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Two weeks before the congress is held in the city of Reims, the various motions competing for party members’ approval are campaigning flat out. In the 11th district of Paris, on the east side of the city, the local Socialist branch – the French capital's largest – has organised a debate so that each side may defend its proposals.
Socialist militants will vote on the different motions during the Reims Congress on November 14-16, changing their leadership and fixing the party’s new programme.
Daniel Assouline defends former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal’s motion. As the party bigwigs scramble for the top, Assouline underlines the importance of grassroots discussions. “The Socialist Party should really work on proposals in close collaboration with society, […] with trade union members, association activists, experts and not only through an process of internal debate and leader-worshipping.”
Yet, this Segolene supporter is hardly in friendly territory. Paris’ young and trendy 11th district is a stronghold of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë: more than three-quarters of the audience at the debate back him.
Laurent Cheno is one of them. However, he acknowledges that several motions look quite the same. “Two of the six motions are more or less the same. Delanoë’s and Royal’s motions are very similar in their support for the European Union. Benoît Hamon’s motion ‘C’ is more protectionist and therefore does not correspond to our European vision.”
Anything but Hamon in the 11th district
This European vision, shared by the representatives at the branch, is how the social-democrats stake out their difference from the farther left of the party – led by Benoît Hamon – whose popularity rocketed after the financial crisis.
Hamon’s motion is the most critical of capitalism, calling for a “radical” change of direction. Hamon also proposes an immediate reevaluation of the SMIC, the French minimum wage, at 1,500 euros a month and the relocation of production.
Socialist MP Danièle Hoffman-Rispal, who signed Delanoë’s motion, maintains that Hamon’s group is incapable of bringing the right solutions. “It’s easy, it’s demagogical, it looks left-wing… And then when they’re in power, they don’t do what they say. Hamon has never been a minister, but a number of his friends have and in government they didn’t do what was written in his motion. So that type of attitude really gets on my nerves.”
Patrick Bloche, mayor of the 11th district and a close friend of Delanoë, shares this point of view. “I find their proposals worrying, especially in terms of free trade. They are trying to reintroduce outdated protectionist measures and countries of the southern hemisphere will be the first to suffer.”
Utopia, an anti-globalisation group, underlines its differences
Even the anti-globalisation minority faction Utopia, though very close to Hamon, has underlined its differences.
“It’s true that the present crisis might make motion C more popular. Unfortunately, we reproach them for their lack of ecology analysis,” says Benjamin Grebot, who supports the Utopia motion.
The left of the left is unlikely to storm this social-democrat stronghold on November 6. However, for those here who think that the Socialist Party has drifted too far to the right, far-left leader Olivier Besancenot’s activists are organising another meeting just across the hall.