November 25, 2017

Ecological breakthrough in France

The ecological breakthrough we have all been waiting for has occurred in France. Almost a thousand Ecology candidates presented themselves at the municipal elections on the 13th March and they did unexpectedly well, obtaining anything between 8% and 14% of the votes, which is enormous in a country with a multi-party system. The fact is that in many cities, the Ecologists have come out as arbiters between the two major political alliances, Gaullists—Giscardians on the one hand and the Socialists and the Communists on the other.

In the elections taking place in the cities there are two rounds of voting. I am referring, of course, to the first one. In order to be able to participate in the second round, a party must have 12% of the registered voters which normally means about 18% of the votes cast. This unfortunately, no Ecology candidate obtained. As a result, one has witnessed an astonishing scene: the major political leaders who had probably never even heard of the word ecology before, let alone considered that it could provide a basis for a new political party, suddenly proclaimed themselves to be life-long ecologists and sought by every means to obtain the ecological vote. Giscard d’Estaing published a pamphlet with an oak tree on the cover vaunting the conservationist achievements of his government. Marchais, the Communist leader tried to demonstrate, very unconvincingly, that only the Communists can implement a truly ecological policy.

Alliances were proposed with the leaders of the Ecology Parties in different cities, most of which were turned down. In Paris at least, the local Ecology Party (Paris Ecologie) has sought to remain totally neutral in the irrelevant struggles between the right wing and the left wing. The Ecology Movement, they maintain quite rightly, cannot be classified in terms of these rudimentary and outdated classifications. As a result, they left their supporters quite free in the second round to vote for whomever they liked.

Particularly interested has been the reaction of the Press. Up till now, as in Britain, it has systematically prevented the expression of the Ecological point of view. Suddenly there has been an ecological explosion in the media. The papers talk about nothing else. Brice Lalonde, the glamorous and highly articulate leader of Paris Ecologie, seems to be on the television almost every night and is permanently followed by a band of reporters and photographers. But the action is not all in Paris. In Alsace, where it all started in France, quite a large number of candidates were put up in the main cities. One of the leaders of the political movement ‘Ecologie et Survie’ is Antoine Waechter. He got over 12% of the votes in his Mulhouse constituency. Waechter is a professional ecologist at the local university. It is interesting that in France many professional or academic ecologists dealing with ecology with a small ‘e’ have had the courage to join the Ecological Movement and hence become Ecologists with a big ‘E’. Another example is Jean Marie Pelt, director of the very important Institut d’Ecologie in Metz. He is also vice-mayor of this city—the principal one of Lorraine, and is actively engaged in ecological politics, being a member of the committee of ‘ECOROPA’ (Action Ecologique Europeenne), set up in November in Paris to co-ordinate all the local ecological groups in Europe.

In the countryside the electoral system is very different and works on the basis of proportional representation. This has enabled a lot of Ecology candidates to get elected, in fact in many local councils in the Alsatian countryside the Ecologists are in the majority. In one council 21 out of 23 candidates are Ecologists. Solange Fernex (see Ecologist, Vol. 5, No. 10, Dec. ‘75), another of the leaders of the Alsatian Ecology Movement was elected as a councillor in her village of Biederthal, after having been involved with six other people, including one of her sons, in a hunger strike which lasted 22 days, in order to obtain the agreement of the EDF (the French equivalent of the CEGB) on the setting up of essential controls in the new nuclear power station at Fessenheim—whose construction the Ecology Movement has failed to prevent.

What is astonishing is how the Ecology Movement seems to have spread as if by magic throughout the country. What do they have in common? Many of them are intimately linked with the ‘Friends of the Earth’, started in France some years ago by Alain Hervé and Edwin Matthews and run today by Brice Lalonde. Many of them, too, were inspired by René Dumont’s Presidential campaign in 1974. Others have undoubtedly been converted by reading ‘Le Sauvage’, a remarkable and highly professional ecological magazine published by the ‘Nouvel Observateur’ and edited by Alain Hervé, also by ‘Ecologie’ edited by Jean Luc Burgunder, by the highly polemical ‘la Gueule Ouvert’ and ‘Cahiers de la Baleine’, the paper produced by Friends of the Earth and edited by Brice Lalonde.

What is going to happen to the French Ecology Movement after the election? It is too early to say. However, the signs are that it can only grow. The reason for this optimism is that the Movement is obtaining its support principally among the young. Even in the Communist areas of Paris, where it proved very difficult to convert the hardened Communist Party members, many of their sons and daughters voted for the ‘green’ candidates. Why does it appeal to youth? The answer is that it provides a complete philosophy which no other political movement has done since Marxism. The philosophy of Ecology, what is more, provides a rationale for the spreading gut-reaction to the ugliness, mediocrity and boredom of the industrial world and the intolerable social and ecological disruption that it will eventually give rise to. One of the advantages of having the young on our side, too, is that they will outlive the old.

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