French Socialists renounce financial liberalization and prepare for election battle

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Martine Aubrey, first secretary of the French Socialist Party (PS), told Le Monde in an interview published on March 3 that the global project of financial capitalism is broken and cannot be fixed.

This statement makes the French Socialists the first major political party in the G8 to renounce financial liberalization, and the autonomy of finance capital, as the main features of national and international economic policy.

In addition to explaining how the big ideas guiding economic policy needed to be rejected, the PS secretary outlined three main concerns France must now face. For Aubrey, the policy priorities must entail ending youth unemployment, which is currently running at nearly 25 per cent, renewing the justice system, now being used to perpetuate fear among immigrant communities, and fiscal reform, to correct glaring French inequalities.

As background support for its policy ideas, the PS announced the publication of a book outlining its vision for France in the 21st century. Entitled Changing Civilization it features contributions from 50 French academics, researchers, and other thinkers. It is the work of the Ideas Lab of the party presided by Christian Paul, a French legislative deputy. For the last two years the party has been consulting unions, NGOs, and academics sympathetic to the French Socialists. The party policy proposals and the book are the result.

The Socialist Party is preparing for the presidential elections which will take place in 14 months. Within three months the French Socialists plan to adopt its policy proposals. These will serve as the basis for its campaign to replace current right-wing President Nicholas Sarkozy in May 2012 with a yet to be named Socialist candidate. The PS presidential aspirant will be chosen this fall, through a set of primary elections organized by the party.

Last January, there was a leadership change in the far right National Front (FN) party. Marine Le Pen succeeded her father and the party's founder, Jean Marie Le Pen. The FN knows how it plans to attack youth unemployment, justice, and fiscal issues: ban immigration and root out, and send back, illegal immigrants (the sans papiers). Her approach, more subdued than her father's, is producing results. A poll published Saturday in Le Parisien has her the first choice of 23 per cent of voters, compared to 21 per cent for Aubrey, and 21 per cent for Sarkozy, in the first round of presidential voting. (France uses a two round presidential voting system, where the top two vote getters, following round one, go head to head in round two.)

Sarkozy secured his presidential victory four years ago by running on a tough on immigrants, tough on crime agenda, and attracting first ballot support from FN voters. With a renewed FN vote -- why not opt for the "real" anti-immigrant candidate -- Sarkozy could fall behind the FN candidate in first round voting. Certainly the Sarkozy presidency has been marked by controversy over his erratic behavior and changes of direction that have affected the national mood, with observers describing Sarkozy as approaching depression, causing him to lose even traditional Gaullist voter support.

Of great concern to the PS is that its eventual candidate finishes third, as occurred in 2002, when France was left with a choice between two right-wing candidates in the final voting round. The parties left of the PS have a strong following, and have been critical of recent Socialist governments. They can be expected to run independent candidates who will siphon off votes from the PS candidate.

The PS blames its past defeats on an inability to unite behind a strong candidate. Aubrey would garner a lot of support, but her nomination is far from a sure thing. For a start she must deal with the rumoured return from Washington of Dominique Strauss Kahn (DSK), the IMF's managing director. Others who want to contest the Socialist presidential nomination, include former first secretary François Holland, and the PS candidate in 2007, Ségolène Royal.

In staking out a position highly critical of finance capitalism, the PS hopes to attract the anti-capitalist vote from the parties to its left. The clear repudiation of financial globalism, also sends a message to DSK. The PS wants to free itself of orthodoxy policy, the stock in trade of the IMF. By being the first to speak about the need for a radically new policy orientation, Martine Aubrey is positioning herself to be the PS candidate in 2012.

Duncan Cameron writes weekly on politics and is president of


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