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Issue 42, October 1999

French Green Evolution

LES VERTS (the Green Party in France) are currently discussing tactics for the next local elections. On the agenda is how to force Lionel Jospin's left coalition government, which is led by his Parti Socialiste (PS) and which includes les Verts, to give them more recognition. They had previously failed to secure a second cabinet position.

An analysis of les Verts is important in understanding the French political situation. By raising environmental issues, denouncing over-industrialisation, and with speeches against the traditional left/right divide, les Verts have attracted those young people politically disorientated after the collapse of the Stalinist 'Eastern Bloc' and disillusioned by the limitations of various PS-led governments since 1981.

Before the early 1990s the French Green movement suffered a number of splits. Brice Lalonde (who was president of Génération Ecologie and environment minister in Michel Rocard's PS administration) moved to the right. Antoine Waechter was ousted as leader of les Verts in 1993. One of the main criticisms of him was that he ruled out political alliances, even though les Verts shared social democratic-type policies. Waechter subsequently linked up with the far right. Both he and Lalonde are steadily disappearing from the political scene.

Dominique Voynet took over as leader of les Verts. She represented the left in the party and took it into a 'progressive' alliance with the social democrats on a programme including the 35-hour week and voting rights for immigrants.


Green activists are currently involved in community-based campaigns, such as DAL (for the homeless), or syndicalist movements, like the SUD trade unions. Some discussions have also taken place between the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) and the left wing of les Verts, the most important group of which is AREV (red and green alternative).

In Le Livre des Verts (their 1995 presidential election manifesto), Yves Cochet wrote, 'We are the new, real social democrats'. Although they called for a vote for the PS in the second round, their points of difference were clearer then than now. Green activists took part in the demonstrations in December 1995, though they never called for the resignation of Alain Juppé's conservative government.

Under Voynet, les Verts set themselves the goal of becoming part of the government. In January 1997, six months before the electoral victory of the 'gauche plurielle' (the left coalition government), les Verts signed an electoral pact with the PS on the 35-hour week, for a national conference on wages, and more social welfare. (The only reference to the environment talked of 'equality' between hunters and non-hunters!)

In June 1997, Voynet became environment minister. That was the start of les Verts' real shift to the establishment. Their original position on the sans papiers (immigrants working in France, often for years, without permits), was that they should get the necessary documentation. But when the Jospin government failed to deliver this, les Verts dropped the issue.


Voynet pursues capitalist policies on the environment. The nuclear issue has been reduced to a publicity exercise - eg the fanfare over the closure of the very dangerous and expensive Super-Phénix fast-breeder reactor. Voynet has accepted the setting up of sites for Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX - an extremely volatile mix of plutonium and uranium), even though les Verts are against all plutonium reprocessing.

The 9% achieved by les Verts in this year's Euro-elections has increased their appetite for 'responsibility' in the government. The vote for them was strong amongst the middle class and youth (19% of 18-24 year olds who voted, supported les Verts). But Jospin wants to limit their influence - under pressure from the nuclear industries' and hunters' lobbies.

Les Verts have grown from 2,000 to 6,000 members in the last two years. But most of the new members seem to care more about the prospect of a political career than the fight for a production system that will respect the ecology.

The debate of 1992, after which les Verts called for a No vote in the Maastricht referendum, now seems very far away. This year they ran one of the most pro-Maastricht campaigns of the Euro-elections, as well as calling for the intervention of ground forces in the Balkans. Putting Cohn-Bendit at the top of their list gave the appearance of a continuation of the radicalisation of May 1968, only on a 'realistic' basis. But this has created internal party friction. Voynet said at the start of the campaign that Cohn-Bendit had to learn to say 'we' and not 'I'.


Cohn-Bendit is a threat to Voynet. He and others, including Green MEP N Mamere, are now talking about a new concept of the 'third left' - a 'social-liberal' project - to occupy the vacuum on the left of the PS which the Parti Communiste has failed to fill. This social-liberal left favours European 'harmonisation'. In France that would spell the end of public education.

Cohn-Bendit also advocates an independent Green list for the first round of local elections in 2001. Voynet prefers an alliance with the PS, claiming that 30 towns could get a Green mayor this way. Mamere is pushing Cohn-Bendit to stand for the mayoral elections in Paris after les Verts won 17% of the vote in the Euro-elections there. These two main tendencies inside les Verts have recently organised separate meetings and this battle could intensify in the coming months.

Alex Rouillard

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