French ‘fascists’ defeated at gates of power

On the rise? Despite yesterday’s defeat, Marine Le Pen’s Front National are on the rise © PA

Front National was narrowly beaten to third place in France’s local elections, gaining 25% and causing fears of a neo-fascist future for Europe. How sinister are the party’s policies?

France’s Front National was once seen as a fringe party that appealed only to racists. But since Marine Le Pen succeeded her father as leader in 2011, it has surged in popularity in the country. Today it gained a quarter of votes in local elections, despite being beaten into third place. Some say it is on the brink of winning power.

‘She’s my queen!’ said one voter in the small Northern town of Noyon last week while awaiting Le Pen’s arrival. But others in the crowd called her a ‘fascist’ with ‘neo-Nazi ideas’.

France is a troubled country. January’s attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and a Jewish supermarket left France in shock, added to the woes of a stagnant economy and unemployment which reached record highs in December 2014, with 3.5 million out of work.

Many working class people feel abandoned by the mainstream government and Le Pen has used this discontent to her advantage. Last year the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, warned that ‘the Front National is at the gates of power’. Yesterday’s result has done little to prove him wrong.

While her father had a reputation for racist and homophobic beliefs, Le Pen has tried to make the party less controversial by standing up against a rise in anti-Semitism and hiring a gay rights activist as an adviser. These tactics seem to be working: she won 13.5% of the Jewish vote in 2012 and at the beginning of this year a quarter of gay people in Paris said they would vote for her.

With presidential elections in 2017, Front National is campaigning to leave the eurozone, slash immigration, and prioritise benefits and jobs for French people over immigrants. Despite trying to distance the party from racism, Le Pen has spoken strongly against ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ in the country.

The Front National is one of many rising far-right parties across Europe. It advocates anti-immigration policies similar to UKIP, as well as Alternative for Germany and the Dutch Party for Freedom. These parties show no signs of disappearing.

The right way?

There is no doubt that the Front National has a lot of unpleasant xenophobic and nationalist policies. However, many believe that far-right parties are tapping into a genuine feeling of suffering and alienation expressed by millions of people across Europe. Simply dismissing all of these concerns as ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’ is a cop out.

Don’t be fooled, others counter: no matter how much the party pretends otherwise, the Front National’s reasonable facade masks dangerously racist views. If the people of Europe give far-right parties more power now, they are going down a dark path which could have terrible consequences – after all, Hitler had the people’s support too.

You Decide

  1. Do you think your country is getting more racist?
  2. Should voters’ opinions always be respected when they are democratically expressed?

Activities

  1. As a class, think of reasons why people might vote for a nationalist party. How many of them would you consider xenophobic?
  2. Research the rise of a fascist party in interwar Europe. Write a paragraph analysing whether parallels to modern European politics are justified.

Some People Say...

“Nationalism is the measles of mankind.”

Albert Einstein

What do you think?

Q & A

So is the Front National in power now?
No. These were only local elections, and the Front National did not actually win them: the centre-right party led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy defied the polls to finish in first place. But Marine Le Pen’s party is rapidly rising in popularity and many pundits say that she has a serious chance of becoming president in 2017.
What would happen if she did?
It would certainly be an enormous upheaval. France would be likely to leave the eurozone, which would lead to massive upheavals all over the continent and possibly topple the EU. Recent French immigrants could be forced to leave the country. Some fear much darker consequences: mass persecutions of immigrants and a wider retreat into nationalism. But so far that is nothing more than speculation.

Word Watch

Local elections
This is the first of two phases in France’s local elections, which are seen as an important guide to who will win the next presidential election in 2017. The centre-right UMP, led by Nicolas Sarkozy, narrowly came out on top.
Charlie Hebdo
A satirical magazine famous for publishing provocative caricatures, including cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. On 7 January, its offices were attacked by gunmen linked to al-Qaeda, resulting in 12 deaths.
Anti-Semitism
The number of reported attacks on Jewish people and sites has sharply risen over recent years, leading to fears of a return of anti-semitism. More than 7,000 Jews have fled France for Israel in the past year.
Across Europe
Other countries in which the far right is on the rise include Sweden, where the xenophobic Sweden Democrats have enough seats to block important legislation, and Hungary, whose Jobbik party propagate a particularly aggressive brand of nationalism.

Subjects

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