As the first round of France's presidential elections to be held on April 23 draws closer, leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon has been making the headlines in the media after the former socialist leader rose to a stunning 16 percent in the latest polls — only 1 point off third-placed conservative candidate Francois Fillon.
Melenchon, 65, founded the Left Party in 2008 after 35 years in the currently-governing Socialist Party. The party created the France Insoumise (Unbowed France) movement for the purposes of the 2017 elections and has registered 328,000 members.
In the first round of the 2012 presidential vote, Melenchon finished fourth with 11.1 percent, a disappointment compared with the 15 percent projected in the last polls. Many possibilities remain in the four last weeks of the campaign, with 78 percent of the leftist voters hoping for an improbable alliance between Melenchon and socialist candidate Benoit Hamon — who represents the leftist opposition to President Francois Hollande within the Socialist Party. Abstention is likely to play an important role in the election as 47 percent of voters still don’t know who they will vote for.
But if Melenchon's surge was to continue until the crucial vote, here are the five main proposals he has vowed to implement in order to address the country's political and social crisis.
1. Ending Free Trade Pacts
Melenchon would immediately remove France from the negotiations between the European Union and the United States the Transatlantic Free Trade deal, and would question the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement signed with Canada. The measure is the most supported by Melenchon's party's members, which makes sense as Melenchon's Left Party was born after the Socialist Party supported the 2005 European Treaty, considered as neoliberal by Melenchon.
2. Challenge Austerity, Anti-Worker Laws
Melenchon would also capitalize votes upon the wide discontent against a recent labor bill pushed by Socialist government in August 2016, which materialized into the spontaneous popular movement Nuit Debout in March 2016 — sometimes compared with U.S. Occupy Wall Streets or Spanish Indignados.
3. Green Budgets and Legislation
The leftist leader has been praised as the most environment-friendly candidate running for the elections.
Melenchon has proposed the radical “green rule” which specifies that balancing the budget would not apply whenever it would imply the extinction of natural resources. Another crucial measure concerning environment is the “energy transition,” meaning the closure of France's nuclear plants and the investment in renewable energies. He also prioritizes the “protection of common goods” including air and water.
4. Regulating Banks, Raising wages
As for his economic program, the former Socialist minister wants to fight the abuses of banks by placing greater regulations on them, also stimulating consumption by raising the minimum wage to 1,390 euros (currently about US$1,228) as well as wages in the public sector. For those earning more than US$35,000 a month, 100 percent of that income would be eligible for taxation.
5. New Constitution and New Republic
The candidate has also pushed for a radical reform of French institutions including creating a Constituent Assembly via a referendum towards a more democratic Constitution. In this sense, he also promised to change the law so elected state officials can be removed from their position via a recall referendum, similar to the measure implemented in Venezuela's Bolivarian Constitution.
However, Melenchon's candidacy is still far from reuniting the “left” disappointed by five years of a social-democrat administration and neoliberal policies. Melenchon has always rejected any idea of an alliance with direct rival Hamon, alienating himself from part of his potential electorate as some 12 percent of people said they would vote for Hamon.
Melenchon's personality has been cited as the main factor the rift with the Communist Party, as an initial alliance between the communists and the Left Party withered over the years and eventually led to a rupture.
Some radical leftists in France have pointed a shift in the candidate's rhetoric over immigrations and French citizens of immigrant origins, in a dangerous bid to appeal the nationalist vote.