Analysis: Defeat is the victory of the far right in the French elections
The extreme right has become widespread in France.
This is the title of Marine Le Pen’s striking demonstration in the French presidential election. The ferocious nationalist did not win on Sunday. But she came another step closer – wresting a sort of victory from her loss to re-elected President Emmanuel Macron.
With 41.5% of the vote, unprecedented for her, Le Pen’s politics of anti-foreign and anti-system discontent is now more entrenched than ever in the psyche, thought and political landscape of France.
Since the Le Pen dynasty – first his father, Jean-Marie, and now Marine, his daughter – began running for president in 1974, never have so many French voters bought into their doctrine that multicultural and multiracial France, a country with the words “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” inscribed on its public buildings, would be wealthier, safer and somehow more French if it were less open to foreigners and the outside world.
If she had become the first female president of France, her plan to fight Islamic terrorism would have included depriving part of the French population – Muslim women – of part of their freedom. She wanted to forbid them to wear the headscarf in public – not egalitarian or fraternal. The same goes for his proposals to put French citizens on the front line for jobs, benefits and housing.
For scarf-wearing voter Yasmina Aksas, Le Pen’s defeat was not a celebratory moment – not with such strong support for her and ideas that “were limited to far-right militant groups” becoming mainstream. increasingly acceptable in good company.
“It’s still 40% of people who vote for Le Pen,” said the 19-year-old law student. “It’s not a victory.”
Internationally, Le Pen wanted to start diluting France’s relationship with the European Union, NATO and neighboring Germany – moves that would have been seismic for the architecture of peace in Europe, amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
In short, France escaped a political, social and economic electric shock by not voting for Le Pen.
Or maybe she just delayed one, if she chooses to run again in 2027. That’s a long way off. Many things could change. But Le Pen is not done yet.
“In this loss, I can’t help but feel a form of hope,” she said. “I will never abandon the French.”
Exceeding 40% of the vote elevates Le Pen to the rank of an illustrious mainstream company. Since General Charles de Gaulle beat François Mitterrand by 55% to 45% in 1965, all defeated finalists have lost between 40 and 50 years.
With two exceptions, both named Le Pen.
Jean-Marie was beaten 82% to 18% by Jacques Chirac in 2002 and Marine lost 66% to 34% to Macron in 2017.
Voters saw it as a civic duty to keep Le Pen’s score low, seeing a vote against them as a blow to racism and xenophobia. Fewer think that way now.
By championing cost-of-living issues, befriending the working class, changing the name of her party and distancing herself from her father, Le Pen broadened her appeal and made herself less scary. for growing sections of the French electorate. Immigration is not the main concern of all his supporters. Not all of them distrust the EU, Muslims and foreigners. But Le Pen speaks to many who feel ignored and neglected by officials in Paris and Brussels.
So, although Macron became the first French president in 20 years to win a second term, he also failed: failed to achieve the goal he set for himself at the start of his presidency.
Five years ago, in his triumphant victory speech, Macron pledged to cut the ground from under Le Pen’s feet by allaying the voter anger she feeds on.
“I will do everything in the next five years so that there is no longer any reason to vote for the extremes”, he declared.
Yet France’s extremes are now doing better than ever, finding a growing, enthusiastic and completely uninhibited audience for far-right “us versus them” rhetoric.
In far-right parlance, “we” are largely white and Christian overwhelmed by migration, impoverished by globalization, terrorized by Islamic fundamentalists and losing our French identity to cultures, religions and values imported.
“Them” are everyone they blame: the elites, the foreigners, the financiers, the EU, the Muslims, “the system”. Their list is long.
The market for their politics has grown so large that this election has seen several strains of extremism to choose from.
Eric Zemmour, the mayhem-provoking former TV pundit who has been convicted multiple times of hate speech, came fourth out of 12 candidates in the first round of voting on April 10. He makes racial arguments that white French people risk being replaced by non-Europeans. immigrants and their children. It watered down France’s collaboration with its Nazi occupiers during World War II. During his campaign, he filled auditoriums with audiences for his anti-Islamic and anti-immigration invectives.
For Le Pen, it also had the advantage of making her look vanilla and eligible by comparison, which also partly explains why she did so well. Together, the far right won 32% of the vote in the first round.
Now Le Pen has taken another step forward against Macron in the second round.
Not enough to gain power.
But closer than ever.
AP journalist John Leicester has been reporting from France since 2002. Arno Pedram contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the French elections at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022