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Issue 41, September 1999

Joining the French Establishment

FOR OVER two years now, Les Verts (Greens) have been part of 'la gauche plurielle' (plural left), which brings together prime minister Lionel Jospin's Parti Socialiste (PS), the Parti Communiste (PCF), the Mouvement des Citoyens and left Radicals. The Greens took 6.8% of the vote in the 1997 election, and one of their three public leaders, Dominique Voynet, holds the environment minister's position.

Although their position is much weaker than their German counterparts, they too have been part of a government that has brought in a whole array of anti-working class legislation. Much of this has been a continuation of the previous conservative administration of Alain Juppé.

Almost immediately on taking office, the government presided over the closure of the Renault factory in Vilvorde. By September 1997 the first privatisations began with France Télécom. The plural left government has actually carried through more privatisations in two years than the whole of Juppé's tenure in office. Even the implementation of the 35-hour week - often demanded by workers in struggle - has been so tied to 'flexibility', productivity and other conditions that it represents an attack on workers. Under cover of the Nato bombings, vociferously supported by Voynet, Jospin introduced the sort of attacks on the retirement system which precipitated the strike wave in November-December 1995. Attacks on asylum rights and crackdowns on young people have also continued under this administration.

Voynet has claimed some success on the environmental front, being instrumental in the closure of the fast-breeder reactor near Grenoble. However, at that rate of progress, and with another 56 nuclear power stations in operation, it will take 112 years to dismantle France's nuclear energy programme. (Three-quarters of France's energy and 91% of its electricity is from nuclear power).

There is now a Green leadership struggle opening up with the return to France of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who took over the Euro-election campaign. Cohn-Bendit, known during the student uprising in Paris in 1968 as 'Dany le rouge' (the red) has a reputation as a fire-brand, radical activist, an outspoken and irreverent figure.

  After being expelled from France in 1968, he lived in Germany, becoming deputy mayor of Frankfurt in the 1980s. He has long been a public spokesperson for the Greens. But his policies are not so far-reaching. He's pro-capitalist, though he believes that the market should be regulated with a social conscience. He supports privatisation. He approves of the European Central Bank and thinks the euro is an excellent idea. He has called for a lower minimum wage for French youth and that the retirement age should be raised to 70. He also supported the Nato bombing of Serbia, even coming to the aid of Fischer at the Bielefeld congress. He was heckled as he delivered, what he described as the 'bitter truth' to the delegates: 'If you want to go into government', he chided his audience, 'you take over the world as it is'.

He has applied for French citizenship so he can stand in the 2001 mayoral elections in Paris, where the Greens won 17% of the vote in the Euro-elections. Although he believes in immigration quotas, he feels that he should be the first to get in as he's applying for citizenship under rules which allow artists and athletes to jump the naturalisation queue: 'I qualify as a political artist,' is his justification.

Manny Thain

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