How an emboldened far-right is changing French politics



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France has only had a far-right government once, during the dark era of Nazi occupation during World War II. This lingering association with a period of national calamity confined extreme conservative groups to the fringes of politics for the remainder of the 20th century. Now they are making a comeback, exploiting economic insecurity to peddle the tale of a proud nation in decline besieged by alien cultures. In a presidential election in April, far-right figures won the most votes since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958. Two months later, France’s largest far-right party took another step winning a record number of seats in parliament.

1. What is the French extreme right?

The term encompasses various populist groups that have succeeded each other since the end of the 19th century. They tend to promote conservative values ​​and favor strict enforcement of law and order. Some are monarchists and traditionalist Catholics and many hold extreme, racist and anti-Semitic views. Right-wing dissident paramilitaries fought against Algerian independence in the early 1960s, carrying out attacks that left hundreds dead. The most successful far-right party today is the National Rally, founded as the National Front in 1972 and led for nearly four decades by Jean-Marie Le Pen before being replaced by his daughter Marine.

2. Who are its main actors?

Le Pen, a former French paratrooper during the Algerian War, was convicted of racism and anti-Semitism and has previously claimed Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history. He ran for president four times and only reached the second round once, in 2002, where he suffered a crushing defeat to Jacques Chirac. Marine Le Pen took over in 2011 and began trying to soften the party’s image, changing her name and later ejecting her father from the movement. She ran for president three times and qualified for the second round twice. Le Pen is gradually handing over to his deputy, Jordan Bardella, a new face in the Parisian suburbs. Le Pen’s niece Marion Marechal, often described as a far-right rising star, left her aunt’s camp in March and is now vice-president of Reconquest, a new group led by the writer and data expert. media Eric Zemmour, who was convicted of hate speech and fueled controversy for comments seen as denying the basic facts of the Holocaust.

3. What are their policies?

The National Rally wants to abolish immigration and asylum, prohibit the families of foreigners from joining them in France and expel undocumented immigrants. Zemmour called for the deportation of one million illegal immigrants and foreigners who have committed crimes or are suspected of terrorist sympathies. He called for a ban on Muslim names, Islamic veils and minarets from mosques, and said Muslims should abandon their faith and beliefs, considering them incompatible with French republican values. The far right wants to increase the legal protection of police officers accused of violence, stop integration into the European Union and reimpose border controls. Le Pen said France should leave NATO’s integrated command, a structure described as the “backbone” of the military alliance, and has cultivated ties with authoritarian leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

4. How close did she get to the presidency?

Le Pen sought to moderate his views ahead of his third presidential election in April, dropping a plan to ban dual nationality – a far-right calling card – and backing away from an explicit promise to pull France out of the EU. . She wooed young voters with promises of tax breaks and tried to soften her image by sharing personal stories about her life as a single mother with three children. She voted just behind incumbent President Emmanuel Macron for part of the 2022 campaign before losing to him in a runoff, securing around 41% of the vote, an improvement from her 34% score last. times in 2017.

5. Does the extreme right influence mainstream politics?

Shaken by the electoral successes of Le Pen, Zemmour and far-left brandon Jean-Luc Mélenchon in April, Macron has redoubled his commitment to improving living standards and household purchasing power. It also sharply reduced the number of visas granted to Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian nationals. In June, the National Rally’s historic gains helped strip Macron’s centrist movement of its majority in parliament, and Le Pen vowed to use his party’s new legislative clout to influence government policy and block his reforms. Ideas that emerged on the far right have become dominant themes within the mainstream center-right Republican Party. Even some left-wing personalities like Arnaud Montebourg made unthinkable remarks in his political sphere a few years ago. Montebourg has proposed blocking money transfers to countries that refuse to take back their undocumented nationals captured in France, an idea long advocated by the far right.

6. Who are the new far-right voters?

A decline in France’s old establishment parties has left more voters hesitant to court by the far left and the far right. Le Pen’s promise to reverse falling living standards and raise wages found a receptive audience in underprivileged provincial regions during the presidential campaign. Zemmour has used a clever social media strategy to attract wealthier and younger people, promoting the so-called Great Replacement theory, which argues that white Christian Europeans are being supplanted by Muslim immigrants who want to change the culture of inside. The sense of an existential threat has been heightened by a succession of deadly attacks by Islamist militants over the past decade.

7. What are their slogans?

Marine Le Pen has softened her father’s rallying cries of “France for the French” and “The French first” to “The France we love”. His supporters chant “this is our home” at rallies. Some of the far-right tropes have seeped into mainstream politics. The concept of “wildness,” the idea that the nation is going wild, has got on the nerves of voters alarmed by crime rates in areas with high immigrant populations. A line was crossed in 2020, when Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who is in charge of the police, said: “Personally, I use the word wildly and I repeat it.”

• A blog from the London School of Economics on the risk of a 2027 presidential election dominated by extremes.

• Portrait of Jordan Bardella, the rising star of the French far right

• Bloomberg QuickTakes on the rise of Zemmour, street protests under Macron’s tenure, and the yellow vest phenomenon.

• Foreign policy asks the question “Is Marine Le Pen a fascist? »

• A post-election analysis in The Atlantic.

• A mid-election editorial from Bloomberg Opinion on the risks of a Le Pen presidency, and chronicles on an uninteresting French election and the decline of political moderation.

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