In France, Mélenchon, the candidate of a ‘left movement’ has drawn level with other leading contenders in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday (23rd April). If he goes into the second round with Le Pen Brexit will be a little local difficulty compared with what is in prospect for the EU.
Mélenchon offers reforms a-plenty, and no mincing of words. From reconstituting the republic to green economic planning Mélenchon’s programme overflows with ideas. He will put a stop to financialisation of the economy (separate retail and investment banking, tax financial transactions, control the movement of capital); create a public bank to finance small and medium size enterprises; introduce sweeping measures to limit exploitative employment contracts (the précariat); set maximum salaries for directors of companies, tax all salaries above e400,000 a year at 100%, and increase the minimum wage while reducing the working week and restoring retirement at 60. And there is more, much more.
Is there any overall ‘shape’ to the program? What does it amount to? What kind of society will the reforms produce? That is much more difficult. I was going to say it was ‘Corbyn on steroids’ because there are a lot of ‘policies’ but it is not clear what they add up to but that is not right. The policies are so much bolder, and there is at least a glimpse of the social model it aims to create. But it is only a glimpse. The core rationale is provided by its environmental commitments and populist nationalism. Of the two, the latter is more striking.
The environmental commitments are serious and far reaching, including a proposed withdrawal from nuclear power, but its defining characteristic is its nationalist perspective. ‘The defence of our industrial sovereignty’ against multinationals and international finance requires the ‘relocalisation’ of production, support for French jobs and French industry in place of free trade treaties, and controls on the free movement of capital and goods. His stance on Europe follows from this. Plan A proposes sweeping renegotiation of existing treaties and the reform of European institutions to end central bank independence, devalue the euro, end free trade treaties and adopt a strategy of ‘protectionist solidarity’. France would unilaterally withdraw from the ‘stability pact’ which drives austerity, but if plan A did not lead to an acceptable result, plan B effectively ends the country’s EU membership.
Olivier Tonneau in the Guardian describes it as a plan to save Europe not destroy it; Mélenchon offers co-operation with all nations on the basis of real equality in setting limits to globalisation and the destructive effects of unrestrained competition. All this is true but there is no mistaking the ‘put France first’ motif. Mélenchon’s ‘L’Avenir en Commun’ has more the feel of an ultimatum than the opening of negotiations.
And for all the references to the public good, and to a socially and environmentally responsible republic, the vision remains one of France reformed rather than an invitation to build a new social model.