- The presidential election will take place on April 10 and 24.
- Two far-left candidates ahead of the Socialist Party in the polls
- Socialist voters feel betrayed after financial crisis
VALENCIENNES, France, March 22 (Reuters) – In France’s former mining heartland, promises by the Communist Party’s first presidential candidate in 15 years to raise the minimum wage, lower the retirement age and tax big business resonates with voters who feel ignored by the mainstream left.
That Fabien Roussel, from France’s industrial north, was for months higher than Socialist Party candidate Anne Hidalgo is a sign of the downfall of the traditional centre-left in a decade, and now risks irrelevant.
Hidalgo’s difficulty in reviving a once potent political force in post-war France points to a wider struggle by social democratic parties across Europe to recover from a hemorrhage of support, despite signs of a a return to Portugal, the Nordic countries and Germany.
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The economy around Valenciennes, a town of 44,000 near the Belgian border, was once driven by coal and lace. Today, unemployment stands at over 12%, nearly double the national average, although it is falling as new jobs are created.
“I reach out to those who no longer believe in politics, to those who doubt, to those who have abandoned a left that let them down and betrayed them when it was in power,” Roussel told Reuters before to address some 2,000 supporters in Valenciennes.
The latest IFOP poll showed Roussel with almost 5% voter support, nearly double his rival the Socialist Party (Socialist Party). Such a score in the April elections would be the highest for the Communists since 1995.
Meanwhile, compounding the centre-left’s problems, another far-left challenger, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who would impose capital controls and guarantee jobs for the long-term unemployed, has emerged as an outsider for a place in the second round, behind President Emmanuel Macron. and the far right Marine Le Pen.
France’s election comes after a decade that has seen politics in much of Europe sway to the right, with working-class voters deserting the center left after the global financial crisis.
For the Socialist Party, which in 2012 under President Francois Hollande controlled the Elysee Palace, parliament, most major cities and nearly every region, it was a tumultuous time. Hidalgo currently votes between 2% and 3%.
“The Socialist Party has gone from its peak to being on the verge of extinction,” said Pascal Delwit, professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels.
For many Socialist Party voters, Hollande’s pro-business U-turn midway through his term was an act of betrayal at a time when, scarred by the effects of the global financial crisis, they were seeking protection from forces of globalization.
Isabelle Perello, a retiree who backed former socialist presidents Francois Mitterrand and Francois Hollande, said the mainstream left failed voters.
“There hasn’t been much change in terms of purchasing power and the sharing of wealth,” she said during a march through Paris in support of Mélenchon on Sunday. Read more
Other voters lamented the Socialist Party’s failure to unite a fragmented leftist electorate. Psychologist Frederic Clémence praised the centre-left’s progressive civil rights policies, but added: “Left policies must also have a socio-economic aspect.”
The number of Socialist Party members has dropped to 22,000 in 2021 from 220,000 in 2007, according to media reports.
Hidalgo cites Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and, more recently, Portugal as evidence that social democrats are experiencing a revival.
She promises to raise the minimum wage by 15% to 1,465 euros ($1,615) a month after tax, and would reimpose a wealth tax abolished by Macron, financially punish polluters and increase inheritance tax for the wealthiest. .
“It is true that the 2008 financial crisis in particular raised doubts about the response of social democrats and the welfare state,” Hidalgo told Reuters.
“My program is deeply linked to the fight against social injustices and inequalities.”
If the polls are good, voters are not convinced. Moreover, if Hidalgo scores below 5%, she will not recoup much of her campaign costs from the state, piling more financial hardship on the party which has already given up its old seat.
Delwit said the Socialist Party appeared to have run out of answers to voters’ main socio-economic concerns, after a period in which many of Europe’s centre-left parties paid more attention to issues such as people‘s rights. homosexuals and gender equality.
“When socialist parties abandon socialism, you lose your traditional electoral base,” Delwit said.
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Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Richard Lough; Additional reporting by Michaela Cabrera; Written by Richard Lough; Editing by Alison Williams
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