November 27, 2008 (The date of publication in Russian)

Ruslan Kostyuk


French Socialists acquire a new leader, endorsed by the party bureaucracy


During the last week, the French Socialist Party encountered the first serious shakeup in postwar history. At the LXXV Congress held on November 15-17 in Reims, the party failed to adopt a concluding resolution defining the party strategy, as in the preliminary debates and in the vote in factions, none of the four proposed blueprints gained a majority. The second scandal took place during direct elections of the party leader, the results of which aroused uproar of emotions in the party ranks.

The Socialists enjoy support from a quarter of the French voters, disposing 186 seats in the Parliament and 116 in the Senate. Holding the second place in popularity in influence after Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for Popular Movement, FSP currently controls almost all the regions of France, over one half of the departments, and an absolute majority of cities and towns. Socialists also prevail among French members of the European parliament. The total membership of the party exceeds 220,000, many Socialist politicians serving as regional legislators or counsels.

This huge potential is overshadowed with the poor performance of the party in presidential elections since 1988. FSP's latest success in the parliamentary race dates back to 1997, when First Secretary Lionel Jospin, ascending to the Prime Minister's post, was replaced by Francois Hollande. This politician was keen in maneuvering among party faction, managing thus to keep in his position until 2007, not winning a single campaign during the decade of his rule.

The struggle for the First Secretary's position was not the only pretext for the intra-party debate, though turf war for leadership, involving MPs, Senators and Mayors, had been typical for FSP. The central point of the agenda was the party's modernization.

The four poles in the party, engaged in the strategic debate, were represented by the social-liberal wing, personified by Lyon Major Gerard Collomb and ex-presidential candidate Segolene Royal, the rightist faction, dominated by Hollande and Maris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, traditional social reformists led by Lille Mayor Martin Aubry and ex-Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, and leftists , headed by MEP Benoit Hamon. The concept of the rightist social democrats gained support from over a quarter of the Congress, while the blueprints of leftist reformists and leftists won resp. 24 and 19%. After the four groups failed to reach a compromise, a sufficient majority for strategic decision-making was unavailable, and the relevant issues were postponed until the election of First Secretary.

It is noteworthy that party trends significantly differ in approaches towards economic policy, social legislation, political institutions and European integration.

The names of three contenders for leadership surfaced right after the failed Congress: those were Segolene Royal, Martine Aubry, and Benoit Hamon. The Paris Mayor decided to quit the race, obviously due to the poor popularity of his group's version of strategic blueprint. A month or two before, Delanoe was regarded as the most probable winner of the party contest. However, the Mayor urged his sympathizers to support the candidature of Martine Aubry, expressing confidence in her professionalism, competence, and organizing capability.

Thus, the real competition was going to take place among two ladies – Royal and Aubry. In the first round, Benoit Hamon had to step down with a score of 22.8% of support (Royal and Aubry gaining resp. 42.5 and 34.7%). For some reason, the organizers decided to convene the second round a day later, on November 21. At this stage, the intra-party democracy stumbled.



Despite unification of powerful forces of the party apparatus, as well as the support for Aubry expressed as well by Hamon, the factor of personality was predominant in the election process.

Among ordinary party functionaries, Ms. Aubry, with her lack of personal charisma, was not very popular. Segolene Royal has lost a part of support since the vast majority of the party had endorsed her candidature in the Presidential race, in which she was defeated mostly due to her open social-liberal positioning and an attempt to transform FSP into a more flexible project like Italy's Democratic Party, as well as in the exposed lack of familiarity with a number of key economic and political issues.

However, the former spouse of Francois Hollande (they divorced soon after the presidential vote), used her charm and personal popularity for attracting floaters disappointed with the stranglehold of the party apparatus and related clientelistic practice in regional socialist federations. Her supporters advocated a higher level of intra-party democracy. As a result, the 135,000 party members split among the two candidates into two almost equal parts.

At first, the election committee acknowledged of Aubry's victory with a score of 50.02% – which meant that the edge did not exceed 43 votes. But the encouraged Ms. Royal and her staff demanded first to recount the votes and then to launch an additional round of elections, referring to evidence of rigging in Aubry's favor. For example, her supporters discovered that the election commission registered 40 votes in a Corsican village with only 20 inhabitants.

On Tuesday, the election committee was forced to urgently convene the party's national council elected at the Congress – and naturally, dominated by Aubry's backers. The recount of the vote revealed that Ms. Aubry had surpassed Segolene Royal not by 43 but by 102 votes. The results were approved on Thursday evening by 159 vs. 76 members of the Council. In their turn, Royal's supporters qualified the decision of the party apparatus as "an assault on democracy", promising to address judicial bodies to prove its illegitimacy.



According to polls, the French majority is astounded with the situation in FSP, while experts believe that a scandal of this kind would hardly benefit the party's popularity. Still, the fact remains:: the Socialist party, and generally the leftist oppositionist camp, has got a new leaders. Martine Aubry, 50, is the daughter of Jacques Delors, the famous Socialist minister of Francois Mitterrand's time who chaired the Commission of European Communities during a decade between 1985 and 1995. Ms. Aubry has graduated from prestigious high schools like the Political Research Institute and the National Administrative School where she also taught for several years before her Government career. She held positions in a number of ministries. In 1991-93, she headed the Ministry of Labor, Secondary and Vocational Education; in 1997-2000, the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity.

Her name is associated with the Law on 35-hour Working Week; with reduction of unemployment by several hundred thousands in late 1990s; with introduction of universal medical support and the Autonomous Personalized Allowance for aged persons. These achievements characterize Martine Aubry's adherence to classical policy prescriptions of social reformism. In the capacity of Lille Mayor, Ms. Aubry was elected to the Parliament in 2001.

Will Martine Aubry manage to restore the shaken unity of her party? Today, her leading role satisfies most of top FSP functionaries, as well as FSP's allies from the leftist camp. She strongly appeals to unification of leftist forces, favors the global tax on capital transfer, advocates increase of minimal salary, denounces mass layouts, and exhorts to social re-orientation of European integration. However, she has to start her activity with intra-party reconciliation.

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