Mélenchon’s European Tightrope
One of the most frequent criticisms on the French left of La France insoumise and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (a criticism I have addressed in other writing) is that the “populist” movement and its leader are not coalition builders. Instead of bringing together all of the left-wing critics of Macron’s presidency, les insoumis proclaim themselves to be the only real movement of popular opposition. This does seem to be integral to Mélenchon’s understanding of left-wing populism, which he has famously articulated as a project not to “unite the left,” but rather to “unite the people.”
Over the course of the summer, however, it looks like there has been a change of course. First, during the affaire Benalla, La France insoumise joined with the Socialists and Communists in the National Assembly to put together a motion of censure. And as the movement begins preparing for next year’s European elections, the media have widely reported a turn towards a greater openness. At its “summer university,” for example, members of all left political parties were invited (as well as two “frondeurs” from the République en Marche majority, who did not attend).
The one major exception to this trend is that Mélenchon continues to express hostility towards Benoît Hamon, his former rival during the 2017 presidential election and the leader of the Génération.s (the hostility is apparently mutual). If Mélenchon recognizes that a broader left coalition is necessary in order to put La France insoumise on the map during next spring’s European elections, he clearly also believes that it is crucial to insist on the distinction between himself and leftists like Hamon who insist that it is possible to reform Europe “keeping the treaties constant.” Europe, in other words, appears to be the one subject on which he is unwilling to make compromises in the name of coalition-building. Time will tell whether or not this balancing will pay off.