Martine Aubry, the Socialist Party’s far-left candidate

4 min

She has politics in her blood and is a Socialist to the core. Martine Aubry, author of France's 35-hour working week, will compete for her party's nomination as it gears up to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential race.


Martine Aubry would not be competing in this autumn's Socialist Party  primaries if it hadn’t been for Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York in May.

According to reports, the Socialists' first secretary had promised fellow party member and former IMF chief “DSK” that she would not run against him if he declared his candidacy for the 2012 presidential vote. For one, DSK, who is now awaiting trial in New York on charges of attempted rape, was leagues ahead of her -- or anyone else -- in opinion polls.

But the political landscape has changed irrevocably for the French left with former IMF chief Strauss-Kahn now out of the picture.

Aubry, 60, on Tuesday announced her intention to run for her party's nomination as the Socialists gear up to challenge an increasingly unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential race.

But it promises to be a close fight.

Firmly on the left

Aubry has an impeccable Socialist pedigree. Her father, Jacques Delors, was finance minister (1981-1985) and president of the European Commission (1985-1995). Delors himself declined to run as a Socialist candidate for the 1995 presidential elections, to the dismay of his many supporters. 

As minister for employment and solidarity from 1997 to 2000, Aubry was responsible for instituting the 35-hour workweek in France, as well as introducing a universal healthcare provision that gave full cover to the poorest families.

Aubry’s political career began under former president François Mitterrand in 1981 with various posts in the Ministry of Social Affairs.

After the Socialists were voted out of power in 1986, she was hired as a director for the aluminium manufacturer Pecheney, where she was responsible for opening a plant at Dunkirk on the north coast of France and closing another at Noguères near the south-western border with Spain.

But by 1991 Aubry was back in politics as minister for employment, her first ministerial position.

The Socialists lost again in the 1993 parliamentary elections. Out of office, Aubry founded the Foundation Against Exclusion (FACE) and in 1995 was made deputy mayor of the city of Lille in northern France.

In the same year, Socialist presidential candidate Lionel Jospin made her his campaign spokesperson.

Jospin was defeated, but was impressed with her services. As the party's first secretary, he offered her a job as his deputy. She turned him down.

Back in office

In 1997 the left was back in power, this time as an alliance of the Greens, the Socialists and the French Communist Party. It was during this administration that Aubry, as minister of employment and solidarity, fulfilled Jospin’s campaign pledge to reduce unemployment, notably with the introduction of the 35-hour workweek.

Aubry quit the government in 2000 to focus on regional political ambitions. She was elected mayor of Lille that same year, a position that she still holds.

Following her re-election as mayor in 2008, Aubry succeeded François Hollande as the Socialists' first secretary and party leader. In her bid for the position she beat Ségolène Royal, the Socialist presidential candidate who lost to Sarkozy in 2007, by a handful of votes.

Significantly, François Hollande and Royal (Hollande’s former partner) are Aubry’s biggest rivals in the forthcoming primaries.

It was under Aubry’s leadership that the party changed the rules for the primaries. Historically, it had always been card-carrying members of the party who voted to choose their presidential candidate; now, any French citizen with “sympathies for the left” is entitled to vote.

Aubry, with her strong Socialist credentials, could benefit by appealing to a "wider left". And Hollande, 56, currently the party favourite and more of a centrist, may lose out from a punitive vote by far-left factions such as trade unions and the Communists -- which could just give Aubry the edge she needs to become her party's candidate for 2012.


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