Royal Calls For Reform Of Left

Former French presidential candidate skirts more controversial issues

Unnamed photo
Jacqueline J. Genser

Segolene Royal gives an address titled “Reforming the Left, Reforming the French Economy” at the IOP yesterday. The former French presidential candidate discussed methods of strengthing the Left, through a grassroots “participative democracy.”

Calling on the French Left to “put people before ideology,” former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal gave two lectures to Harvard students this week on European politics, one in an intimate setting and one in front of hundreds.

Royal, a member of the French Socialist Party, spoke about reforming the European Left during a session with undergraduates at the Center for European Studies (CES) on Monday before giving a lecture at an Institute of Politics (IOP) Forum yesterday on restructuring the French economy, with a translator assisting her at both events.

“After a party loses anywhere in the world, the reaction is always the same: the party leaders look for someone to blame,” said Royal, whose failed run at the French presidency ended last year. “Defeats are merely a part of the life cycle of a party.”

Royal focused much of her talk on how to strengthen the position of the Left, which she believes can be done by seeking advice from scholars and policy experts, developing a “participative democracy” through online blogs and town-hall meetings, and working with leaders at the grassroots level.

Even as Royal called on her fellow Socialists to stick to traditional leftist policies—such as raising the minimum wage, improving public infrastructure, and eliminating tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy—she also demanded that the Left take harder stances on conservative issues like immigration, domestic security, patriotism, and religion.

“We don’t want conservatives with bad ideas on one hand and the Left with no ideas on the other hand,” Royal said.

Peter Fodroczy ’11, said that he was disappointed Royal only addressed vague and well-known ideas.

“I was slightly disappointed with her talk,” he said. “As a student from Europe with a strong interest in European politics, I wish she had addressed the serious challenges that the Left has to face in Europe, such as the lack of harmony and unity between the left-wing parties of different European countries.”

Royal had planned to give a talk on gender’s role in politics on Wednesday at CES, but the talk was canceled at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict.

At yesterday night’s IOP Forum event, Royal was introduced to a packed audience as having “touched the hearts and minds of many in France.”

The audience laughed as parts of Royal’s speech were lost in translation.

“Some thought I would melt like a snowman, but here I am in front of you, still alive,” she said, as the audience chuckled.

Royal reiterated many of the issues she had addressed on Monday, including equality of opportunity.

“The Left cannot guarantee everyone success, but it must guarantee everyone a fair shot at it,” she said. “The point is not where we come from, but where we want to go together.”

When it came to the question and answer period, both Royal and the audience employed a mixture of French and English. While one audience member caused a stir by referring to Royal using the informal “tu,” other audience members critiqued Royal’s English skills afterward.

“I wish she had spoken more in French,” said Anna Kosovsky, a senior at Bowdoin College. “I think she expressed herself much better in French.”

Audience members asked Royal to address more controversial topics, such as whether students should be allowed to wear turbans in school.

“We respect all religions but nobody can trouble somebody else with exterior signs of religion,” responded Royal.

When asked about Quebec sovereignty, Royal brushed aside the question, despite having supported it in the past.

“It’s in the program that she supported Quebec sovereignty,” Elizabeth B. Graber ’11 said. “And then she said that she can’t talk about Quebec, and it’s really not her issue. She also talked about the most important value being truth.”

Some audience members, however, spoke favorably of Royal.

“I had a positive impression,” said Romain Appriou, a teaching fellow at Bowdoin college, “I was expecting less. I was happy she spoke about ecology and education.”

Another student was impressed by more than Royal’s rhetoric.

“She does put American female politicians to shame,” said Beatrice C. Franklin ’11. “She’s got way better style.”

—Staff writer Prateek Kumar can be reached at kumar@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Rachel A. Stark can be reached at rstark@fas.harvard.edu.