7th Jul 2022


What just happened to Hidalgo — and to French socialism?

  • Many French voters live in rural areas where there are long commutes with high-levels of car-dependency. They do not share Anne Hidalgo's cosmopolitan outlook and environmentalist priorities (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)
Listen to article

Anne Hidalgo, the socialist candidate to become the next president of France, is meeting the press at the Jean Jaurès Foundation in central Paris.

Jaurès, an historian and socialist leader who lived in late 18th and early 19th century Paris, is considered one of the founders of what would become modern French socialism.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Centrists backed ex-prime minister Manual Valls — a strong proponent of law-and-order and other policies more commonly associated with the rightwing of politics (Photo: Emma Sophia Dedorson)

But, now, Hidalgo may be presiding over the party's collapse.

She is not used to being such an underdog.

In 2020 she was elected mayor of Paris for a second six-year-term in an alliance with the Greens. And she's become something of an international superstar for having done so much to make her city a model for a greener and cleaner urban future.

Paris has carved up roads to squeeze in bike lanes and trees, opened routes along the banks of the River Seine to cyclists and pedestrians. By 2024, a huge chunk of the heart of Paris will be car-free. By 2026 more than 170,000 trees will be planted across the city, and by 2030, 50 percent of the city is set to be covered by planted areas.

And as a presidential candidate, she's insisted that she's the only candidate who can unite the French left.

Yet the evidence suggests otherwise.

In the run up to the first round of voting in April six other leftist candidates are running — and four of them are beating her in the polls. Hidalgo is garnering a meagre two percent of the vote (according to a 22 February 22 Ifop survey).

Mainstream French newspapers have described her as unelectable, a dying star, and the most frequent question she faces is, why doesn't she drop out of the race?

"I am confident that the dynamic will change," Hidalgo told Euobserver at the Jaurès foundation event in early February. "People know that I am a doer and stand by my word," she said.

That may be part of the problem: her marquee policies have earned her contempt and admiration in equal measure.

There are many French voters in rural areas where there are long commutes with high levels of dependency on cars. And they do not share Hidalgo's cosmopolitan outlook and environmentalist priorities.

Yellow Vest sentiment

In many cases these are regions where the Yellow Vests protest movement of 2018 gained traction after president Emmanual Macron, in an early misstep in his presidency, moved to increase fuel taxes.

Hidalgo says Macron fumbled that fuel tax decision. But she stands by the "absolute necessity" of acting on fossil fuels and she says that allowing "cars to keep destroying the environment and our citizen's lungs would be a crime."

Hidalgo, who was born in Spain and became a naturalised French citizen at age 14, also continues to vaunt traditional leftist ideals that include actively fighting bigotry and xenophobia.

"I do not believe in abandoning our ideals," she said. "I defend social justice and solidarity. Anti-migrant, wall-building positions are not compatible with me."

To be sure, Hidalgo is not solely responsible for the party's downfall.

In the 2017 presidential election, Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon scored only 6.2 percent in the first round of voting.

And during president Francois Hollande's presidency from 2012 to 2017, the French Socialist Party already was fracturing into sharply polarised radical left and more centrist wings.

Hamon was supported by leftist socialists, while the centrists backed then prime minister Manual Valls — a strong proponent of law-and-order and other policies more commonly associated with the right wing of politics.

Valls had presidential aspirations, too. But when he crashed out of the socialist primaries in 2017, he refused to support Hamon. Valls instead opted for Macron, a former socialist minister, and his start-up pro-European party, La Republique En Marche.

Valls, who was also born in Spain, then left France, unsuccessfully running for mayor of Barcelona. He now is back in Paris and unapologetic about his choices.

Sitting on a barbed-wire fence

"C'est fini, there is no future for a party with outdated ideas," Valls said of the French socialists under Hidalgo. Europe needs to protect itself and "not be afraid of walls and barbed wire," Valls, who was speaking at a bistro in central Paris, told a small group of journalists.

Now Valls seems to be open to a position in the government that emerges from the April presidential elections, where currently Macron is a strong favourite to prevail for a second five-year term.

"France needs to look forward, and of course I would like to contribute in one way or another," said Valls.

To be sure, social democracy has been strengthening in other parts of Europe, such as Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

And those signs of rejuvenation also help to explain Hidalgo's stubborn optimism.

Hidalgo says she takes particular inspiration from Spain where her counterparts in the country's socialist party, the PSOE, are governing in coalition with the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos alliance. She also looks to the German SPD, who are in a coalition in the federal German government with the Greens and liberals.

"We know that many voters want a just, green and feminist leadership," she said. "This has been shown locally and regionally in recent years, where Socialists have a stable support."

"Everyone seems eager to put a nail in the coffin of the Socialist Party but we are here to stay," she insists.

But Valls, the erstwhile prime minister and socialist hardliner, says those models, particularly in Spain, are far from ideal if the French socialists are seeking to rebound.

"A reasonable French Left would take inspiration from the Social Democrats in Sweden or Denmark, a bold left who dares to take measures against migration," said Valls.

When asked if left voters perhaps abandoned the Socialist party because its policies were no longer left at all, but centre-right, he shakes his head.

"The left needed to be reshaped," he said. "I do not believe La République en Marche is solid either," he said, referring to Macron's party.

"Only the future holds the answer for the French left," he said.

Author bio

Emma Sofia Dedorson is a Paris-based journalist covering politics, culture and society in France, Spain and Italy.


After France, the French far right is coming for Europe

French far-right presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour have set their sights on the next French parliament elections and European elections, as much as on winning the Élysée Palace.


How Le Pen may beat Macron

Studies show that accommodation of the radical-right by mainstream parties leads to increasing vote share - for the radical-right. This is precisely what Emmanuel Macron is doing - and Marine Le Pen is gaining in the polls.


Romania — latest EU hotspot in backlash against LGBT rights

Romania isn't the only country portraying lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as a threat to children. From Poland and Hungary in EU, to reactionary movements around the world are prohibiting portrayals of LGBT people and families in schools.

News in Brief

  1. British PM defiant amid spate of resignations
  2. France says EU fiscal discipline rules 'obsolete'
  3. Russia claims untouchable status due to nuclear arsenal
  4. Catalan MEPs lose EU court case over recognition
  5. 39 arrested in migrant-smuggling dragnet
  6. France to nationalise nuclear operator amid energy crisis
  7. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  8. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Is Orban holding out an olive branch to EPP?
  2. EU should freeze all EU funds to Hungary, says study
  3. Legal action looms after MEPs back 'green' nuclear and gas
  4. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  5. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  6. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  7. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  8. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us