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They campaigned for the "Non". One year later, what do they think?

As interviewed by Dominique Bègles, Sébastien Crépel, Olivier Meyer, Jean-Paul Piérot, Alain Raynal, and Jacqueline Sellem. Translated by Henry Crapo

Translated Tuesday 27 June 2006, by Henry Crapo

Two questions posed to ten personalities who led the debate on the referendum in 2005.
- 1. In what way was the victory of the "Non" useful?
- 2. What’s in the future, for 2007?

- Claire Villiers
- Francis Wurtz
- Henri Emmanuelli
- Marie-George Buffet
- Laurent Fabius
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon
- Yves Salesse
- Olivier Besancenot
- Francine Bavay
- José Bové

Claire Villiers, regional councillor, Citizens’ Alternative

1. The victory of the "Non" is a blow to the ultra-liberal excesses of the European construction. This "Non" is certainly constructive. Without this victory, the Bolkestein directive, which we still have to combat, would never have been amended. The mobilization and the debates developed by the militants of the "Non" forced many, including those who voted "oui", to a broader reflection on the European project, and on liberalism. The revolt of the suburban housing developments and the enormous battle against the CPE (first job contracts) follow along this straight path. They are the confrontations, the movements of the pieces, a bit here and there for the moment, of one puzzle. It’s the puzzle of an alternative that is in the process of construction in France, and, I hope, in Europe.

2. Liberalism or not? That is the question. Citizens who voted "oui" were not necessarily ultra-liberal, and there were those who were not anti-liberal who voted "Non". Nevertheless, the split between the "oui" and the "Non" on the treaty is extremely important with respect to political choices. From this point of view, the motion of "synthesis" at the Socialist congress in Le Mans is unbelievable. I sincerely believe that there is no possible synthesis between liberalism and anti-liberalism. For this reason, I have a strong hope that those who together led the battle for the "Non" of the Left will reunite and present united candidacies for the upcoming elections. The task at hand is the same for France and for Europe. Do we want to construct alternatives to ultra-liberalism? For a decade already, in all the social forums, we have said it is necessary to break with liberal politics, to create responses to social urgencies, and at the same time, to plan another world. So for me there’s a direct line from the "Non" on the referendum to the 2007 elections. To think, as seems to be the habit in the leadership of the Socialist Party, that the "Non" is just a moment that can be erased seems to me to be disrespectful to the French people, and is a very poor basis from which to start constructing any political alternative. It is essential today clearly to identify those ruptures necessary in the construction of our future. back to index

Francis Wurtz, European deputy, and president of the parliamentary
group GUE-GVN

1. In the European Union, there is a "before" and an "after" 29 May. It’s a large thorn in the side of advocates of a liberal Europe. It stopped the big offensive aimed at getting citizens to give their solemn seal of approval to, this Europe based on "an open market economy in which competition is free and unfettered". The "Non" shed light on the divorce between the citizens and an ever more market-oriented concept of Europe. It was one who voted "oui" who best described this new situation, one John Monks, general secretary of the European Confederation of Labor Unions, who said "The French "Non" has changed the European landscape, because everyone understood that thereafter it would be necessary to place social issues back in the center of European politics". The European leaders, themselves, also "understood", but have been unwilling to admit it. They think that to let a little air out of the Bolkestein directive is the far limit of their willingness, and even this under the additional restriction that we don’t touch the liberal framework of the present European structure. To sum up, on social policy, and also with respect to democracy, the European leaders know they are at counter-current with respect to the citizens. This does not put an end to their politics, but greatly improves conditions for our battle for "another Europe".

2. In my view, the three "secrets" of 29 May were, first, the fundamentally unparalleled quality of the citizens’ debate. This was high level politics in the best sense of the term, far from the trivial confrontations of personal ambitions and of personalities. Secondly, the united work of political militants and social activists — labor unionists, association militants, members of citizens’ networks, elected officials, ... Finally, the uniting of all the progressive anti-liberal sentiment. This is the fresh air and oxygen that we must maintain in order to renovate politics. It is for this reason that I am very happy with the call for "an anti-liberal assembly on the Left, and common candidacies", and the initiatives of the French Communist Party and Marie-George Buffet to energize this dynamic. Therein lies hope. back to index

Henri Emmanuelli, Socialist Party Deputy from the Landes

1. What has changed is the sudden and massive entry of citizens into the European debate. A debate on the true nature of Europe is now criss-crossing the entire continent. By all evidence, the political leaders no longer believe in the survival of the constitutional treaty, even if the ratification process continues — avoiding those countries in which it has every chance to be rejected, such as Denmark, Great Britain, and Poland! These political leaders are now conscious that, in the future, the social question cannot be avoided, and that a new treaty only has a chance to be adopted if it limits itself to constitutional questions (who does what and how decisions are made), and if it is drafted by a democratic process. The upcoming French presidential election will have a strong effect on what follows.

2. 29 May will weigh heavily on the 2007 elections. If we look at the totality of ballots since April 2002, and even since the municipal elections of 2001, and the great strength of the social movements we have seen, against the Fillon law and on retirements, in 2003, and more recently on the CPE, one message comes through loud and clear: the French people express a profound rejection of the liberal orientation that others want to impose on us. The people are not ready to accept the social consequences of what one now tends to call liberal globalization. For our European neighbors, contrary to what some want us to believe, this refusal is finding an ever greater force, as with the aspiration toward a more just society. The 2007 elections should be the occasion for a real debate, project against project. The liberal orientation, Atlantist and based on appeals to national groups, as proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy, is in total contradiction with the expectations of the people on the Left, and even beyond. If the Left wishes to win in 2007, it is our collective responsibility, we must prepare conditions for this gathering of forces without which no victory is possible. And don’t forget — excuse me for reminding you — that 60% of those who voted "Non" on the Left were Socialist voters. back to index

Marie-George Buffet, National Secretary of the French Communist Party

1. I should say, above all, that the victory of the "Non" was useful for Europeans. The liberal straight-jacket is no longer in style. The European leaders have had to retreat from their most injurious projects for workers and for the public sector: the trajectory of the Bolkestein directive is much more laborious than its promoters had imagined. The victory of the "Non" has also exposed to broad daylight the deficit of democracy in the European construction. It proved that popular intervention could radically reorient it. The road remains long, but the victory of the "Non" has established the objective.

2. It was a majority of the people of the Left who joined in this rejection of a liberal Europe. Why can’t this assembly of workers, of youth, of unemployed and of those with a precarious existence reconstitute itself this time in a desire for another political direction? The campaign for the referendum and the fight against the CPE showed the true force of a unified dynamic on the Left, organized with a clear intention to break with all these politics that, for more than 20 years, have only increased unemployment, caused anxiety about poor living standards, and have robbed us of our control of our future. This dynamic is still there. Everywhere I go, at the factory gates, in the markets, in forums, I hear the same things: "Madame Buffet, we must pull together to beat the Right, and the Left has to respond to our expectations, this time." Communists want to bring this dynamic to life, by uniting, everywhere in France, in local committees of Popular Union, all those who believe that the Left can win with their project of a clean break with the law of Money, which today crushes everything in its path. This is the meaning of the appeal that I launched: I don’t want to see the battles and popular demands trampled under foot by the Right Wing in power, or betrayed by a Left that renounces the struggle, or sterilized by a Left in opposition. I want these demands to be carried by a daring, anti-liberal majority on the Left, and for them to be realized. back to index

Laurent Fabius, Socialist Party deputy from Seine-Maritime

1. The "Non" showed that a majority of the French people, and particularly a majority of the Left, rejected the liberal excesses of Europe and wanted another Europe, social and democratic, unwilling to submit to the ambitions of financial globalization. I believe people are now listening to this message, even if certain commentators continue to make believe that the "Non" was unconsidered, that some voters had not understood, others were fooled. This "Non" had certain consequences, in particular to call into question the so-called Bolkestein directive, the ports directive, and yet others. But I insist on this point: we are still far from the finish line. Lacking representatives in governments (the 25 present governments in the Union are for the "oui"), lacking a progressive majority in the European Parliament, it is not yet possible to launch a real alternative plan for European reconstruction. It’s on this point that we should be working now, to create the conditions for an alternative.

2. Of course, the 29 May will make a difference. In 2002, the question of Europe was absent from the presidential debate. In 2007, this error will not be repeated. The presidential election in 2002, the ballots in 2004, the referendum in 2005, the crisis of the suburbs, the mobilization against the CPE, each time the circumstances were different, but a strong message comes from the ballot-boxes and from the street: the French want a quick halt to the rule of the market and job insecurity. They don’t want liberalism, even in its "Blairist" version. Only a political line clearly on the Left can bring an alternative to this unfolding liberalism, nationality-based politics and Atlanticism of Mr. Sarkozy. It is for this alternative that I work, and it is in this spirit that I wish to lead the Left to victory in the 2007 presidential election. back to index

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Socialist Party senator from the Essonne, and spokesman for the PRS

The "Non" vote is not responsible for the present impass in the European project. It is the result of a method of construction that is purely inter-governmental, one which purposely leaves aside the peoples, in order to impose liberal politics that the majority would reject if only someone were to ask their advice. In France, the proponents of the "oui" on the Left took no initiative to relaunch the European process in the light of the "Non" vote. They have permitted the European social democrats to reiterate their attachment to the constitution. With more than half of the European governments participating, they are united in their desire for their parliamentary votes in favor of the constitution to be imposed upon the French and Dutch peoples. This gathering of forces will light an immense nationlist flame, of which no one can know who will come out the winner.

2. The axis of a good "Plan B" for Europe passes precisely through the presidential election. Logically, the heart of the Plan B of the "Non" of the Left consists in electing a president of the Republic from among those of the "Non" of the Left. In order to carry the essential of the mandate voted on 29 May. First: " ’Non’ means ’Non’, and this constitution will never be ratified". Secondly, "France proposes the opening of a new and democratic constituant process". The democratic calendar permits this. In 2007 we can elect a president from among the "Non" of the Left. In 2008 the French president will preside over the European Union for six months. To re-launch the process of European construction, the Union can propose to assign this task to the European citizens themselves. In effect, at the opening of the European Parliament of 2009, the voters can be invited to give a constitutive mandate to the new assembly. This calendar is our Plan B. It has one simple presupposition: to recognize the decision of a sovereign people. The French "Non" must be respected. This is not yet won. The French and European elites still wish to avenge the people’s "Non". The task of 29 May is not yet finished. We should do this in 2007. back to index

Yves Salesse, Concillor of State

1. The victory of the "Non" in France helped that of the Netherlands to block the project of a "constitution". The promoters of this project have not given up. But for the moment, we have blocked them. This is the first time that the people have placed themselves in the path of advance of a liberal and anti-democratic Europe, which had seemed inexorable. The resulting shock wave has affected opinion in all countries. Support for a liberal Europe is no longer self-evident. The "Non" hasn’t stopped the anti-social offensive, but it has made it stumble. We haven’t won on the Bolkestein directive. At least we made sure it was debated, and forced some steps backward to be taken. The European Parliament rejected the ports directive.

2. In France, the deception is wide-spread. We have a Right Wing and a government that remain very arrogant. But the political landscape is partly changed. We have politically defeated the social-liberal forces on one cardinal point. The aspiration to unity of an anti-liberal Left brandishes a threat to anyone who would dare to play the solitary horseman. I said this at the Fête de l’Humanité, "Curses on anyone who breaks the unitary dynamic that permitted us to win". The movement that led to the withdrawal of the CPE didn’t fall from the sky. It was neither the mechanical extension of the campaign for the "Non" and its victory, nor was it the work solely of the forces that carried that fight. But there is a link. The 29 May showed the illegitimacy and fragility of state power. This perception contributed to this extraordinary mobilization. The victory of 29 May will have one uncertain effect, one certain effect. It is not given in advance that the voters of the "Non" will sanction the candidates of the "oui". If we are united, it will be possible to prolong the movement of last year. We can beat the social-liberalism on the Left once again. This is not just speculation, it is a possibility. But dispersion will bring powerlessness, exasperation, discouragement. It is in this that the electoral significance is guaranteed: Uncertain for the sanction of the candidates of the "oui", paradoxically certain for the sanction of rival candidates of the "Non" locked in some ridiculous competition. back to index

Olivier Besancenot, spokesman for the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR)

1. The "Non" has contributed to lifting the spirits of social confrontation in France and in Europe. With the victory against the CPE, liberalism has received two big slaps to the face. This doesn’t mean that everything is settled, but hope is growing that such an outcome is possible. Evidently, the daily life of the people has not been radically changed, but this, we know: debates are still in the news, notably on the question of Europe. The Clearstream affair illustrates this, with its fiscal paradises, banking secrecy, and absence of democratic control: so many subjects that were at the heart of the referendum campaign. The European crisis was already there before 29 May, and the vote "Non" can be a good point of departure for leaving this crisis by the front door. The race continues between the liberal steam-roller, which is flattening the two "Non" votes among the three countries that had the chance to express themselves democratically, and the battle on the social front.

2. There are discussions among us: no one has the monopoly of belonging to, or of fidelity to, the "Non" on the Left, since it was unitary. The best way to proceed is to reproduce the method we knew how to use for the referendum. That is, a radical and unitary campaign. Unitary, because we have learned to recognize and to federate those who are opposed to liberal politics, be they on the Left or the Right. Radical, because we assumed our independence with respect to the Socialist Party. At the congress of the PS, the outgoing majority for the "oui" was confirmed, and synthesized about them some minorities. But it is illusory to think that this sort of synthesis can be reproduced at the level of the entire Left. There was no single "Left" at the time of the referendum, and there still isn’t one now. To make things clear is to say clearly that we refuse a governmental or parliamentary alliance with the leadership of the PS. We can’t get out of liberalism, increase salaries, re-launch the public service, oppose lay-offs, without confrontation with those who hold the real power, that is, the multi-nationals and the financiers. In the elections, this is translated by organizing unitary anti-capitalist candidatures. back to index

Francine Bavay, Regional Councillor for Ile de France, Green party

1. The victory of the "Non" showed the demand for a democratic Europe in which citizens can decide on matters that concern them, and where they can make heard their disagreement with reigning liberal policies. We’re still waiting for the response of the European Union! The dynamics of the debate permitted the meeting, for the first time in many years, of the political parties with the social movement, building a base simultaneously for a democratic mobilization that our country needs in order to exit the 5th Republic with an anti-liberal project, conscient of the fact that it is necessary to break with socially destructive and environmentally unsustainable developments, and that the waste of over production forms the basis of the liberal bed.

2. The outcome of 29 May proved that an anti-liberal majority can emerge on the Left. We must respond to the call of the voters, and in this way redraw the landscape of the Left, its alliances, and rebalance the Left further to the left. For this, we need a clear and determined project, an electoral regrouping of anti-liberals in all their diversity. We must dare to discuss who is the person and the team best fitted to best embody these ideas. In a word, dare to launch an electoral process that will address itself to all those who, on the Left, refuse the liberal politics of this past quarter century.To succeed, we must collectively stand tall before the task, put the general interest before partisan interests of one’s own "shop", not putting up with the old order, in order to bring to life a spirit of democratic inventiveness. Since the electoral game, as established by the law, especially since the inversion of the presidential and legislative elections, is not worthy of an advanced democracy. The "little" parties have too often learned to suffer the electoral law, to make a little round every five years only to again be submitted to the law of the "dominant" party, and so on. The labor union organizations and the associations don’t have enough weight in decisions. We must create the conditions for the Right to be beaten in 2007, to unite the anti-liberals for the "first tour" (before the run-off election), and all the Left for the second tour, making the engagement to change the constitution along the way, in order to put the citizens in a position to decide their own future. back to index

José Bové, peasant unionist, and spokesman for the Via Campesina

1. The campaign for the "Non" was useful, first off, for democracy. For the first time, we witnessed and participated in fundamental debates, after which millions of people were able to reappropriate the political debate in order to decide whether or not to move toward a Europe that would be even more liberal. The victory of the "Non" on the Left made it necessary to interrogate the future of Europe, beginning with big social questions that raised doubts about the liberal model. We experienced these debates and political confrontations, for example via the Bolkestein directive or the future of social services. The victory of the "Non" of the Left also reinforced progressive movements in the countries to the South, which are fighting against the liberal globalization. Again, we saw recently in Vienna, where the representatives of countries like Bolivia and Venezuela could observe how the European Union expressed the votes and a popular will so different from those of the European Commission.

2. This victory of the "Non" of the Left over a liberal agenda creates an historical responsibility for those who led this combat. From this result, a clear need is emerging for as large as possible a union in order to bring the anti-liberal vote to victory in 2007. It is today our collective responsibility to transform this liberal European project into an alternative project for our country. Those who participated in the victory of the "Non" of the Left, and who don’t follow in this direction, will bear the responsibility for a defeat in 2007. back to index

published in l’Humanité 29 May, pages 4-5.
Original text: "Ils ont fait campagne pour le "non". Ce qu’il pensent un an après"

Read also the introductory article on this anniversary of the victory of the "Non" in the referendum, translated from an article that appeared in the same issue of l’Humanité.

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