Plus ça change… internal battles mark French parties’ MEP selections

Every French political party is naming its candidates for the European Parliament elections – but most seem fixated on in-fighting rather than battling for voters’ support.

This is nothing new: in 2009, Gilles Savary, a Socialist Party (PS) MEP who had been in the European Parliament for ten years, was booted off the PS list in favour of Vincent Peillon (now France’s Education Minister).

However, this time the political scheming in the main parties could be more damaging: the far-right National Front (FN) is set to win nearly a quarter of the vote according to a recent poll, and will happily to see the other parties tear themselves apart.

See our lists of French candidates for the European Parliament election

This time, the axe fell on three Socialist MEPs – Liêm Hoang-Ngoc, Françoise Castex and Bernadette Vergnaud – who have been particularly active during the current parliament.

Hoang-Ngoc lost his spot to Emmanuel Maurel, a leading figure on the Left of the PS. Castex’s position is being taken by a member of the Radical Party of the Left (PRG) following a national deal with the PS. Vergnaud – who is at odds with Ségolène Royal (a former presidential candidate, former partner of the French President, François Hollande, and a PS éléphant) – will be replaced by one of Royal’s friends in the West constituency.

Peillon is also at the centre of a new storm, being placed as the top candidate in the South East constituency (where Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN founder, heads the far-right party’s list).

And the coup de grâce came on 17 December when, at the last minute, Edouard Martin, a former trade union leader at the ArcelorMittal Florange plant, was named by the PS as the lead candidate in the East constituency. The choice – which displaced Catherine Trautmann MEP – met with disapproval locally, although in the midst of turmoil and internal wrangling, the selection of Martin – a charismatic personality from civil society – may be a wise move.

The right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) also faces internal battles ahead of its candidate selection in February.

Michèle Alliot-Marie, a former minister who was defeated at the last French parliamentary elections in June 2012, has an eye on the spot held by Alain Lamassoure MEP, the Chair of the Parliament’s Budget Committee. In the East, Nadine Morano, another former minister and supporter of the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, may take the top spot ahead of Arnaud Danjean, the knowledgeable Chair of the Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defence.

Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) – who achieved an all-time high score in the 2009 elections – has finally drawn up its lists of candidates after intense quarrelling. As with the other parties, decisions are being made for national political reasons rather than out of consideration for the European interest.

The Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) and the Democratic Movement (MoDem) – two centrist parties – will have joint lists for the first time since their alliance under the name ‘L’Alternative’ in November. It is facing its own difficulties in drawing up joint lists. It is also unclear whether MEPs from this list will join the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) or the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group.

Common traits in these internal battles are the need to ‘relocate’ major national political players and to head off the FN threat (the main reason for Peillon’s nomination in the same region as Le Pen père).

However, by promoting well-known political figures rather than skilled incumbent MEPs, the French parties are embarking on what is probably a counter-productive fight against the FN. France’s already diminished influence in the European Parliament may weaken further still, continuing the historical trait of neglecting the Parliament and focusing on intergovernmental diplomacy.

Françoise Castex’s painstaking work on net neutrality may win plaudits, but it doesn’t make the headlines – unlike the latest adventures of former justice minister and current MEP Rachida Dati. The European nature of the elections will continue to be neglected, even though in 2009 MoDem lost seats when its campaign focused on attacking President Sarkozy while the Greens – who talked about EU-related issues – gained massively.

Some skilled, experienced and committed ‘European’ candidates do appear on French lists. However, it is the symbolic choices of the parties’ headquarters that will set pulses racing – and probably do little to help France punch its weight in the European Parliament.

Marie Trancart – Burson-Marsteller i&e, Paris