Isabelle Durant dethroned for Europe

  • Headquarters astounded: Saturday, activists preferred to entrust the European candidate list to the almost unknown Philippe Lamberts.
  • The green’s former leader’s ultimatum (first place or nothing) came back to haunt her.

The general assembly of activists meeting in Mons has given Philippe Lamberts the responsibility of heading up the list for the May 25th European elections. In 2009 the greens gave first place to Isabelle Durant, moving Lamberts to second place by only one vote. This time, Lamberts won, and his victory is clear: the Anderlecht native gathered 325 votes compared to 200 for the resident of Schaerbeek.


Before the vote Durant announced to her followers that she was only seeking first place, and nothing but that. If she failed, she would not try for any other electoral list (1). This approach was fatal for her.


In itself the ultimatum was a sign of weakness. It spoke loudly of Durant’s anxiety, threatened by Lamberts’ growing power. He was on fire during this European parliamentary session. The greens’ former co-president tried to increase the pressure by drawing on sympathy from within the party. The subtext was: they wouldn’t dare.


But they did.


Filling the party’s top spot (headquarters was speechless after the vote on Saturday), Lamberts’ victory thrilled the activist base. That base is traditionally rebellious and always happy to contradict the obvious and defy the party’s hierarchy – in this case clearly partial to the Durant option, seen as the “natural” scenario for leading the list for Europe. Within Ecolo there is definitely what’s known as “a spirit of contradiction.”


The greens will now enter the elections with a hitherto little-known candidate. In the 2009 European elections, Lamberts received 26,430 votes compared to Durant’s 150,173. At party headquarters, some are calling the general assembly’s choice “suicidal.” The pro-Lamberts forces make the point that Durant’s 2009 results were not only explained by the popularity of the candidate but also by the bonus that the head of the list usually receives.


Saturday’s assembly was peaceful. Following a report on the candidates, activists took the floor to defend their favorite candidate without ever condemning the adversary. “They were just shadow boxing,” said one observer, “and when Durant was ousted from first place, the crowd chanted, ‘Isabelle in second place! Isabelle in second place!’” In vain, of course.


The important arguments were only revealed behind the scenes. Other than the ultimatum, which came back to haunt her, the base saw in Lamberts a younger candidate – he is 50, Durant is 59. “The activists like renewal,” one of these two told us. Also, while Durant is well rounded and consensus seeking, Lamberts is sharp, incarnating a radical leftist approach that nobody thinks is necessary for the party’s recovery.


The pro-Durant faction argued that with her, Ecolo might be able to win 2 seats; with his low popularity Lamberts will only win one. The argument was rejected. In 2009 Ecolo was riding a wave of popularity; in 2014, with or without Durant, the party will only have one representative.


Those are the explanations being provided. There remains the part of the assembly that is always a bit tricky. “In this kind of assembly each one rounds up their supporters, and they just have to bring in thirty more guys than their opponent to win,” says one activist. “That’s how Lamberts won, and lots of pro-Isabelle people didn’t show up, thinking that she would surely win, and so they wouldn’t have to lift a finger.”


Fatal error.




(1) Nothing has been decided, but as of Saturday evening, her position has changed a bit. She is now mentioning a “support position” in Europe or elsewhere.

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