French Socialists forced to sell off Paris HQ after election debacles

Once a sign of the might of the French Socialists, the party's grand headquarters in central Paris have been put up for sale following the electoral drubbing suffered by the leftwingers this year.

French Socialists forced to sell off Paris HQ after election debacles
HQ Solferino with a giant portrait of ex-Socialist president François Mitterrand. AFP

The party has been based on the Rue de Solferino in the chic Seventh Arrondissement of the capital since 1981 when ex-leader Francois Mitterrand was elected the first Socialist president under the current constitution.

Thirty-six years later, the party is fighting for survival after its debacle in the presidential election in May and a humiliating score in parliamentary elections in June, when President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party swept the board.

The decision to sell was made Tuesday evening by party leaders, with press reports saying the building, at 3,000 square metres (32,000 square feet), could raise 40 to 70 million euros ($50-85 million).


“It's a difficult decision because this place is symbolic,” party treasurer Jean-Francois Debat told reporters.

“It's based on two considerations. Firstly it's obvious there are financial constraints. It's also a political choice to prepare for the future.”

In the presidential election in May, the party's candidate Benoit Hamon finished fifth with a score of just 6.36 percent after a campaign in which many party leaders defected to Macron's centrist political movement.

In the parliamentary elections a month later, the number of Socialist lawmakers fell by more than 250 to just 30, leaving the party facing major financial problems after five years in power under ex-president Francois Hollande.

French political parties rely on both private donations and public subsidies which are paid on the basis of the number of their elected representatives.

After the parliamentary debacle, Socialist party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis resigned, leaving the movement rudderless and unable to make an impact in the first few months of Macron's rule.

(François Mitterrand is greeted by supporters at Solferino after being elected president in 1981. Photo: AFP)

Some rivals and analysts see the party facing ruin — with the French left currently dominated by fiery radical Jean-Luc Melenchon — while others point to past defeats and see the Socialists again rising from the ashes.

“It makes me sad because it's part of our history,” said senior Socialist Stephane Le Foll, a close ally of Hollande, as he commented on the sale of the headquarters on Wednesday.

But it “only reinforces my desire to try to rebuild something which is ambitious,” he added.


‘I’ve lost my eyebrows – but not my political ambition’, says France’s ex PM

France's former prime minister Edouard Philippe, a leading contender to succeed President Emmanuel Macron in 2027 elections, has opened up about a hair loss condition he says will not diminish his political ambition.

'I've lost my eyebrows - but not my political ambition', says France's ex PM

The 52-year-old politician, who spearheaded the government’s fight against the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, was a familiar face on television with his trademark brown beard.

Since leaving the post in the summer of 2020 and working as mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre, his appearance has drastically changed with his hair and beard thinning and turning white suddenly.

“This is what had happened to me: I lost my eyebrows, and I don’t think they will come back,” he told BFMTV in an interview late Thursday.

“My beard has turned white, it’s falling out a bit and the hair too.

“The moustache is gone, I don’t know if it will come back, but I would be surprised,” he said.

“I have what is called alopecia,” he added, opening up about the auto-immune condition that accelerates hair loss.

He said the condition was “not painful, dangerous, contagious or serious”.

Philippe’s wry and avuncular style proved popular with many French and some speculated that his high approval ratings had caused tensions with Macron, with replaced him as Prime Minister in the summer of 2020.

Philippe now regularly tops polls of France’s most-loved and most-trusted politicians. 

He has now founded a new centrist party called Horizons that is allied with Macron’s ruling faction but also unafraid of showing an independent streak.

Some analysts see Philippe as an obvious potential successor to Macron, who must leave office after serving the maximum two terms in 2027.

And Philippe insisted that his condition would not stand in the way of his political plans.

“That doesn’t stop me from being extremely ambitious for my city,” he said referring to Le Havre.

Tellingly, he added: “It doesn’t stop me from being extremely ambitious for my country.”

With France buffeted by strikes and protests as the government seeks to push through landmark pension reform, Philippe gave his full backing to Macron for the changes.

He said he supported the changes “without ambiguity, without any bad note or any other kind of little complication”.