This article was commissioned by the New European, and was published in the Spring 2015 issue. The illustrations were added for this website’s version. The text of the article is protected by copyright (the Creative Commons License does not apply on this page).
Union Populaire Républicaine: The party that wants to re-establish the sovereignty of France
France is not a sovereign country anymore, and the policies and reforms imposed upon it are a root cause of the difficulties faced by the country. This is what the Union Populaire Républicaine (UPR), a French political party on the rise, asserts. To remedy the situation, the UPR propose a unilateral withdrawal of France from the EU, eurozone and NATO.
Successive French governments have failed to address the economic, social and political difficulties the country has faced over the past decades. On the contrary, the situation has been deteriorating, and the configuration of the main political forces reinforces the status quo. The Union Populaire Républicaine (UPR), a young party founded in 2007, has a radical proposition to right the ship: regain sovereignty of the country by withdrawing from the EU, the euro and NATO. This, they argue, will enable the implementation of policies which are adapted to and reflect French society and economy, as opposed to policies imposed and designed by distant technocrats in a Brussels office which serve the interests of industrial and financial lobbies and US geopolitical strategy. However, despite their growing size and unique propositions, the national media continue to neglect any mention of the existence of UPR.
France stuck in a latent crisis
France is currently facing a conjunction of crises. Unemployment rates have been increasing since 2008 (1,2), poverty since the mid-2000’s (3) as well as inequality (4,5); deindustrialization has been continuous for at least two decades (6,7), and the farmers are literally in agony, with an average of more than two suicides per week (9).
This situation is fostering a more general societal uneasiness and a distrust towards mainstream politicians, who are losing whatever they have left of credibility (10,11). Successive left- and right-wing governments have so far failed to ameliorate the situation, always advocating more ‘reforms’ to adapt the country to the realities of today’s globalised world.1 Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the army has never been so present in the streets (12) and a much-decried surveillance law is being passed (13).
The choice for a credible alternative political force, however, appears inexistent when judging from the mass media. The main opposition party, the right-wing Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), recently renamed as ‘Les Républicains’2 is plagued with internal fights (14), and their leader, former President Sarkozy, buried under scandals (15). The only alternative party presented by the national media is the far-right and notoriously euro-critical Front National (FN). Despite being often presented as rising increasingly close to power as time passes, the reality of the self-proclaimed ‘first party of France’ is very different: after 43 years of existence, the FN have never collected more than 14% of registered voters’ votes (16). Their electoral success is in fact only relative, being largely explained by an ever-climbing abstention from voting – the actual first party of France. The reason their success has been limited is fairly simple: a majority of the population rightly consider the FN to be a xenophobic and racist – and thus untrustworthy – party. The consequence is the inception into French voter’s minds of the idea that being strongly euro-critical is equivalent to being racist and xenophobic. The FN, presented as the sole political alternative, thus in fact constitutes the keystone of the political status quo in France: by linking the idea of a sovereign France to ideas widely considered repellent by the wider population, they cut off much needed alternatives from consideration and help to keep the two government parties in power.3
The quiet rise of the Union Populaire Républicaine
It is in this apparently locked political situation that the popularity of the UPR is steadily on the increase. This party was founded in March 2007 by its main figure and current President François Asselineau, a high-ranking civil servant from the Ministry of Finance. By the end of 2007, the UPR counted only 47 members. Since then, however, the party has grown continuously and as of June 2015 claims more than 7,900 members, with an average net gain of about 8 new members per day4.
In contrast, the popularity of the other five or six minor French parties that enjoy some access to the mass media has dwindled over the past few years. For instance, the support of the left-wing Parti de gauche declined to 9,000 members, a 25% loss compared to 2012 (19). Worse still, the Greens (EÉLV) recently admitted counting less than 5,000 members, a 70% loss compared to 2012 (20). The UPR are clearly now comparable in size to these parties. In spite of this, they are virtually totally unheard of in the mass media. For mainstream politicians, analysts and journalists alike, the UPR simply don’t exist. Even the French Wikipedia have categorically refused to allow the creation of a dedicated UPR page on the grounds that the party lacks mentions in the national media5. It is difficult not to conclude that this difference in media treatment is a plain case of censorship.
Deprived of mass media access, the UPR is a genuine grassroots movement, growing thanks to the Internet, local radio channels, word of mouth and actions on the ground. The website (upr.fr) compiles the detailed information on the party, including the recordings of the long in-depth talks given throughout the country. In these talks, François Asselineau and others explain the doctrine, analyses and worldview of the party. While the mass media and the political class cannot depart from almost exclusively national narratives with regard to national issues, the conferences of the UPR attempt to demonstrate the impact and importance of US and EU policies and institutions in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country. It is quite remarkable that despite their length (usually four to five hours) and technicality (e.g. explaining how the euro currency is constructed, dissecting the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, or explaining the consequences of various articles of EU treaties), these talks are not only well-attended, but the main way the party is expanding.
The UPR: ideas, worldview and priorities
The UPR consider that the French government no longer has the powers needed to govern the country, since most strategic decisions are made in Brussels (EU Commission), Frankfurt (European Central Bank), and Washington DC (NATO). In addition, while most French parties advocate ‘Another Europe’ as a solution to problems within the EU, the UPR regard any drastic change in the European treaties as extremely improbable due to the diverging interests and required unanimity of the Member States in making changes to the founding treaties (Article 48 of the Treaty of the European Union, TEU). Their conclusion is that France must withdraw from these three institutions, by application of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 13 of the North Atlantic Treaty. If France fails to withdraw, they argue, the situation described above will surely keep on deteriorating.
The UPR are the only party in France specifically created for a unilateral exit from the EU, eurozone and NATO. Only two other parties mention the triple-exit: the M’PEP (Mouvement politique d’émancipation populaire) and the PCRF (Pôle de renaissance communiste en France), both far-left political formations6. The opposite position is defended by the Green party (EÉLV), which openly advocate a federal Europe and an abolishing of the French Republic (22) – a stance which is against the French constitution. Virtually all the other parties, from the far-right FN to the far-left Communist Party, whether highly critical of the EU or not, advocate some kind of an alternative European Union project. They do this, however, without explaining that for any change to occur the approval of the 27 other Member States of the EU is required. None of these parties appear to ever even mention the existence of Article 50 as a means to withdraw.
A hierarchy of priorities
The UPR attempt to position themselves in the tradition of the republican spirit of French society. Their motto, ‘The People’s union to re-establish democracy,’7 reflects their aim to gather people from various political sensibilities by transcending the classical left-right divide. For this purpose, they are careful to avoid some specific topics that strongly mark organisations on one side or the other of the political spectrum. In particular, societal issues which divide opinion such as immigration or gay marriage are put aside. The UPR’s stance is that French people should temporarily focus on the issues of sovereignty to regain political power. It is only then that democratic processes can occur to take decisions on various issues. So far, this strategy has worked: the author has personally met UPR members coming from extremely diverse political sensibilities. The left-right neutrality of the UPR was even officially acknowledged by the Ministry of Interior, as they classified the UPR in the category ‘Divers,’ i.e. neither left- nor right-wing.
The principles of triple-exit and hierarchy of priorities therefore constitute the core doctrine of the party, and are set in the 2007 UPR Charter that members should agree on before joining.
The EU and NATO: anti-democratic institutions under US influence
For the UPR, the EU is an anti-democratic institution. As seen above, its ideology, political line and institutional workings are set within treaties that effectively cannot be reformed, as any substantial modification requires the unanimous agreement of the 28 Member States. The principal decision-makers, the non-elected EU Commissioners, are not accountable to the citizens and are notorious for being both advised and influenced by the private sector. The humanitarian situation in Greece (23), fruit of the Troika’s austerity measures8, demonstrates that the EU is not working in the interests of the European people. Rather than fostering solidarity, the applied policies are stimulating resentment between European countries. Meanwhile, the EU is leading a dangerous foreign policy, and bears an overwhelming responsibility for the civil war in Ukraine and for the deterioration of relations with Russia9.
The UPR consider the EU – with its military counter-part NATO – as a geopolitical manoeuvre by the USA to subdue European countries and better control the continent. Indeed, the USA promoted and helped to finance the European construction at its infancy, and pushed for the creation of a common currency (25,26,27). This position is not novel in France. The UPR often refer to the analyses of Charles de Gaulle, who clearly had this point of view. For de Gaulle, ‘Europe ha[d] become, without even noticing it, a US protectorate,’ and France needed to operate a ‘second decolonisation’ by getting ‘rid of [US] domination’ (28, cited in 29). De Gaulle considered that it would not be possible to formulate a political line amongst six Member States in a ‘so-called integrated Europe.’ He feared that the Member States would therefore choose to follow ‘someone else from the outside that would have a political line.’ Specifically, he referred to a ‘federator,’ who ‘wouldn’t be European’ (30). But the Gaullists were not the only ones to hold these views in France: the French Communist Party (PCF) had similar analyses until the early eighties (31).
The UPR also note that the EU and NATO are intrinsically linked, preventing any full independence of EU foreign and security policy. Very early on after WWII, there was the intention of ‘atlanticising’ any common Western European defence initiative. Indeed, the project of the European Defence Community (EDC), and then the Western European Union (WEU), which remained limited in scope, were both designed to include strong ties with NATO (32). While this was easily understandable during the Cold War, this tendency was not altered after the collapse of the Soviet block. On the contrary, the Treaty of Maastricht (1993) setting up the framework to build a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the Union, subordinated it to NATO (Article J.4), while one of the main stated objectives of the WEU was ‘to strengthen the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance.’10 Today, after termination of the WEU and its total replacement by the CFSP, the EU subordination to NATO is effective under Article 42 of the TEU. Similarly, Eurocorps, sometimes considered as the embryo of a European army, was linked to NATO by the SACEUR agreement, signed in January 1993 shortly after its creation. This agreement safeguards NATO’s primary access to the capacities of Eurocorps, as it can be put under operational command of NATO when needed (33). It is without surprise that the Eurocorps tagline reads: ‘A force for the European Union and NATO.’
According to the UPR, in parallel to trying to build a super-state, the EU is also encouraging the dismemberment of existing European nation states through its euro-region policy. The final result of this policy would be a federal Europe constituted of ethnic territories11. This programme is already well advanced in the UK (Scotland) and Spain (Catalonia). It should be noted that the USA are definitely not in favour of a ‘Brexit’ (34,34b) or a ‘Grexit’ (35) – i.e. a UK exit from the EU and a Greek exit from the euro respectively – but do not appear to be as categorical concerning the idea of an independent Scotland (36) or Catalonia (37,38). For the UPR, as well as ‘federating’ Europe to better control it, the USA intend to prevent the emergence of any major Western European challenger by a divide-and-conquer strategy.
Reviving an independent foreign policy and the CNR consensus
The UPR insist that France would stay related to other countries through the numerous other bilateral and multilateral treaties that France has signed and ratified over the past centuries. The country would also remain a member of numerous international organisations including the Council of Europe, the UN, the OECD and the IEA. Only the EU treaties limiting France’s sovereignty would be revoked.
The UPR consider that France’s recent behaviour on the international scene dishonours the country. French diplomacy has become bellicose and aggressive (e.g. towards Syria, Libya, Russia), against its own national interests, and for the benefit of the USA. This behaviour is not unrelated to France’s membership of EU and NATO. Instead, France should try to develop constructive relationships with all countries of the world – which of course includes EU countries. A special focus should be dedicated to restore the links that France has with francophone countries, which have much in common with France and have been progressively neglected throughout the construction of the EU and the rapprochement with the USA.
France should defend its own interests on the international scene, whilst maintaining its universal values and its tradition as a balancing power against the hegemonic power of the period. The pre-eminence of the UN and international law should be re-established to solve global issues. The UPR refuse to acknowledge the so-called right of interference, used to intervene militarily in third countries when their leader displeases France and/or when France wants access to some of their natural resources.
Concerning domestic policy, the UPR proposals are directly inspired from the 1944 programme of the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR – National Council of the Resistance) (39), responsible for many of the social advances that the country enjoyed after WW2. The CNR programme was at the origin of France’s social security system and many of the public services which are currently being dismantled; it also emphasised the idea of general interest over private ones, as well as the participation of workers in the piloting of the economy.
It is important to note that the common aspect of the political organisations signed up to the CNR in the 40s was that they were part of the Résistance and were fighting for a sovereign France, free from German occupation. Otherwise, their political sensibilities were very different and often incompatible. Indeed, the CNR gathered communist, socialist, moderate and conservative political organisations. The UPR’s programme is intended to echo this consensus, in the hope that the ideas and views expressed in the programme will speak to many French people, regardless of their political sensibility, once they have acknowledged the necessity of the triple-withdrawal.
Of notable interest are measures that the UPR propose to reinforce democracy, such as the popular referendum and the full recognition of blank votes. A deep constitutional reform is also on their list of proposals, to try to prevent a reiteration of the decay that the Fifth Republic has been witnessing for the past 40 years (betrayal by the elite, transfers of sovereignty, modifications of the Constitution without referendums…). The renationalisation of some strategic companies and services, including the first TV channel TF1, is also proposed.
The economic doctrine of the UPR can be qualified as Keynesian. It is not anti-capitalist, but is strongly anti-neoliberal. It considers that markets should be regulated, wealth redistributed, and that the State has a large role to play in the economy, in particular through public services. The UPR also started a petition asking the French government to organize a referendum on the free-trade agreements (TTIP, CETA and TISA) currently being negotiated in secret between the EU Commission and the corresponding parties (40). These treaties, the UPR argue, will administer the coup de grâce to European democracies.
Finally, although the UPR are by no means at the cutting edge of political ecology, they do have propositions that talk to the partisans of this movement. The UPR propose a widescale national debate on French energy policy – that would necessarily include the topics of fossil fuels and nuclear energy –, concluded by a referendum. They defend food self-sufficiency of the country and are aware of world food security issues. They propose a ban of GM foods, including for animal feed, since French public opinion is strongly against them. They want to encourage local productions, and agricultural methods that respect health and the environment.12
Political challenges for the UPR
The financial crisis, the euro crisis that followed and the steadily worsening difficulties that France is facing have contributed to making the ideas defended by the UPR more acceptable to those who hear them. The developments following the 2005 referendum have supported the explanations of the UPR: in 2005 the French people massively rejected the Constitutional Treaty by referendum (55% voted ‘no’ with a 70% participation rate). Despite this very clear decision, a copy-pasted version of the Constitutional Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty (41), was ratified three years later by the parliament. A portion of the population still resent this ratification ‘by force’13 and have come to realise by themselves that the continued construction of the EU is anything but a democratic process. While these people could well be potential supporters of the UPR, the media blackout means only a small part of the French population have even heard of the party.
The UPR took part in their first nation-wide election in 2014, for the European Parliament Elections. They were one of the eleven parties able to present a list in each of the eight French constituencies14 (42) and collected in total 0.4% of the nationwide vote. They were also present in a handful of constituencies (14 out of 2,200) for the March 2015 local elections, and where they were present collected an overall average of 1.6% of the vote.
The main deadline the UPR are now preparing for is the 2017 Presidential Election. To get access to this election, the UPR presidential candidate will need to gather the support (by way of a signature) of 500 local representatives. In 2012, due to of lack of renown amongst local representatives, they managed to gather only 17 such patronages. The main challenge that the UPR is still facing today is thus to become known. Since mass media have so far refused to open their doors, this is not an easy task. Actions on the ground, such as conferences, public meetings and information tables in cities, towns and villages therefore continue to be key. The campaign for the upcoming December 2015 local elections – the last elections before the Presidential one – will be decisive.
The UPR are a unique phenomenon in French politics. Their focus on the European question breaks the French politicians’ big taboo of EU and NATO withdrawal. Meanwhile, their development in complete independence from the national media demonstrates the new political potential of the Internet. The success of the UPR constitutes the first instance of a post mass media political party in France. The steady growth that the UPR has been experiencing for the past eight years provides an indication that they may soon become a decisive actor on the French political scene. The future will tell if the ideas and ideals that the UPR carry will succeed in altering the dangerous course that France has taken.
The author warmly thanks Alain Morau for his helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, as well as John Rattray, Luise Hemmer Pihl and Jocelyn Timperley for having proofread the final draft.
About the author
The author has a PhD in Neuroinformatics from the University of Edinburgh and is a graduate in Environmental management and engineering from Mines ParisTech and Tsinghua University. He has been a member of the UPR for approximately two years. To contact him, please use the contact form on this page.
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The most recent bundle of neo-liberal reforms, perfectly in line with the EU Commission recommendations and agenda, is the so-called ‘Loi Macron.’ ↩
One can wonder where the idea for this new name came from. A hint might be found in one of the nicknames of the party leader: ‘Sarkozy l’Américain.’ ↩
The reader can however find the page of an – unknown – ancient Alsacian party of the same name, as well as a UPR Wikipedia page in various other languages, including English. ↩
The FN, like many other parties such as the conservative Debout la France (‘Stand up France’) or the far-left coalition Front de Gauche, have euro-critical discourses, but do not propose a unilateral withdrawal from the eurozone, let alone the EU. It is to be noted that the general public, as well as journalists, wrongly think that the FN propose to leave the eurozone and the EU. The UPR reviewed 14 concurrent and contradictory propositions that the FN made on the EU and euro withdrawal matters, none of them calling for a unilateral withdrawal from these institutions. (21) ↩
In French: ‘L’Union du peuple pour rétablir la démocratie.’ ↩
The so-called Troika refers to the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. ↩
The UPR was the only party in France to denounce the support of the French government – because of European solidarity, or via the EU – to Eastern European neo-nazis (8). The UPR focused in particular on the Ukrainian case, where Dmitryi Yarosh, the head of the neo-nazi paramilitary organisation Pravy Sektor, was appointed special advisor to the Ukrainian ministry of Defence (24). ↩
See the ‘Declaration on the Role of the Western European Union and its Relations with the European Union and with the Atlantic Alliance,’ part of the Treaty of Maastricht. ↩
This scheme would consist of dismantling France into roughly five euro-regions (Northern France, Brittany, Occitania, Alsace and Corsica). The French side of Catalunia and the Basque Country would merge with their Spanish counter-part. France would however gain the French-speaking portions of Switzerland and Belgium. It should be noted that the French Greens (EÉLV) actively promote the euro-region policies and make alliances with regional independence and autonomist movements. ↩
The first stated objective of the common agricultural policy is to increase productivity (Article 38 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). ↩
Although the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was legal, it did violate the spirit and principles of the French Republic, stated in particular in articles 2 and 3 of the 1958 Constitution. ↩
There were in total 193 lists. ↩