A Different Shade of Green: Countdown to France’s Green Primary

In the coming months we’ll be providing an overview of some elections across Europe. This week, we’re watching the Green primary in France.


While many eyes have been on the German Greens and their many gaffes as of late, less attention has been paid to the more substantive Green primary in France, and that’s a shame. Ecologie Les Verts, the French Greens, are holding an online primary between September 16th and 29th that will decide who will face Macron and Le Pen in next year’s presidential election. It is no small thing: the French Greens have been surging in popularity, taking third place in the 2019 EU parliamentary elections behind Macron’s centrist party and Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National, and winning control of major cities Bourdeaux, Lyon, Strasbourg, and Pontiers in last year’s municipal elections. The primary winner will surely help to reshape the French political landscape, where the power of once-dominant parties is being contested by emerging movements and Le Pen’s far-right.

There are five candidates competing, and while it seems they’ve signed a nonaggression pact — the primary has been remarkably amicable so far — the differences between them are stark. The candidates are Delphine Batho, Jean-Marc Governatori, Yannick Jadot, Sandrine Rousseau and Eric Piolle. Three have received the most attention and will likely garner the most votes: European parliamentary MEP and primary favorite Yannick Jadot, economist “eco-feminist” Sadrine Rousseau, and Mayor of Grenoble Eric Piolle.

Jadot has been dubbed the favorite. His strategy has been to mirror Macron in both rhetoric and preferred political alignment: in 2019, as the Greens’ leader, he shunned the left. Like Macron, Jadot has a brash, personality-driven style that has rubbed many members of the Greens — traditionally a movement-based party — the wrong way. Critics see Jadot as far too cozy with business, and his politics as too “Macron compatible”. 

Opposite Jadot is Rousseau, derisively labelled la candidate « woke » and generally regarded as the most radical of the bunch. Rousseau is a lecturer and vice president at the University of Lille, and is best known to the French public for accusing a green deputy of sexual harassment several years ago. She is also the most divisive candidate, and has attracted virulent attacks on social media. In one recent controversy, she said that she preferred “women who cast spells to men who build EPRs [nuclear reactors].” Of the five candidates, Rousseau probably best embodies the Green activist culture that at once inspires militant adherents and turns ”ordinary” voters off. This is not insignificant because the French public has already been scandalized by comments made by Green politicians this past year, such as when the mayor of Lyon criticized Tour de France for being too macho.

Threading the needle between Jadot’s green Macronism and Rousseau’s perceived eccentricity is Eric Piolle, the mayor of Grenoble — the European Commission’s pick for 2022 Green European Capital. An engineer by profession, Piolle has united Grenoble’s left to comprise what he calls a “humanist arc”. His message is simple: problems France faces today must be turned into jobs. His plan to tackle these problems is published on his website Une Certaine Idee de Demain.


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A post shared by Éric Piolle (@ericpiolle)

Piolle’s sprawling plan is detailed and ambitious: France would achieve climate neutrality by 2050, 1.5 million jobs would be created over the five-year period 2022 to 2027, and by 2030, factory farming would no longer exist. A complete overhaul of the French agricultural sector would see a quarter of farms made totally organic by the same year. Domestic flights capable of being substituted by a train journey of less than 4.5 hours would be prohibited entirely. 

Supporters say Piolle’s experience uniting 13 parties in his coalition Grenoble en Commun make him the best candidate to lead the disparate Green movement forward. He has the support of many in the party who are wary of Jadot’s Jupiterian style. As Green MEP and Piolle supporter David Cormand said in a recent interview, “we must guard against excesses of individual ambition that create division without generating real political prospects.”


Cover photo credit: Jeanne Menjoulet/flickr/some rights reserved


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