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Basque and French left unite for first time to take on rising far-right threat

29 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Nouveau Front Populaire candidate Peio Dufau

Luke James

A railway worker whose first political engagement came as a trade union representative, Peio Dufau has the perfect credentials to be a candidate of the Nouveau Front Populaire (New Popular Front) in French parliamentary elections which begin on Sunday.

However, the 45-year-old father of three from the Basque Country is an anomaly among the more than 500 candidates being fielded by the alliance of left-wing parties formed in an effort to prevent the far-right Rassemblement National (Nation Rally) from taking power.

As a member of EH Bai (Basque Country Yes), Dufau is the only candidate standing for the New Popular Front as a representative of a pro-autonomy party in mainland France.

“It’s important because, until now, the left hasn’t ever been united in the Basque Country,” he told Nation.Cymru in an interview ahead of the first round of voting.

“There was always a separation between the ‘French’ left and the Basque left even though the concerns and priorities were almost the same.

“It was obvious we needed to unite the left to try and offer an alternative to the Basque Country. I’m proud to represent that. But the challenge is enormous.”

Pre-election poll

The final pre-election poll by Ipsos for Le Monde put the New Popular Front on 29%, nine points ahead of President Macron’s liberal Ensemble (Together) but three behind the National Rally.

That result could see Marine Le Pen’s party triple its number of seats in the National Assembly but fall short of a majority.

Jordan Bardella, the Nation Rally’s candidate to become Prime Minister, will be hoping to build on the party’s performance at the European elections, when it won in places which had previously been no go zones for the far-right and pushed Macron to call these snap elections.

That includes in the Basque Country, where it topped the poll for the first time in any election and finished five points ahead of the Socialist party.

“The Basque Country is normally one of the places where the National Rally receives the fewest votes in France so we were very surprised by the result,” admitted Dufau.

“They are always presented in the media as the opposition to Emmanuel Macron and, even in the Basque Country, where there aren’t really National Rally activists, I think people voted for them thinking it was the way to get rid of Macron.”

Target

The seat which Dufau is contesting – the 6th constituency of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department which includes Biarritz – is currently held by Macron’s party but was traditionally a bastion of the centre-right. It is a profile which makes it a target for the National Rally, which saw its vote double here in the European elections.

The left has only won the seat once in nine attempts since the constituency’s formation and recent results show why left-wing parties have put aside their differences for these elections.

In 2017, the centre-right party made the second round run-off with the liberal candidate after winning 8,000 votes because 17,000 left voters were split between EH Bai, the Socialist party, France Unbowed, the Greens and the Communists.

At the last parliamentary election, a similar left-wing alliance called NUPES, which did not include EH Bai, fell almost 10,000 votes short of the candidate from Macron’s liberals in the second round.

“Contrary to what happened two years ago when NUPES didn’t wish for EH Bai to participate, and despite reticence from certain tendencies inside the New Popular Front, EH Bai has been able to take part in this new unity initiative,” said EH Bai in a statement.

Risk

Dufau said the talks were “fairly easy in the end because we can’t take the risk of dividing the left.”

However, the local branch of the Communist party has subsequently accused the Socialists and Greens of negotiating the deal in secret and breaking the state-level agreement on the division of constituencies.

That carve-up of seats has caused controversy in Brittany, where one prominent journalist accused the New Popular Front of handing seats to the far-right by ignoring local factors.

That includes placing candidates from the far-left France Unbowed in seats with a history of supporting the centre-left Socialists, running a candidate against progressive independent MP Paul Molac and a belated offer to the Breton Democrat Union to nominate only a substitute candidate.

Similarly, the left’s candidate in the 6th constituency of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques at the last elections was from France Unbowed, whose marmite leader Jean-Luc Melenchon has criticised the teaching of regional languages and is an avowed Jacobin centralist, rather than the Socialists which previously held the seat.

Local culture

In the Basque Country, EH Bai hopes its participation will help bridge the gap between the left and local culture which has been overlooked as a factor elsewhere.

“The people who represent Melenchon’s party here in the Basque Country are not well disposed to regional languages,” said Dufau, whose first language is Basque.

“The goal of EH Bai’s participation is to be able to go and speak directly to those responsible about the reality on the ground, the reality of our culture. For those who see things differently.”

Dufau warns the National Rally would rollback even the small steps taken to support what are known as “regional languages” in France.

Macron’s government last year lifted the ban on sitting science exams in Basque or Breton following protests by school students, parents and teachers.

But Dufau said: “The National Rally would impose the French language. They don’t speak a lot about that because they know very well that if they did it wouldn’t be popular. I think they would try to set back Basque culture and the other cultures of France.”

As in Wales, the language’s future is also at threat from high property prices which make it difficult for young people to stay in their communities.

For the last four years, Dufau has been a deputy mayor of Ziburu/Ciboure, a picturesque seaside town where almost half of all properties are second residences. The issue is the number one priority of his campaign.

“The Basque Country is beautiful and there’s a lot of people who want to come and live here,” he said. “Notably those with a lot of money.”

“Young people who were born in the Basque Country and who work in the Basque Country can no longer find housing because the prices have increased so much.”

In the last three years, the price per square metre of property in the town has increased by around 30%.

It is a situation which risks being made even more severe by the National Rally’s plans to scrap France’s tax on people who own property worth more than 1.3 million Euro.

Wealth taxes

By contrast, the programme of the New Popular Front pledges to progressively raise wealth taxes to fund measures like the construction of 200,000 new social houses in the next five years.

The National Rally’s manifesto also includes plans to abolish regional health agencies and a pledge to “drastically reduce” layers of government as part of a recentralisation of power.

By contrast, if Dufau is elected, he plans to “bring the voice of the Basque people” directly to Paris.

“I think in having those discussions, they will understand why preserving Basque culture and defending the Basque country is more important than ever,” he said.

Dufau says the campaign is going “very well” but adds he has found his community, like many across France, to be more divided than ever.

If the Popular Front does win, he says there will be a “lot of work to do to bring people back together.”

The second round of voting will take place next Sunday.


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Sian
Sian
16 days ago

Thanks for sharing this information. Really interesting to hear what’s happening in France/Europe. Our news is so insular & boring. Rarely veers beyond UK & US apart from wars. Mwy ogydd

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