Green candidate hangs on doggedly as presidential prospects wither


THIS WAS meant to be the Greens’ breakthrough year. The ecologists had performed so strongly in the 2009 European elections that they came within a whisker of beating the Socialist Party into third place.

This year’s presidential election was marked down as the moment they would challenge for the right to call themselves France’s biggest left-wing force.

What a difference a few years can make. Just four days from the first round of France’s presidential election, the Green candidate, Eva Joly, is stuck on 2.5 per cent in opinion polls — six times less than the Europe Écologie coalition’s score three years ago and three times less than Joly’s own support in the polls last June.

The campaign looks to be in disarray. Some of Joly’s senior party colleagues have shown only lukewarm support, others have hinted publicly that she should pull out of the race, and headline-writers are routinely reaching for terms such as fiasco and disaster.

Born in Norway to a working class family, Joly moved to France at the age of 20 and worked as an au pair in a family whose son she later married, changing her name to Joly from Gro Eva Farseth.

As a young mother of two, she worked as a seamstress and dress designer before studying law at night school. At 38 she became an investigating magistrate — a powerful position that confers the right to initiate investigations — and began a career that made her a feminist icon and a scourge of corrupt businessmen and politicians.

She became a household name with a series of high-profile inquiries into political sleaze in the 1990s, including cases involving businessman-turned-minister Bernard Tapie, state oil company Elf and kickbacks on French arms sales to Taiwan.

The Elf corruption investigation ended in guilty verdicts for more than 10 defendants and sealed Joly’s reputation as a formidable fighter for justice in a country where many regarded the courts as supine in dealing with major political and commercial interests.

After retiring as a magistrate, she was elected to the European Parliament for Europe Écologie in 2009 and beat a popular TV nature show host to the presidential nomination last year.

So what went wrong? The Greens argue that they have been squeezed by the duel between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, and by a campaign in which nearly all other topics, including the environment, have been sidelined by two issues: the economy and Sarkozy himself.

Moreover, the rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Front de Gauche, who has doubled his support to almost 15 per cent since January, has given him de facto leadership of the far left and left less room for his rivals in that space.

Some voices within the Green movement argue that Joly, with so little political experience, was miscast from the beginning.

“I think I represent too much strangeness,” she said last week. “I have an accent, I was not born here, I did not attend ENA (the elite finishing school), I am a woman, and a woman who is not young.” Despite having lived in France for most of her life, Joly has certainly been made to pay for her air of foreignness.

When she suggested replacing the traditional Bastille Day military parade with a “civilian march”, prime minister François Fillon accused of her lacking insight into “French traditions, French values, French history”.

Satirists and opponents have mocked her accent, her clothes and her distinctive red glasses (she swapped them for green ones last week). To cap a punishing campaign, she fell down stairs at a cinema last week and had to wear dark glasses to conceal the bruising on her face.

Joly’s problems have brought dissenting voices within her party into the open. “What is the point of us being in the presidential election if we are stuck with these bad polls . . . and if by staying in the race we help to weaken the Socialist Party’s candidate, François Hollande?” said Noël Mamère, who won 5.2 per cent as the Greens’ presidential candidate in 2002.

Amidst all the squabbling, Joly hangs on. Better the disappointment of doing poorly, she says, than the dishonour of pulling out.


Mysterious Mr Cheminade

Campaign broadcasting rules, which require TV and radio stations to grant each candidate equal airtime, have given French voters the chance to acquaint themselves with lesser-known politicians.

None is more mysterious than Jacques Cheminade, the 70-year-old head of the Solidarité et Progrès party.

Cheminade, a former commercial attaché at the French embassy in Washington who first stood for the presidency in 1995, wants to colonise Mars and build industry on the Moon.

He argues that the British queen’s wealth is partly derived from drug trafficking.

In his favour, Cheminade can claim to have predicted a financial crash more than 15 years ago, but his fondness for conspiracy theories and links to the American political activist Lyndon LaRouche have left him isolated. Opinion polls put his support at less than 0.5 per cent.

Holiday company

If voters were choosing a holiday companion instead of a president, the centrist candidate François Bayrou would win comfortably. The part-time farmer and one-time government minister from the south was chosen by one in five respondents to an OpinionWay poll as the candidate they would most like to take a holiday with.

In second place was the left-wing radical Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on 17 per cent. The two frontrunners, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, were left trailing further down the rankings.

Of the non-candidate politicians, 14 per cent of men and 3 per cent of women chose former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn as their preferred partner.