While previously just a fringe party on the French political scene, the ultra-nationalistic, borderline fascist National Front has seen a surge of support in the last few years. The French, once skeptical of the National Front’s extreme views, have been driven into their arms by excessive immigration under president François Hollande’s unpopular pro-European Union policies. Campaigning on a platform of anti-immigration and a ‘French first’ approach, the National Front is now one of France’s most popular political parties and is a serious contender for the 2017 presidential elections.
Origins of the National Front
The National Front was founded in 1972 by the right wing, ultra-nationalistic Jean-Marie Le Pen. Hoping to unite the French far-right, the National Front promised economic protectionism, a zero tolerance approach to law and order, and a strong anti-immigration platform. Although the party quickly became the major force behind French nationalism, the National Front was politically marginalized by Le Pen’s neo-Nazi rants. Le Pen directly criticized Jews and denied the holocaust, alienating many moderate French voters.
As a result, the National Front remained a fringe party under his leadership for decades, receiving between 5-15% of the vote. In 2008, suffering from low voter support and drained coffers, the party was forced to sell their headquarters and dismiss dozens of full time employees. Party members were disappointed and disenchanted with Jean-Marie, who announced his retirement the same year.
Marine Le Pen
After Jean-Marie Le Pen retired, his daughter, Marine Le Pen, became the new leader of the National Front. A shrewd and calculated politician, she worked hard to shed the party’s xenophobic, racist image. She endorsed a more moderate platform, scaling back her father’s extremist views and appealing to native French voters who had become increasingly disillusioned with the mainstream parties.
Championing a ‘French first’ policy, Marine Le Pen has made anti-immigration and islamophobia the cornerstone of the National Front’s domestic platform. Calling immigration a “mortal threat to civil peace in France”, Le Pen has declared that if elected she will limit quotas and crack down on illegal immigration. To do so, she’ll have to pull France out of the European Union, a notion that she ecstatically embraces. Marine Le Pen despises the EU, even advocating for the abolishment of the Euro and reintroduction of the Franc, asserting that an independent France will be able to solve its own economic problems. Outspoken and vocal, Marine Le Pen makes a habit of disagreeing with mainstream politicians, even supporting Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
National Front Gains Support
Under the European Union, France has seen rampant immigration. With fewer immigration laws, Arabs from North Africa and the Middle East have poured into the country, giving France the largest Islamic population in Europe. Burdened by economic problems and high unemployment, the French have increasingly blamed and discriminated against Muslims. Last year, the French president François Hollande even banned the Muslim hijab (headscarf) and burka from schools and public places.
But suffering from unsuccessful economic policies and appearing weak on immigration, president Hollande’s approval rating has sunk to just 18%. Marine Le Pen has been critical of Hollande, using the bleak conditions to attract support from native French who feel that the excessive immigration has undermined France’s economy and cultural integrity.
National Front’s European Parliament Election Results (1984-2014)
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Offering a solution, French voters have flocked in droves to the nationalistic, pro-French Marine Le Pen over the last few years. She got 17.9% of the vote in the 2012 presidential election – the National Front’s best showing ever in a presidential election. More recently, the National Front received 25% of the vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections, the most of any political party. Marine Le Pen memorialized the European Parliament elections – the first nationwide election that that the anti-EU, anti-immigration party had won – declaring that “the French have spoken”.
Charlie Hebdo Terrorist Attack
In the wake of the shocking Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in which armed Islamic fundamentalists slaughtered nearly a dozen French journalists in Paris, the National Front has seen a surge in support. In the words of Jim Shields, head of French studies at Aston University – “of all political parties, the National Front stands most to gain from this atrocity” as it plays directly into the party’s anti-Islamic message. Unsurprisingly Marine Len Pen was quick to exploit the opportunity, condemning the massacre as a result of Islamic fundamentalism and excessive immigration. She demanded that France reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes and strip convicted jihadists of their citizenship.
With anti-Muslim sentiment soaring – a boar’s head was recently left at a French mosque with a note: ‘next time it will be one of your heads’ – Marine Le Pen’s anti-Islamic tone has resonated with an increasing percentage of the population.
With their popularity climbing, the National Front has become a serious contender for the 2017 presidential election. Recent French polls have solidified Marine Le Pen’s position, showing that if the election were held today, she would beat President François Hollande.
If the National Front gains power in 2017, we’ll see dramatic changes in French domestic and foreign policy. Marine Le Pen will campaign to pull France out of the European Union, which will probably culminate in the collapse of the politico-economic union:
The European Union is already weak from widespread discontent among its member nations – and if France leaves, it will likely start a domino effect in which other Euro-skeptic countries like Greece and Italy will leave as well. Unable to sustain the loss of such key members, the European Union will disintegrate. The National Front’s rise to power may have dire consequences for the world, but it remains to be seen if the party can hold onto popularity until the election.