‘Happy days’ – Why France’s Communist party is hoping for a return to glory

Armed with its most charismatic leader in decades, France's Communist party is hoping for a return to its glory days in the 2022 presidential election campaign - here's what you need to know about the party and its place in modern French politics.

'Happy days' - Why France's Communist party is hoping for a return to glory
Communist candidate Fabien Roussel with the party's 2022 election slogan Happy days for France. Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

1 It’s happy to be backParti Communiste français (PCF) member Fabien Roussel, 52, is the first Communist candidate to compete in a presidential campaign in 15 years, with the party opting to back hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the past two elections instead of fielding a candidate of its own.

To illustrate its newfound optimism, the party has picked the most upbeat slogan in the campaign so far: ‘Happy Days for France’ – a reference to a French Resistance manifesto during World War II, from which it emerged as France’s biggest party.

Polls show Roussel, an MP, still languishing in the low single digits, a far cry from the Communists’ heyday in which they polled over 21 percent in the 1969 elections – but a new tone is clear.

2 It never went away in many places – although 2022 marks a return to national politics, the Communist party has remained active on a local level.

There are currently 600 Communist mayors and many more local councillors. Areas including the Paris suburbs of Montreuil and Bobigny and towns like Avion in the former industrial areas of the north east are run by Communist mayors.

However its current strength is a far cry from the post-war years when the inner suburbs of Paris were known as the ceinture rouge (red belt) because of the strength of the communist party in those areas.

3 It runs a very popular annual festival with excellent snacks –  The annual Fete de l’Huma, named after the communist newspaper L’Humanite, is France’s biggest festival with hundreds of thousands of visitors for days of concerts and other events.   

The festival is open to all, and many non-Communist leftists attend for the mixture of politics, entertainment, new ideas and street food stalls.

“There is still a cultural link, a kind of nostalgia for the Communist Party”, Frederic Dabi, a political analyst who heads up the Ifop research institute, told AFP.

“Many people accept communists as decent, committed people”, he said, even though they also mostly reject communist ideology.

4 Its candidate likes nationalised industries, nuclear power and cheese – “We need to talk about happiness and how change is possible, after being told for years by various governments that we need to make more efforts, that we need to tighten our belts,” Roussel told AFP.

During the Covid crisis, the state’s willingness to mobilise huge sums to save the economy showed that “there is plenty of money around”, Roussel said.

But instead of “that money going to multinationals”, he said, “we want it to be used in the service of the people” – mostly in the shape of pay rises for low-income professions including nurses and teachers.

True to dogma, Roussel’s programme calls for the nationalisation of big banks – including BNP Paribas, the EU’s biggest – and of energy giants TotalEnergies and Engie.

But he is just as relaxed about backing nuclear power, defending the police force or supporting hunting – all red rags for other parties on the left.

Roussel, who currently polls at three percent, got the country’s attention when he said that French gastronomy consisted of “good wine, good meat and good cheese”, sparking an outcry across the left which accused him of disrespect towards vegans and of ignoring multiculturalism.

5 Much of its strength comes from WWII – The Soviet collapse in the 1990s hastened the decline of the PCF in French
national politics, but the party proved more resilient locally, a fact many attribute to the movement’s key role in the World War II resistance and postwar social reforms.

“People don’t say ‘communism’, they say ‘French Communist Party’ with its history in France,” Roussel said, calling the party’s patriotic grounding “unique”.

Hence, Paris city hall never renamed its Stalingrad Metro station, and there are still plenty of streets, stadiums or cultural centres called Karl Marx, Lenin or Engels in the Parisian ceinture rouge.

To follow all the latest from the presidential election campaign, click HERE.

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France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.