European Topics in a Campaign – the French Example

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1st challenge: speaking about Europe
The steadily waning interest in European affairs is confirmed in all EU countries at each European election, as abstention rates regularly rise (60% on this occasion). But the trauma of the hotly disputed 2005 referendum campaign (which saw a 75% turnout) runs deep. The French maintain a very ambiguous relation to Europe and to European integration; many people accept and even favour the EU, but only if it more or less resembles a ‘bigger version of France’. Far away from the content of the Constitutional Treaty, it was thus two competing imaginaries that opposed one another in 2005.

Since then, European topics have remained particularly explosive: one section of the French political class has spent its time stuck in a battle it has already won, while the other has put on a show of unity, claiming to have healed the divisions. In 2009, Europe-Ecologie was therefore the only political faction where the lengthy, passionate and destructive opposition between the YES and the NO camps was successfully overcome, in both words and deeds.

When José Bové and Dany Cohn-Bendit, the champions of the two sides that locked horns during the referendum campaign, spoke on stage or in the media, together or separately, it was not to discuss the past, or to argue over the Good or the Bad Treaty, of Lisbon or elsewhere. On the contrary, they spoke of the future and described all of the things they wanted to change together in the EU. They offered a message of hope and a shared dream for Europe. Furthermore, they clearly explained why the European level was the only appropriate one to deal with the crisis that had just struck.

2nd challenge: speaking about Ecology
Precisely. How can one dare to speak of ecology when in the throws of a spectacular crisis? Although the French are increasingly environmentally conscious – due, in part, to Nicolas Hulot’s Pacte écologique ahead of the 2007 Presidential election – they still consider ecology as a luxury and ecologists as ‘bobos’ (bourgeois-bohèmes), that is, well-fed people who can therefore afford to care for and worry about nature, international solidarity, etc., instead of concerning themselves with real national problems such as unemployment and economic growth.

However, the strength of Europe-Ecologie’s message lay in the manner in which it pointed to the interrelation between the financial crisis, the failure of the productivist development model, and the environmental degradation of the planet. Traditionally, periods of crisis create fear of change, forcing people into their comfort zones. But Europe-Ecologie’s message was successful because it made more voters understand that the solution to the limits and contradictions of a system in crisis lay precisely in the ecological transformation of society.

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