France’s far-left holds election rally with ‘smell and visual effects’

Jean-Luc Mélenchon said his election goals included helping France ‘take part in the history of humanity’ and ‘get out of nuclear power’

Jean-Luc Mélenchon pictured against a bright blue background
Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the far-left leader of La France Insoumise party, and known for his high-tech presentations during political campaigns
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French presidential election candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has said he is turning towards “new frontiers for humanity”, and has unveiled goals for space exploration, artificial intelligence, and sustainable energy projects.

Mr Mélenchon is the leader and presidential candidate of La France Insoumise party (LFI, far-left).

During what was termed an “immersive and olfactory” meeting in Nantes, on Sunday, January 16, he stood on stage surrounded by 200-metre wide walls on which were projected 360-degree, high-colour images and visual effects relating to his speech.

Announced as a world first in a political setting, the diffusion of scents in the room was less convincing. It was reported that scented perfumes accompanied the visuals. But, with an FFP2 mask on the nose, they were difficult to smell and, even more, to identify. The link with the themes was therefore far from obvious.

He was speaking to an estimated 5,000 activists at exhibition centre ExpoNantes (all of whom were wearing mandatory FFP2 masks), while 1,500 more people watched on an exterior screen.

La France Insoumise MP Bastien Lachaud said the event “enabled him to create a universe, to give life to more abstract concepts”.

The party is thought to have taken inspiration from an immersive exhibition at the natural history museum in Paris, le Muséum national d'histoire naturelle , and the Atelier des Lumières gallery, which project videos of famous artworks and exhibits, set to music, onto giant screens.

The unusual event is estimated to have cost €300,000, said campaign director Manuel Bompard on BFMTV. He said that this was €100,000 more than a traditional election campaign rally.

‘Space: A place of peace’ and perspective

Mr Mélenchon’s speech included references to space both as a “place of peace”, a technological frontier, and a means of gaining perspective.

He said: “Looking from space, we better understand everything on Earth…seen from space, more than ever, racism looks absurd”.

He said: “The Earth is our shared home. We don’t have another planet we can exchange.”

“Thousands of applications in your phone depend on space,” he added. “GPS, weather, maps.”

He also said that the French Ariane programme would enable France to "openly take part in this new page in the history of humanity".

The leader outlined plans for what he called French digital independence, and said that “we should not be afraid” of artificial intelligence, as it can “ease human pain”, reduce the average working week to 32 hours, and help to guarantee retirement at age 60.

He added that France needed to get back into the race for technical progress, and said that the country needed to master access to its own internet cables, servers, and data; and that “every person must be able to access the internet, and the first few quantities should be free”.

From space to sea

Mr Mélenchon also focused on the oceans and seas as a way to produce more energy and begin the country’s move away from nuclear power.

He said: "Look at [the ocean’s] power, its strength. This is how we get out of nuclear [energy]; because it has 66 times more force than we need, with the movement of tides and currents.

“We must get out of nuclear power, not because of ideology but because it is dangerous.”

As part of his plans, on Friday, the candidate visited the first offshore wind turbine farm near Pornichet (Loire-Atlantique). He is also an advocate for geothermal energy.

Mr Mélenchon spoke about plastic pollution and warned that if nothing changes, “by 2050, there will be more plastic in the Mediterranean than fish”.

Pledges on minimum wage, retirement, bank charges, and food

The candidate also made some more prosaic pledges.

These included a wish to see "the minimum wage increased to €1,400 net", "retirement at 60 years and after 40 years of service", the regulation of "prices of basic necessities", and the "limitation of bank charges".

Mr Mélenchon also called for more recruitment of teachers and health care workers, the end of intensive farming, and the "abolition of the Ministry of Agriculture" to replace it with a "Ministry of Food Production".

‘I am not their friend’

The LFI leader took the opportunity to dismiss suggestions that he could unite with left-wing candidates Anne Hidalgo (current Mayor of Paris) or new candidate Christiane Taubira in the first election round.

He said: “We are not concerned with the misadventures of the centre-left. I am not their friend. Let me say that once and for all.”

Mr Mélenchon is known for unusual and high-tech presentation skills. During his presidential campaign in 2017, he frequently appeared in meetings as a hologram.

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