I have often been asked in recent months whether I will be a candidate to lead the Socialist Party’s list in the May 2019 European elections. As a convinced socialist and European, I had to first ponder this serious question, considering also the crisis facing both Europe and the left.
The answer I give today is clear: the conditions are not met for me to engage in another electoral campaign for the Socialist Party. So I will not be participating in this process.
Let me explain why.
1. Europe is going through a deep and unprecedented political crisis, one which calls for an adequate response in the European elections.
For 60 years, Europe has always overcome its economic or political crises thanks to the vision of its leaders, the search for compromise for the common good, and deeper integration.
The current crisis is tragic, because it threatens the very existence of the European project. For the first time since the Second World War, Europe’s democratic and humanist values are being challenged by certain political parties which, whether in government, in coalition or in national parliaments, advocate inward-looking policies and the rejection of others. They dream of « illiberal democracy »: coming to power via the ballot box, only to then undermine democracy by questioning the rule of law, attacking media freedom and destroying the independence of the judiciary.
Europe is at a crossroads. If we do nothing, the Orbans, Salvinis, Kaczynskis and Le Pens of this world will design a Europe where the judiciary and the press are controlled, foreigners stigmatised, minorities threatened. Populists to some, nationalists to others: to me, all of these far-right leaders are the enemies of the open and liberal democracies that we have built since 1945 in order to guarantee peace.
I hope that Europeans will wake up and once again join the battle of ideas and values, in opposition to this dangerous stance. For that to happen, we must first listen to Europeans’ doubts and anxieties, which are the sources of this populist wave. The European left, particularly social democracy, has not been capable of finding sufficient words and ideas to respond to Europeans’ concerns, first during the economic crisis and then when faced with the migration crisis.
We have a duty to better meet the expectations of Europeans at the next elections. We must reconnect with the people, by acting concretely at local level, with youth, economic and social partners, artists, to build a safer, closer, fairer Europe. We must, in other words, set a popular Europe in opposition to a Europe of populists.
Everywhere in Europe, the left is in decline. And yet, I am convinced that the fight against inequalities, which are the root of this populism, is the defining battle of our time. And I am equally convinced that a profoundly renewed, pro-European left is best equipped to lead this battle. There has always been a socialist and social democratic vision of Europe – an integrated, open, protective and united Europe. These ideas still have a bright future.
2. In my opinion, the French Socialist Party has not fully realised what is at stake.
My possible candidacy could have been used to lead the battle for Europe and to begin the recovery of social democracy. It would have required a resolutely pro-European, pragmatic, reformist left. It could have served as a rallying cry for a party that was already terribly weakened by its defeat in 2017.
But the Socialist Party has neither rallied, nor clarified its stance. It remains divided between, on the one hand, those who see Europe as an opportunity, a destination, the DNA of a left that aims to govern; and on the other hand, those who see Europe as a constraint, a problem, even a mistake. It continues to seek to marry incompatible opposites, with the result that voters don’t understand whether the party is pro or anti-European. The Socialist Party has wallowed for too long in this ambivalence: we cannot at the same time look to Jean-Luc Mélenchon and to my friends Pedro Sánchez, Antonio Costa or Alexis Tsipras. This is not the same left! And it is not the same Europe! Some want to build a responsible, supportive and efficient leftist Europe; others dream of a populist or even nationalist plan B.
What is most worrying to me is the vagueness, sometimes downright confusion, over ideas and political strategy. Some people seem to forget that the Socialist Party has always been a left-wing party, engaged in the construction of Europe with the aim of giving it meaning for people, of giving it a progressive, fair, humanist orientation. I do not think we have to turn our backs on free trade, at a time when Donald Trump is championing protectionism and attacking multilateralism. Instead, we should seek to organise that free trade and ensure we are in control of it. I do not think it is appropriate to denounce out of principle a good agreement with Canada, one of the countries to which we are closest in the world in terms of culture and values. If not with Canada, with whom should we trade? I do not believe in the left breaking with Europe, or in the illusion of building ‘another Europe’. This is old rhetoric, a profound misdiagnosis and a lack of political clarity: most of the voters who turned their backs on the French Socialist government in 2017 did not do it because they thought it was too European, but because they thought it was not European enough. We should have reached out to these people, not turned our backs on them.
Finally, I do not think that the European Socialists’ goal should be to lock themselves away in splendid isolation within the European institutions, as the French Socialist Party seems to suggest. Socialism has always been a governing force in Europe, and it must remain so. Certainly, as the European Socialist Party asserts, I am not in favour of a « grand coalition » with a European right that is increasingly ambiguous vis-à-vis the populists. But should we de facto refrain, in the name of ideological purity, from taking part in the discussions to designate the future European Commission, which will necessarily be pluralist? Should we decline to discuss the election of its President if, as is likely, he or she is not from our political family? This would mean renouncing any role other than protesting or being negative about European policies. It would mean refusing to act against Europe’s existential crisis. It would mean becoming further marginalised in the next European Parliament, which will no doubt be a divided one, with no clear majority and a strengthened far right.
These disagreements are very substantial. They are the reason for my decision today.
3. I know what my convictions are: I remain a socialist, a social democrat, a convinced and – today – worried pro-European.
A true socialist, attached to Jean-Jaurès’ internationalist ideas; fighting the populism that has emerged from our ranks just like Léon Blum; a European just like François Mitterrand or Jacques Delors; a left-wing reformist just like Michel Rocard or Lionel Jospin. I remain faithful to this history, to this identity, which will in due course be the foundation of a social-democratic renewal.
I will not be a candidate in May 2019, but I maintain my commitments: the commitments of a lifetime.
I will therefore not be absent from this campaign. I will be a bearer of ideas and explanations in the face of nationalist dogma. Europe needs concrete proposals to fight the inequalities that threaten our societies; to invest in human capital; to regulate finance; to protect our democracies and open societies from the monsters of populism and the far right; to promote more citizen-centred and less technocratic governance; to fight global warming and to advance Africa’s development. I will work on these ideas, and express them forcefully.
I will be active alongside my friends in the PES to build a strategy with European left-wing forces, so that our ideas for progress and for the European project remain at the heart of the next Parliament. I will spend the next few months building bridges between those who know that the future of Europe cannot be decreed by a single party and who want to forge alliances that are meaningful and founded on goodwill.
I will remain in the midst of the action as European Commissioner. For four years, I have been acting as a committed social democrat: rejecting Grexit and helping Greece to regain hope and prosperity; moving beyond austerity at European level in favour of responsible and forward-looking fiscal policies; fighting tax fraud and evasion, and taxing digital giants of the digital economy as they should be. Much remains to be done.
4. I still believe that the left has a future, in France and in Europe.
This is a difficult time: the left has completed neither the inventory of its shortcomings nor its much-needed renewal. But better times will come: social democracy, if it becomes itself once again, if it adapts its thought and its practices to the 21st century, can once again be a bearer of hope.
Although I am turning a page, this is not a farewell to public life in my country, France, but rather a new beginning: a new phase in which I will be free to fight for my ideas and for my values. At the age of 61, I want to fight the nationalism that made my parents go through the trials of war, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. As a father, I want to help build the Europe in which my son will grow up: a beautiful Europe, true to its historic message. I will devote myself to this goal with great determination and enthusiasm.