How France’s Greens Replaced Social Policy With New Age Vibes

France’s Greens are splitting from the left-wing alliance and will run separately in the European elections. The party's campaign launch centered on esotericism, personal development, and dance therapy — showing how little it has to say to working people.

EELV leader Marine Tondelier (2L), EELV top candidate Marie Toussaint (C), and EELV former presidential candidate Yannick Jadot (2R) dance during the party's first campaign meeting for the 2024 European elections in Paris, on December 2, 2023. (Julien de Rosa / AFP via Getty Images)

EELV has tried to turn the page on left-wing alliance NUPES by launching its campaign for the European elections as soon as possible. It accomplished this with a first event in early December entitled “Pulsing — a Rally for Living Things.” It’s hard to get people interested in European issues in times like these, so the media were invited along with a promise: there would be “plenty of surprises.”

The biggest surprise at the campaign event was a session of “Booty Therapy” (written in English), defined by the Booty Therapy website as “a practice that combines sport, dance and personal development.” Created by Maïmouna Coulibaly, Booty Therapy enables participants to “release their emotions and heal some of their traumas and trials, through collective exercises.” The practice is particularly aimed at women who have suffered violence, encouraging them to take ownership over their physical appearance and their history, through dances that get their pelvises moving.

Overshadowing the rest of the event, this twenty-minute dance class in the middle of the rally was sure to draw a response. At its best, it was considered embarrassing, comical, and unserious given the political issues of the day, or disconnected from the public’s expectations. Worse, it drew far-right attacks. The performers were subjected to appalling online harassment after their performance, because of their appearance and skin color.

Trying to justify this display and repair the damage done, party chiefs put up their defenses. First defense: everyone else had “misunderstood totally.” Others will judge for themselves if it’s a good idea for a campaign launch to call most potential voters ignorant. The second defense: if we have reservations about Booty Therapy, it’s because we’re sexist and racist. This defense is entirely legitimate when attacks are being aimed at performers or their dances. But such an argument can hardly suffice to dodge all critical debate.

But what interests us most here is another argument put forward by EELV chiefs, which has gone somewhat unnoticed by the media. This involved explaining that the practice of Booty Therapy is political, as it enabled them to promote personal development and its supposed benefits for victims of violence. This is undoubtedly the most problematic argument.

Booty Therapy offers training courses highlighting the concept of the “sacred feminine.” Speakers spoke of the “therapeutic power” of this practice, which would “rekindle the power of life.” Such catchphrases are typical of the spiritual and esoteric New Age movement, which defends the idea of an intimate link between body, soul, spirit, and cosmos. The aim here was to give them a place in a political rally. This is a far cry from a simple twerking course.

Windfalls and Pitfalls of Personal Growth

The highly lucrative personal-development market is booming, capitalizing on a loss of meaning, a quest for happiness, and a fear of the future. Combining health, sport, and psychology, it promises to help people become “a better version of themselves” by “mobilizing their inner resources.” This can be positive for some people (for example, it is recognized that dancing, or sporting activity in general, can have positive effects on mental health). But others find themselves under the sway of malicious organizations.

A 2021 report by France’s Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat against Sectarianisms (Miviludes) cited the growing number of referrals linked to “personal development” and more specifically to the imaginary of the “sacred feminine.” The report observes that this theory, which advocates feminine well-being through work “to reconnect body and mind,” is expanding rapidly “under the trappings of women’s emancipation, even though the main objective seems to be purely financial.” There is indeed a potential financial windfall to be had, as more women than men are interested in these theories. According to an IPSOS study for the Centre National du Livre, between April 2022 and April 2023, 41 percent of French women read at least one personal-development book, compared with 22 percent of French men.

Miviludes describes how, after drawing people in, certain organizations use manipulative techniques to isolate their followers or extract large sums of money from them. This first “seduction” phase involves books, social networking sites, podcasts, and workshops that act as bait, followed by more costly and controlling services: courses of all kinds or pseudotherapies. These services are said to be necessary to free oneself from “blockages” or “traumas.” They are delivered with overplayed benevolence and positivity, emphasizing that those who do not sign up to these theories are unable to achieve fulfillment, failing to grasp their “deep truth.” This echoes the EELV leaders’ defense: we’ve “misunderstood totally,” whereas trying out the Booty Therapy “would do us good.”

A New Age of Electoral Opportunism

While the Booty Therapy course was the main focus, it wasn’t the only part of the rally that drew on the New Age–hued codes of this “happiness industry.” There was also this poem with a rather baffling political message: “I am water, I am oxygen atom, hydrogen atom. I am the source, I am the tree of life. I am bacteria, I am plant, I am fungus, I am animal. I am amniotic fluid. I am water and water is me.” The campaign poster, featuring European Parliament member Marie Toussaint with her eyes closed, suggests meditation. The use of the rainbow as a campaign logo can also be read as a nod to the Rainbow Family, a hegemonic New Age group.

These various signals are not coincidental. The program of a political meeting responds to political objectives. Every guest, every intervention, all the music or video used is not chosen by chance. But why this choice?

First hypothesis: the campaign team chose to devote almost thirty minutes of the rally to the universe of the quest for individual happiness, with the aim of creating a buzz, breaking boundaries, “revolutionizing exercise”… But then, why seek this buzz only through this type of reference points rather than other ones that could have equally “got people talking?”

In reality, it’s much more likely to be a case of targeted marketing. New Age personal development, esotericism, alternative medicine, and anthroposophical organizations are all based on the idea of “reconnecting with nature.” As a result, people who are sensitive to these practices are more likely to vote for EELV or even join the party.

It’s not news that some EELV activists, and even elected representatives, are close to these currents. Some have taken anti-vaccine stances or are in favor of anthroposophical medicine, even going so far as to advocate curing cancer with mistletoe. In another example, six major environmentalist cities borrowed money from an ethical bank, NEF, set up by anthroposophists, which is still accused of being close to these circles and cited in the Miviludes reports.

The “wellness” market is booming: it was worth $1.5 trillion worldwide in 2021, rising by 5-10 percent every year. Targeting individuals inclined to this market is an electoral strategy discussed with local EELV officials and noted in the minutes of the party’s conference of regional groups. Concerns about this orientation were repeatedly raised in the EELV’s internal parliament. But this clearly wasn’t enough to derail it.

Staging such performances helps to legitimize these practices, without warning against the excesses that can occur. This is not to say that Booty Therapy could draw participants along dangerous sectarian avenues. Rather, it’s about questioning the strategic choice to target an audience because of its vulnerability or the traumas suffered.

Depoliticization and Liberal Dogma

First, this means making quite clear that a political party should refrain from promoting pseudosciences or esoteric practices. Second, and more importantly, “personal development” has no place in politics.

Politics aims to organize the life of the country and improve people’s daily lives through collective action. Conversely, personal development is based on the idea that the solution lies “within each individual” and that “we alone are responsible for our own happiness.” It teaches us how to “manage our lives,” like a capitalist business that should be run profitably. You’re poor? That’s because you haven’t yet developed your full potential — try harder! Depressed? That’s because you haven’t invested in the new therapeutic mobile app, which teaches you meditation for €10 a month!

What we’re really talking about here is an individualistic, neoliberal approach that urges us to constantly “work on ourselves,” the better to conceal the structural nature of inequalities or our “daily difficulties.” This is the exact opposite of what a left-wing, ecological party should be about. For if the solution is within each of us, if no external factor can improve our lives, why should we campaign to change society?

On the contrary, our role in an ecologist project should be to denounce the logics of capitalism and the free market. Rather than relying on individualistic solutions, we should be demonstrating the systemic nature of the damage being done to people and nature and making collective action possible. This is the only way to create the power struggle needed to transform our societies.

Booty Therapy also ties in with this idea of working on oneself, where empowerment is achieved through awareness of the “feminine power of life” and the healing of trauma through the awakening of the body. EELV’s defense of this individualistic feminism reflects a depoliticization of feminist struggles within the party. This is all the clearer given that, throughout a 3.5-hour meeting, no political proposals were put forward on these issues. Toussaint defended Booty Therapy with the assertion that “women’s bodies are political.” That much is true. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need ambitious programmatic content regarding women’s rights, otherwise it gives the impression of purplewashing, i.e., a mere coat of feminist paint.

The absence of a political project at this rally was not limited to the fight against discrimination. Throughout the evening, only one proposal was put forward: the so-called “social veto” [a bid to make EU legislators calculate new rules’ impact on the poorest 10 percent of society]. The rest of the meeting was devoted to identifying the problems we face, listing the party’s values, and presenting the candidates’ backgrounds. Only Gaspard Koenig ventured to present a solution, concluding his intervention: “Why can’t it be legitimate to use market mechanisms, when they are efficient in achieving virtuous ends?

The decision to invite this libertarian-liberal is a further indication of the political direction EELV is taking. His presence, coupled with the emphasis on individualizing liberal practices, draws a clear line: that of a campaign seeking to seduce the electorate disappointed by Macronism. It’s like déjà-vu, the umpteenth version of an “ecology at the center.” This did at least prompt the only “pulsing” of the meeting: the feeling of abandonment, or disappointment, among those who were looking for a radical, anti-capitalist ecology.

Disappointed Macronists

Lastly, the timing raises questions. EELV is the first party to organize a campaign rally, even before deciding the order of its top candidates or producing any programmatic content. So why hold a meeting six months before the election without having more than one proposal to offer? There would seem to be no hurry: the other parties are barely considering the makeup of their lists, and the political context in the Middle East as in France itself leaves little media attention for an election in five months’ time. There’s only one explanation: the aim was to turn the page on NUPES as quickly as possible.

In fact, leaving the alliance for the European elections was already at the heart of the party’s last congress, almost two years before the election. From the very first months of the NUPES alliance, the EELV leadership was clearly hurrying to end it again. The party sees the European elections as a kind of real-life poll, an opportunity for it to turn the tables and change the balance of forces on the Left.

This is a dismal strategy, which consists of hoping that the pitiful working-class turnout at the European elections will help the Greens. EELV thinks it can win its place as leader among “the type of people who vote,” rather than trying to convince everyone else. This explains the campaign’s focus on attracting those disappointed by Macronism.

In an interview with Sud Radio on December 11, Toussaint made no secret of her desire to reshuffle the deck: “I hope that after the European elections, we can rebuild an alliance between the Left and the Greens, based on a different balance of power.” This is ironic given that EELV leaders accuse France Insoumise and fellow left-wing party Génération-s of trying to exploit the EU elections for national ends, just because they want a united list.

The Greens’ decision to organize a first campaign meeting was clearly designed to put an end to any debate on the appropriateness of a united NUPES list — a debate from which the party is struggling to extricate itself. And with good reason: everything suggests that, in the absence of a united NUPES list, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National will come out on top, followed by Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance.

The joint left-wing list for the European elections was, according to all the polls, desired by the majority of EELV sympathizers, who saw this as a chance for the Left to establish itself as the main opposition force and thus a credible contender in the 2027 presidential election. Aware of what is at stake, the youth wings of the NUPES parties worked on a program of 166 proposals for the European elections — a strong rebuttal to the arguments of some of their elders, who said programmatic agreement is impossible.

The EELV leadership told ecologist activists that this election can “enhance green identity,” given that the vote is based on proportional representation. After this promise, the “Pulsing” rally left a bitter taste. This was the “distinct” politics we wanted to assert at all costs?

At a time when France faces a real far-right threat, and Macronism is turning hard in the same direction, left-wingers and greens should be forming a bulwark against obscurantism and fascism, and offering a humanist and republican perspective. That also means not being a stepping stone for esoteric, individualistic approaches. And this matters: for our strategic choices have real consequences for the future of France and the EU itself. But it’s also not too late. EELV leader Tondelier herself says we must recognize our mistakes. So, let’s really have a debate on the European elections. We must be up to the task — and we still could be.