Le Pen success brings fear of bigoted Europe

United Front: Joan of Arc was a hero of the FN’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen. © PA

France’s National Front, a party with an intolerant history, has won the most votes in the first round of local elections. As right-wing movements rise, is Europe succumbing to fascism?

‘If anything, I’m to the left of Obama.’

Marine Le Pen’s words in 2013 caused surprise. The National Front party (whose correct French name is the other way round -- Front National or FN) which she leads had called for a 95% cut in immigration into France and even for legal immigrants to be returned to their country of origin if they are unemployed for more than six months.

But yesterday, 30.8% of French voters chose the FN in the first round of local elections. Exit polls suggested it would gain more votes than any other party and lead in at least six of France’s 13 regions. Next week, Le Pen and her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, are tipped to win, which would be the first time in its history the FN take control of regional government. Some even say Le Pen may become France’s president in 2017.

Her party opposes globalisation and proposes lowering France’s retirement age to 60, raising the minimum wage and leaving the EU and the euro. This platform has proved popular amid a political vacuum, high unemployment and government debt.

In recent years they have adopted pro-choice, gay-friendly and economically interventionist policies as Le Pen has tried to appeal to mainstream voters. Under her father, Jean-Marie, the FN was denounced as an anti-Semitic and even neo-Nazi organisation.

But the party’s message has remained anti-Islamic. This gained traction after the Paris attacks, when Le Pen said: ‘the lesson is that radical Islam has taken shape in certain areas of France due to mass immigration’. French Muslims are a bigger proportion of the population than anywhere else in Europe, and the President of the Grand Mosque in Marseille says the FN has ‘declared war on us’.

The FN’s success is indicative of rising nationalism across Europe. Eurosceptic parties from left and right enjoyed unprecedented success in the 2014 European elections and the migration crisis has seen a surge in support for anti-immigrant movements including Pegida in Germany and the Sweden Democrats party.

Far right, far wrong?

Europeans are becoming more intolerant, say some. They are ignoring refugees and excluding ordinary Muslims from mainstream society. Pegida has been linked to violence against refugees; the FN was founded on bigotry and remains unashamedly discriminatory. Fascism is on the rise, no matter how it is disguised by its apologists.

Not the case, respond others. The FN has moderated its policies and language — focusing its ire, mainly, on radical elements within Islam — because the public demanded it. Crises such as the Paris attacks and the huge influx of migrants always bring a short-term backlash. But current trends are more a reflection of frustration with mainstream politics than emerging hatred.

You Decide

  1. Are you concerned by the rise of the Front National?
  2. Are Europeans becoming more intolerant?

Activities

  1. Create two election posters — one for the FN, and one for a party criticising them.
  2. Create a three-minute presentation on the history of the far right in Europe. What does the FN have in common with other groups you mention, and how does it differ?

Some People Say...

“Intolerance will never be truly eradicated — it is a natural human flaw.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Should I be worried?
Intolerance and bigotry have been recurring themes throughout history — often with terrible results. This was only a local election, and many of the FN’s supporters say the party has changed — but their success is certainly prompting anxious questions from some quarters.
How strong is the white far right in Britain?
Protest groups such as Britain First, who have invaded mosques; the English Defence League, some of whose members have harassed and assaulted Muslims; and Pegida, who have launched a UK chapter in recent days, are a concern. But the British National Party gained just 1,667 votes nationwide in May’s election. Some say UKIP, who wish to leave the EU and reduce immigration, have made far-right sentiments seem respectable — but the party keenly disputes this.

Word Watch

Marion Marechal-Le Pen
France’s youngest MP, aged 25, bidding to take control of the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
Political vacuum
President Hollande’s poll ratings have been very poor. Although he enjoyed a personal boost after the Paris attacks, his Socialist party was not rewarded proportionately. The conservative Union for a Popular Movement has struggled to find a suitable successor since the defeat of former President Sarkozy.
Unemployment
Currently 10.6%, it has averaged 9.2% since 1996; according to INSEE, France’s national institute of statistics and economic studies.
Government debt
Currently a record 96% of GDP.
Jean-Marie
He founded the FN in 1972 but was expelled in 2011 after refusing to retract a remark that the gas chambers were ‘a detail in the history of World War Two’. He has since set up his own party.
Paris attacks
Opinion polls suggested the FN had gained 4-7% of the vote in the wake of the attacks.
Muslims
7.5% of France’s population is now Muslim – a figure expected to rise to 10.3% by 2030 according to research by Pew.

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