at the time, Francois Mitterrand’s PS shared a common programme with the communist party, the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). A senator from 1986, it was under Jospin’s plural left government (1997-2002) that Mélenchon made his debut as a junior minister. He watched in dismay as Jospin was eliminated from the 2002 presidential race, in part because of a poor campaign, but also because of the presence of two other left-wing candidates who took enough votes from the then-prime minister to see him finish third, behind Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father.
Mélenchon shared with Jospin the view that the EU should be a social space, not simply one where the free market and globalisation can proceed unfettered. To that end, in 2005 he led the opposition from within the PS to the EU constitution referendum, while the majority of the party (led by Hollande) backed the “yes” vote. Mélenchon began to draw together a broad alliance of left-wing voters disaffected with social-democracy, communists, and environmentalists, and reached out to the global justice movement, known in France as “altermondialisme”.
There was no space for Mélenchon to develop his ideas in the PS, so in 2008 he quit the party and set up his own: Parti de Gauche. The following year, he was elected a member of the European parliament. He negotiated an alliance (the Front de Gauche) with the remnant of the PCF to back his bid for the Elysée. And although, in the end, his score looked disappointing, it was, along with the renaissance of the FN, the main story of 2012.
In the spring of 2016 he announced his intention to stand for presidency again, published a political testament called Le Choix de l’insoumission (the choice not to submit) and launched a new political movement, La France insoumise. This is a difficult term to translate into English, but the best rendering I have come across is “France unbowed”. If it sounds a little pretentious to English ears, it works perfectly well in French and has an open-ended appeal, in much the same way as the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron’s new party En Marche!
Initially, the leaders of the PCF refused to back Mélenchon (and they have been conspicuously absent during the campaign) but they were outbid by the party membership, which voted decisively to back him. This provided him with an organisational network to which he has added an impressive determination to put new technologies and social media to work.
In early February, thanks to a hologram, he managed to appear in two places at once and his presence via YouTube has been enormous. In one of his videos he takes five hours to carefully explain his economic programme of Keynesianism in one country (to be paid for by a hike in the wider tax burden from 45% to 49%).
The television debates have shown Mélenchon at his best. He is a fine orator and master of the put-down, particularly of Le Pen.
Supporters of the far-left French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon created a video game where players bash the rich. In Fiscal Kombat the player roams the streets pretending to be Mr Melenchon as he battles against oligarchs and rival politicians.
The aim is to shake money from the rich to pay for Melenchon’s policies. The player’s challenge is to get as much money as possible while avoiding the attempts of the rich to maul him to death.
Mélenchon also made headlines when he refused to speak in English to the BBC during an April 2017 interview in Spain, saying he would only converse in the language of his grandparents.
Leader of the independent party La France Insoumise (‘Unsubmissive France’), the politician stopped a British reporter mid-flow with: “English no; Spanish, yes.” He later uploaded a video to YouTube in which he accuses the British of arrogance and ‘imperialism’.
“They think the whole world should speak English,” Mélenchon complained, in Spanish. “It’s because they’re intrinsically imperialist, they think they own the world – you give a press conference and you’re expected to speak English.
“La France Insoumise isn’t the only political outfit which refused to speak English with the BBC; a few years ago, Germany’s deputy Chancellor Guido Westerwelle, when interviewed on home soil, pointed out, ‘in the UK you speak English, but here in Germany we speak German’,” Mélenchon continues. Mélenchon was born in France, but is half-Spanish, since his grandparents were born and bred in Spain.