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France is a universal nation: Mélenchon speaks out

In London last month to speak on a progressive alternative to the austerity policies which are being implemented across Europe (at the European Institute of UCL), France’s Left Front leader gave a follow-up interview to openDemocracy on the politics of the media, the evolving image of Marine Le Pen, colonialism, laicité, ideological hegemony, France and Europe.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was a cabinet minister in Lionel Jospin's government (2000-02) as well as a member of the French Senate (1986-2009). He was a long-time executive member of the Socialist Party (1977-2008). He left the PS in 2008 and created the Left Party which is part of a wider electoral coalition, the Left Front. This umbrella organisation is similar to Syriza in Greece and works closely with Die Linke in Germany. In May 2012, Jean-Luc Mélenchon ran for the French presidency. In the first round of the election, he secured 11.1% of the share of the votes nationally (over 4 million votes). Since 2009, Mélenchon has been an MEP. 


RB. openDemocracy has translated into English excerpts from the blog that you wrote when you were campaigning against Marine le Pen in Pas de Calais. It’s an interesting form for talking in more depth to your supporters, and you have used it with some success. At the same time you are extremely critical of the political role of the media in France. Here in the UK, as you know, the Leveson Inquiry is shining an unusual spotlight on the question – what exactly is the public interest in the media? What is your answer to this question?

Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
 There are at least two different questions here. The first concerns the current media system: how can this be understood and how confronted? In the second, you ask what media system could one imagine? The third aspect is how to confront the one with the challenge of the other.


To address your first point, the current state of play in the media. To begin with one must admit that it constitutes a system. People working in the media find this idea shocking, because they don't see this media “system”. Any such suggestion makes them rather indignant! They consider their personal participation the result of their own intellectual efforts and they are insulted at the suggestion that they can be assimilated by a system.
 Media people consider their personal participation the result of their own intellectual efforts and they are insulted at the suggestion that they can be assimilated by a system.

But only think, for example, of the arms industry. People working in the defence sector  don't have to have a very clear idea of the consequences of their production. They would certainly deny that they are personally responsible for its outcomes.
 Naturally this comparison is a bit forced. But it allows us to locate things in their proper place.

There is a media system. It is easy to see how the same ideas can be repeated throughout the system.
 By analysing how and why, you find that this is one example of the circular character of a certain genre of news/information. They support common prejudices (received ideas) which are thereby circulated and can become ‘reality’.


What we call the dominant ideology, that is to say, received ideas that we are forced to treat as reality, are reinforced by the system and thereby become accepted.
 We, the Parti de Gauche, have analysed in a very precise manner all the mechanisms that produce this result.

What we believe is that the roots of the problem lie in the social conditions of the people who work in these media companies. By this I don’t only mean the social identity of the media proprietors themselves. Media workers are precarious, and so very narrowly dependent on the quality of relations with their bosses.
 These people are crushed with tasks because media activity is an activity that follows the same rules of overexploitation as the rest of the system’s economic activity. We see young people, often young women, at one and the same time driving cars, carrying cameras and recording the sound, asking the questions, doing the editing, on four or five different subjects in the same day.



These people are obliged to do their work in a given format. The length of time they have to investigate, the length of the treatment is prescribed, and they cannot take the risk of being off subject. And what does it mean - being ‘off the subject”? It means saying what everyone has not already said. That's why conformism of formats and content has its social roots in the conditions of media production.

So the key to the problem for us is social.
Employees need stable social and working conditions. And in sufficient quantities to ensure a production which achieves a dignified intellectual quality.
 And whatever the media format to which we refer, it should not be governed simply by the law of the market - for example, how many people read a newspaper, or how many people watch a TV channel. There should instead be a bottom line which requires that consumers of intellectual products are engaged in some kind of intellectual exchange.


So that means – firstly, in all editorial establishments there should be editorial committees. Second, the number of workers on precarious contracts should be extremely limited. Thirdly, readers who are subscribers must have power. And the same applies to audio-visual products. Here too the viewers, notably of public TV channels, should have a say in the process they are engaged in.



For us the question is not about the freedom of the press. Nobody, after all, opposes that. It's about the plurality of the press. By contrast, nobody wants to talk about that. We take it seriously because we consider that the media is the second pillar of the system.


Next, let us take the actual situation for me, as regards my coverage in the media and where we have got to on this. For me, this is war. There is not one newspaper which, in reporting what I say, will start off, “Mr Melenchon says... .” No – instead, on every occasion, they chorus, “Mr Melenchon shouted...”.

 Not once is there a photo of me that approximates the reasonably charming man that I am. So I have put aside all human feelings as a result and made a cold calculation. And I have declared war.

Fundamentally, almost the totality of the media are clearly not out to help me. Instead, I constitute a sort of necessary figure, standing backstage in the nativity scene. I am the red devil. Whatever I say, whatever I do, I am necessarily aggressive, unrealistic and dangerous.



So I must somehow use these same prejudices, this caricature, to my own advantage. Once you've grasped this it is considerably easier to manoeuvre your way around the media. All I have to do is to conjure up a formula or an idea which my interviewer will very much want to publish because it shows me in a bad light, and it will put an obstacle in my path. So I know what buttons to push. It is like pressing a button.
It always works. The second thing I know is that the media system has a great internal dynamic. And what binds those people together is no more and no less than the blind corporatism of those inside the loop. So the second button we have to press is, we have to cause a furore. Any polemic or heated argument with any journalist is immediately very attractive to these people.


There are several buttons that can be pushed in this war. And there are some very simple rules governing the process. One cannot on the other hand use them all at the same time - because the media is also locked in competition, one with another. And this competition can also be used to my advantage.


Let me give you an example of the first - how I say things purposefully to my interviewer who will think they should publish them because they will work against me. Take my attachment to a raised fist. We have explained why it is necessary to close the fist. The petits-bourgeois in the media immediately think 'oh, we have to write all that down'. They ridicule me. ‘He is stupid! Oh, people must know how stupid he is.’ But thousands of people say, ‘but it's great, we didn't know why it was you close your fists. It's a beautiful image. Very poetic, you have the big, the small [fingers], and together they are strong.
 People find this explanation very poetic.
 Another time, I spoke of the red flag. Why we carry the red flag. And they said 'he is defending it – he must be mad! The red flag!'
I told the story of why we carry the red flag in France and we managed to get everyone talking about this. It was a sign of defiance, by the workers. It's a lovely story. Many people recognize it's a fine story.


To put it another way, there is an intimate connection between the system which is the media and that of the more general system for the construction of politics. Both involve an effort to bring a certain kind of conflict into politics. The mode which is social-democratic politics has one idea only, which is consensus. They don't understand the absurdity of such an idea. Democracy is not consensus. It's a mode of regulating conflict and difference. And in the social order, to deny conflict is as dangerous as it is to the mental system to deny the conflicts that occupy us as human beings.
 Democracy is not consensus. It's a mode of regulating conflict and difference.

The media have been the best instrument for me to bring political combat to the highest level of symbolic representation. 
They've fallen into all kinds of the traps. For example, on one occasion I began to speak about Robespierre. They all went mad, "the terror, the fear". But people said, well, if he's talking about it perhaps we should go and look it up and we got thousands of people interested in what really happened in the French Revolution, with our marches to the Place de la Bastille.


I read one North American paper that amused me greatly. "The thousands of red flags of the Communist Party in Paris!" Sensational! There were thousands of communists with red flags. But the red flags were not provided by the Communist Party, the red flags were those of the French people.
 The technique of combat in the media sphere is a strategy that has to be planned: it can't be improvised. It's a technique of war. A pacific war, a democratic war, but war nevertheless.

 

Q:  Was there any change in the attitudes of the media once the elections were over?

Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Not in relation to me. But there is an evolution which is linked to society itself. The centre-left newspapers and those of the centre-right have become extremely well-disposed towards Mme Le Pen. That doesn't mean to say that they approve of her ideas: but they approve of the role she plays. They find it useful. And they have introduced a new role into the nativity scene - that of the seductive devil.
 Liberation published an article this week in which she was characterized as ‘erotic’. Throughout the electoral campaign in Henin-Beaumont, she was always presented as smiling, familiar with people, in rather frumpy clothes. But recently Liberation gave her a double page-spread with the title, “Mr. Le Pen, the grand-father that anyone would dream to have.”



One must reflect, why that change of attitude? Such figures help to assign to the people the limited role of onlookers. Each time there is a problem now, they say 'it's going to benefit Mme Le Pen'. There is corruption? That will benefit Mme Le Pen. Anti-social behaviour? That will build support for Mm Le Pen. Some problem with the way the Government is conducting itself? Don’t go there: that can only benefit Le Pen. So in this way she is brought into the centre of the political arena.

To give you a chance to understand this, let us pose the reverse case: why don't they say 'that will benefit M Melenchon'? Never. The rich are abusing power? That will benefit Melenchon. There is a Socialiste who lies? That will only add to the support for Melenchon.



So this is an important signal. I don't draw this comparison out of frustration or jealousy. It's in order to analyse just what is going on. 
Firstly, it's a way of making people accept the situation. Either you accept the situation, or you pave the way for the extreme right. Stay at home if you are angry, otherwise you can only exacerbate matters.
 And don’t think any more. Secondly, this is another illustration of the radicalisation of the middle class mentality, most obvious when it comes to the theme of immigration. Mme Le Pen has been perceived as a person who can keep the Arabs at bay. The hatred of Arabs and Muslims in our society today fulfils exactly the same function as the hatred of Jews and of Judaism did in another era, before the second world war.


 

Q. Isn’t this is a phenomenon that really will benefit Le Pen? In France today, do you think French Republican secularism has the capacity to deal with Islamaphobia as it is being manipulated throughout Europe? 
Isn’t the National Us it invokes too nationalistic, too monocultural, and in response to such an enemy image, only capable of exacerbating the situation?
 

J.L.M.  I don't think there exists a better response to this calculated strategy - the organised, heavily financed clash of civilizations - than laicité. There's no better solution. Nor do I believe that it's necessarily a monocultural response. We are talking here of political institutions. Either human rights are universal or they do not exist. If human rights are a utopia like any other, then the whole political system has to be radically rethought.


But we have reason to believe there is no need to do that. We found this, for example, in dealing with environmental issues. There is only one ecosystem compatible with human life. So in that, we are all equal. There is one common human interest.

We can only discover that common human interest by putting aside the particular revealed truths in which we all believe. To put them aside does not mean ignoring them. Each one of us reflects on common goods from the perspective of their own culture, their own human identity. But on the public table, one only puts the arguments that we can all exchange with the people we are talking to, the public interest that we all share. One cannot accept the tyranny of those who arrive and say 'be quiet, there is the natural law of the market'. Or this or that law that God has made here or there. Laicité is only a system of organising political institutions. Nothing more. A separation between the state and churches.


Some debates are nothing to do with secularism, with the state. Like, for example, the debates over wearing the burka. We are not discussing the Muslim religion here. Indeed among Muslims there are several interpretations. Not all Muslims are necessarily in agreement when it comes to their own faith. So there is no reason to make universal in their place a practice that is linked to certain religious beliefs.

The veil, however, also poses a deeper question that is not confined to religion. It's about the mistreatment of women. And even if the women involved are OK with this mistreatment, we are not OK with it. This is not a prejudice, it's a philosophical presupposition about the way we ought to live.


In my constituency there was a night club. And in this night club, there was a game, which consisted of ‘throwing a dwarf’. The dwarf was very happy with these dwarf-throwing competitions. He earned a living. It gave him a certain star-status. Girls paid attention to him. And we asked that it be banned. And he said to me, why? It’s none of your business. It's my way of earning a living. And I said, I don't care. I don't want to live in a society where this game takes place.
 So it's the same. Nobody is allowed to walk naked in the streets. Even though it's more natural to walk around naked than wear a sheet over your head.
Why? Because we have decided that certain things are not acceptable in public. We don't allow parents to let children walk naked in the street.
 We are for liberty, egality, fraternity – and in this sense, we are not just the French people.

 I will go further. France is not a western nation. France is a universalist nation. There, I've finished.



You English are embarrassed because you got off on the wrong foot. You began with tolerance, respect for others, like us. And you say people in different communities could all live together, and now the problem is deciding how many can live side by side and how can we let them all live side by side? And now the English think that they are just a community amongst others.



Q: But isn’t there rather a rigid notion of secularism in France which has allowed the visual symbols of Islam to attain such an inflated importance that inevitably this has shut Muslims out of political life? Haven’t too many barriers been erected ?

J-L.M
  I will respond very simply. If this were true, then we wouldn't have the same sorts of problems going on in England.
 Is Islamophobia worse in France? No. There are historical reasons in France that have given a wider basis for antipathy towards Muslims than in other countries, because we had a very hard war in Algeria. And there remain very painful memories for everyone on both sides.
I am myself a pied-noir.  

There is a historical basis. You English did not have the same colonial system. The French colonial system was meant to be done with a clear conscience. It was supposed to be liberating people and giving them extra rights. The English never pretended that this was the case. Decolonisation, as a result, was never the family affair for you that it was for us. There are several million French people of Muslim religion, and we have absolutely no reason to ignore or to deny that history.

In Germany you had different principalities, different religions. Not us. Between Catholics and Protestants there were three centuries of trying to exterminate one another, by any means necessary - mass killings, forced conversions. For us, therefore, the state has always been a political construction, considered as an emanation of the common interest, the common good.
 We were the largest territory in Europe where there were Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
So we have had a long experience of this. Indeed, we invented multiculturalism before you did. Can you imagine towns in England where Muslims have the right to take up arms to defend themselves - well, we had that, with the Edict of Nantes, which is considered a monument of tolerance.



So the real challenge we have before us today is not Islam. It is the unity of the French nation. And this is a problem which concerns French Muslims as well, French Jews, and certainly the vast majority of the people have simply had enough of all these problems concerning all the various religious practices and the conflicts between them. It is our responsibility to protect those who are persecuted because of their religion because in the end we are one single people, free in matters of conscience to practise as we wish in our homes.
 The right to practice your religion in public, a demand very strongly backed by the Pope, is not a good idea. There are places of worship, that is where you should worship. The French Republic should not pronounce on what goes on there, even on the relations between the sexes.
 But the barrier between communities is always the same – it is women's bodies. Because it's always the physical marking of women that allows a community to affirm its identity and to close itself off.

But the barrier between communities is always the same – it is women's bodies. Because it's always the physical marking of women that allows a community to affirm its identity and to close itself off. It's because we believe that all humans are equal that we don't permit that. The Republic is not a neutral regime.




Q. At last night’s lecture, you were talking about the importance of discipline to organizations. At the same time you joked that if your own Left Party members asked you during the campaign - what should we do next? - the answer was, ‘You are instructed not to wait for orders.’ How important is discipline to your organization, and how does it relate to a political pluralism which reflects the individualism and diversity of our societies?

J.-L.M.  What I said about discipline has a great importance for us. Individualism is naturally not a bad thing. People have their own ideas about what it is to be emancipated. But life teaches us that we can only realise our individuality through the collective, we have no other choice. Social life, family life, it's all done through rules. And the absence of rules screws us. You can't play football without rules. You can't eat together without following certain rules - you don't lick the plate, you wish each other 'bon appetit'.



Certain rules impose themselves on us: others are mutually agreed. It's the same for the life of a party or any political organisation. These rules aren't there to build hierarchies. But they are there to make action effective. 
I won't stand there in the cold waiting for someone who is late bringing their pamphlets. They have to be on time with the right number of pamphlets, targeted at the right people. When you write a pamphlet, you don’t just think about what you want to say, but you think also about the impact on the people who read it. That's my idea of party discipline. Nothing else. It's the refusal to introduce into politics the practices of a political type of consumerism - joining a party not to realise an idea or fight for something, but to flatter my ego, or hear the sound of my own voice, or to be elected because I'm very interesting, or because I'm 50, my hair is greying and I'm getting old.



I am exasperated, especially in our left movement, by egotistical behaviour disguised as demands for liberty, democracy. For us the key word in political organisation, it's not democracy - because democracy belongs to the social organism as a whole. But in a political organization, the key word is ‘collective’.



That's what I want to say about discipline. It's very important for me to make this idea clear. If I want to work with you as an individual, it must be in the spirit of fraternity, and is not just about authority. But one must be professional and serious, keep your word and this means having a personal sense of discipline in the way you work: that is respect for others.  Any idea that becomes a system in itself commits violence sooner or later. Discipline too can become a tyranny if it is not approached in the right way.

 

Q. This week Mr Berlusconi has come out against ‘austerity’ - how can we mark the difference between a left populist position and right-wing populism? 

J.-L.M.  It's very difficult, because the extreme right stick closely to what we do. National socialism, or fascism, claimed to fight plutocracy, the power of money, at the same time that they claimed other statements as self-evident, for example that Jewish people are strange and they eat strange things.
 The roots of xenophobia, of racism, of hatred of immigrants in society, all these are attempts to give another explanation of the system in terms of competition between the poor. And we have seen that the capacity for resistance in society to these narratives, even among the middle classes is very weak indeed. They too are susceptible to explanations predicated on the physical or biological differences between human beings.

Take as one example, Mme Le Pen and her decision to campaign against halal meat at the very moment when we were in the throes of the debate about the European Financial Stability Mechanism. It is considerably easier to talk about meat, than economics. Ten days later, sure enough people were beginning to say – “Jews too, they eat weird things.”  So now we're going back to the same anti-semitic roots that there were in the 1930s.
 Then Mme Le Pen brought up the question of the burka, which had already been dealt with. Why did she bring it back? To say that it was also necessary to ban the skullcap. It's the first time since the Second World War that a politician has campaigned against people who wear the kippah on their heads. Incredible. Ten years ago if she had said that there would have been a demonstration of tens of thousands of people.
 But these days – nobody.



As a consequence, the struggle against the extreme right must take place on three terrains. Knowing that it's very difficult, there is one terrain we must set firmly to one side from the outset - that is an approach based on moral lessons.
 Firstly, the political programme. This must be designed to contest the rightwing manifestos, line by line. Secondly, culture. We do not have the same culture. Mme Le Pen tried to claim that she was a secularist. Our response should not consist of saying, “Since she is a secularist, we no longer are! Oh la la, we have violated the Muslim population – Do please put whatever you like on your heads!” On the contrary, we say, secularism for everyone. And the Catholic church too, shouldn’t that be the case – shouldn’t they follow the same rules?
 We say this not from any hostility to the Catholic church. But rather to bring her up against her own contradictions because she is a fervent supporter of the Catholic church. So we insist: all religions. The same point applies to abortion rights. Marine Le Pen claimed that she had a particular vision as regards this subject. But what does your manifesto actually say? Should women have the right to an abortion or not? Supported by social security or not? What does it say ? The Front National manifesto turns out to come out against abortion rights.



We must also have methods of combat that take into account human reality. Leon Trotsky once said, “Fascism makes human dust into a material force”. All our methods are destined to make a demonstration of force which empowers us. We are proud to be with a red flag, thousands and thousands in the streets. And we will fly the national flag too, because I say we are the red of the flag, and the red flag, OK? - and this is  how we develop the collective pride that will give us the extra strength we need.

 

Q: Why is it the case that the Front National have had so much success in France? Why weren’t they confronted earlier on in their inexorable rise?

J.-L.M. Before we began to tackle them, people tended to use moral lessons. I never give moral lessons. When I arrive at questions that pose moral problems, I am happy to say that there are two positions and leave it at that. And I don’t try and draw fine distinctions between a person and their morality. I say, in response to Le Pen, if you say no, you are for us. If you say yes, you are for her. If you think it's a problem that Jews wear kippahs, go with her.

These sorts of ultimatums are the only way to prevent her from sowing confusion on all sides. Her technique is reminiscent of the triangulation of Blair. Now it is taken up by the extreme right.

 Her technique is reminiscent of the triangulation of Blair. Now it is taken up by the extreme right.



But resistance to the Front National must take a positive form. We cannot let them seize the initiative. It's we who are the winners from such a contest. My idea is always the same - we are the victors. Taking the example of what happened in Henin-Beaumont, we marched from the miners’ offices, the same route the miners’ wives took in 1940 against the Nazis. Along the whole route of that march, all the voting booths along the way gave me the highest score on the left. With methods like that we won 1000 votes in one week. And in 8 out of 15 towns in the constituency we won higher votes than the Socialist Party.
 I'm not trying to give people lessons about what exactly they should or shouldn't do, but I'm sure that the best method for tackling right-wing populism is the demonstration of a positive counter-force which must have numbers.

 

Q. The Left Front is not just a political party, and Syriza is not just a party. Both organizations have a more complicated pluralist approach to social movements – is that important for the renewal of the left? 

J.-L.M. First of all, I think that at this moment in history, politics is constituting itself in ways that belong to an ante-politics, that is a stage prior to the process of representation. All the political superstructures are shattering in this massive explosion of the representative system. The explosion of the interior of parties in France is most visibly happening to the right wing at the moment, but the left is doing badly as well.
 The diversity of our political movements, each small group with its own very precise identity, with reasons for waging polemical conflict that could easily remain unresolved until the end of time – this is what is collapsing. But collective intelligence has inspired us 40 seconds before death. Which did not happen to the Italians. And the result for the left there? Meltdown.



As well as this survival instinct that has recued us, there is a reality that we have faced up to. Our left is above all cultural. It's a very extensive cultural continent, with many different landscapes, hills, valleys. But it is a solid, cultural continent. Lots of people have crossed it. Lots of people would like to come and live on it. But we have made it difficult to live in, ourselves.
 This image allows me to say that political reconstruction will take place on the ‘broadest cultural field’ and not on strictly political themes. And we try to traverse this broader cultural field looking for where there are overlaps. We take our bearings from the great cultural hegemonies, identities, reference points in France. We try to traverse this broader cultural field looking for where there are overlaps. We take our bearings from the great cultural hegemonies, identities, reference points in France.

[Here, Melenchon illustrates his thesis with a series of three overlapping table napkins]

For example, you're for laicité. You support secularism and are not interested in anything else. You couldn’t care less about right or left. Now, there is a second person who is for sharing. You can't be happy when there are unhappy people. Then, the next person is for equality, and in particular cannot bear inequality between men and women. So there are three landscapes and one place in which all three overlap. If you are here [in the overlap], you are Front de Gauche - if you are here [outside the overlap], it’s something else - I don't have contempt for you, but this is different.
 The ideological strategy of the Front de Gauche is to reconstruct French cultural hegemony in the Gramscian sense, and to rebuild it together. And to rebuild these landscapes together it is necessary to explain things, to offer a popular education – and not to turn away like old people who have seen everything, known everything, understood everything, and who take it for granted that everybody else is in the same place that we are in.


Speaking to my English comrades and supporters, they keep saying thank you. In the end you ask, For what? “Because you are working hard. It’s a good job done.” And the second reason, is, “Because with you I understand everything.” And that is no accident. I spend hours and hours preparing my speeches. I do not just write them out to read out. I write them down, then learn them, then speak with my assistants.
 I am full of empathy for and fraternity with the person who gives up their time for relaxation or rest to come and listen to me. And I want them to understand what I have to say.

Because the system, its method, is to muddle everything up and render it incomprehensible.

 The system doesn't tell you what to do. Never. On the contrary it confuses everything. It makes it impossible to behave in an honourable manner, to take good decisions.
 A child comes home and says Maman, Papa! -  one day it's 'the euro is a disaster', the next it's 'the euro is saved'. And why? They don't understand anything. Unemployment is up - it's a disaster! But the stock market is also up! Eh? So, the father or the mother says, 'don't talk politics at home'. That’s the easier option. And the system has won. The people step down. They demote themselves.



So we have above all a task of popular education. We cannot have the petit-bourgeois mentality, which assumes that everybody has automatically understood, because everybody has been educated. Accept that differences also exist in our levels of knowledge. Another way of putting it is to say that we are equal in our sentiments and the quality of our personal investment. 
The petit-bourgeois says that the difference between us is in our diplomas. That's why it is shocking to speak as if the other didn't know. Just like in the places where people have money, it is always rather shocking to speak about money.
 But we must face up to this necessity of communication. 

Q. So – why did you say you are ready to serve as prime minister in a Hollande Government?

J.-L.M. When I say that I am ready to be prime minister, it means that the Front de Gauche is ready to govern the country. This is not a request that we are making to Mr. Hollande. It is a message that I want to give to the country. We are concrete radicals of the left. If I was made prime minister tomorrow I would know what to do. And it's with this confidence that I want to inspire my compatriots, and to give them courage. We are concrete radicals of the left. If I was made prime minister tomorrow I would know what to do. And it's with this confidence that I want to inspire my compatriots, and to give them courage.

One might say that it is not an personal pledge so much as a marker. 
It is also a way of saying that you don't have to wait until the 2017 presidential election. In this I am addressing Francois Hollande, and saying that since he’s soon going to be staring failure in the face – people should know now that there exists another alternative to the left. 

 

Q. And finally, what does Mélenchon’s Europe look like?

J.-L.M.  First and foremost it is a democratic Europe. I understand completely the necessary transfer of sovereignty involved. And I have no difficulty with the concept of submitting this sovereignty of the people to the control of Europe on certain matters if it is done in the right way. But today, this is not the case.
 France is constituted in that way. In 1792, the people who founded the Republic, who were on the hill at Valmy, did not share the same language, they did not share the same measurements, they didn't share the same laws. But they were all shouting, 'vive la nation'. And this was not a nationalist demand. People are always assuming that I am more interested in a grand project for France than in building a new Europe. But for me, French nationality is not ethnic. It is a political programme: liberty, equality, fraternity.

So to finish what I am going to say now I may appear even more arrogant. We are the second power on the continent. We are going to be the largest in population terms. Europe can't be built without us, which means it can't be built against us. Germany cannot seriously believe that all Europe will accept a politics destined for old people who want their retirement funded by capitalism. We are a young people, we need schools, we need health care, we need work.


So if you ask me what does Mélenchon’s Europe look like? First of all, France is back. Not that we are only speaking on behalf of the French. You have the same interests, no? You want young adults to go to university without having to pay back their debts for ten years. It's simple things that are the same for so many of us. Evidently the European central bank would have to change its statute. And it would buy sovereign debt so that we could finance not only the elementary needs we have just discussed, but to change the whole production of energy in the direction of ecological needs. Because otherwise it's a catastrophe, and so we have to start thinking about that now.



A transcript of Mélenchon's speech at UCL is available here.

Read also Daniel Trilling’s piece after the same follow-up meeting, in the New Statesman.

About the authors

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was a cabinet minister in Lionel Jospin's government (2000-02) as well as a member of the French Senate (1986-2009). He was a long-time executive member of the Socialist Party (1977-2008). He left the PS in 2008 and created the Left Party which is part of a wider electoral coalition, the Left Front. This umbrella organisation is similar to Syriza in Greece and works closely with Die Linke in Germany. In May 2012, Jean-Luc Mélenchon ran for the French presidency. In the first round of the election, he secured 11.1% of the share of the votes nationally (over 4 million votes). Since 2009, Mélenchon has been an MEP. 


RB, editor

Rosemary Bechler is a mainsite editor of openDemocracy.


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