Gabriel Casella, JHU:
Marine Le Pen dreams of winning France’s 2017 presidential election, a feat her party, Le Front National, has always been too small to achieve. In the past five years, however, the French electorate has undergone a radical shift from traditional center-left politics to growing nationalist and right wing tendencies.
Since its inception in 1972, Le Front National has been a controversial party in French politics, gaining a reputation as a bastion for nationalism and reactionary rhetoric. In particular, he National Front has gained infamy for its strong anti-immigration rhetoric, its protectionist economic politics, and skepticism of the Eurozone. For a party that was virtually non-existent a decade ago, it has garnered tremendous political support recently. In the 2015 French departmental elections in, Marine Le Pen’s party won a record amount of seats. Suddenly, her presidential ambitions seem less like a dream and more like a reality.
Marine Le Pen, a former lawyer and 2012 presidential hopeful, is gaining notoriety for her public opposition to immigration into France, both legal and illegal, an opposition deeply rooted in her perception that France’s migrant populations are a failed experiment for the country. Le Pen has been especially vocal about immigrants from Islamic nations, expressing suspicions as to whether Muslims can truly assimilate to life in France. Les banlieues (a French slang term used to describe low-income housing projects) have become an issue of national importance due to their high crime rates and high poverty and illiteracy levels. The 2005 Paris suburb riots and other more recent incidents have led many in France to believe les banlieues and their associated problems are a product of poor assimilation policies, economic segregation and a lack of a proper and comprehensive immigration plan. This has been the focal issue of Le Pen’s rise.
La Laïcité, one of the core tenants of French society, is an ideology based on deep secularism and the separation of religion from the public sphere and state affairs. It seems the recent growth in migration from Maghreb nations and other former French colonies, the French ideals of La Laïcité are being pushed to the test by the increasing number of practicing Muslims in France. The rise of the Islamic State and the Charlie Hebdo attacks of this year have provided easy fodder for Le Front’s anti-immigration policies.
The National Front’s amazing political resurgence can also be explained as a product of the failure of French leftists to provide pragmatic solutions to France’s economic and social troubles. The French electorate at large has become disillusioned with establishment politics and the old political elites. President’s François Hollande’s Socialist Party, once seen as the symbol of the political left and the champion of the economically disadvantaged, is now largely perceived as being oblivious to economic realities and lacking political cohesion. Hollande’s party, like many other left wing parties in Europe, has been accused of acquiescence to Germany’s neoliberal policies within the European Union. The Socialist Party’s failure to tackle the growing unemployment and slowing growth in the French economy has led to Holland’s approval rating falling to a dismal 13 %. The recent Syrian migrant crisis has not helped those numbers.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said this past week in reference to the recent migrant crises in Europe that, “There is a lack of Europe in this union and a lack of union in this European Union.” This statement echoes the criticisms of Le Pen and the NF, though it is worth consideration that Juncker’s claims of EU dysfunction were intended to inspire positive change in the organization. Still, there are many that believe Germany’s growing influence in the Eurozone, as demonstrated by its economic strength and calls for austerity, threatens the balance of power of the EU. Likewise, Marine Le Pen and her supporters remain skeptical of EU efforts to confront migrant crises and growing xenophobia across the continent.
Commenting in an interview about the European Union, Marine Le Pen said that “The EU is deeply harmful, it is an anti-democratic monster. I want to prevent it from becoming fatter, from continuing to breathe, from grabbing everything with its paws and from extending its tentacles into all areas of our legislation.” The ‘Germanization’ of the European Union and mounting social tensions appear to be irking many EU citizens. Marine Le Pen’s National Front is not reluctant to address many controversial issues that have been traditionally ignored by the French government. Whereas Holland’s cabinet has been seen as weak in face of German political and economic might, Le Pen has been a vocal critic of Angela Merkel’s policies. The same has been the case with immigration.
The European parliament elections in 2014 saw the rise of many Eurosceptic parties: UKIP (United Kingdom), People’s Party (Denmark), SYRIZA (Greece) and Five Star Movement (Italy). The National Front won with about 25% of the French vote, up an astonishing 18.5% from the last election cycle and taking first place. This pattern seen in France and across Europe as a whole shows how the European Union might be at a breaking point, in need of reconsideration and systemic change.
It remains the widely held view that the dissolution of the EU should be avoided at all costs, but the resurgence of nationalism, economic dysfunction and xenophobia threaten the organization’s stability. History has proven the destructive capability of these ideological forces in Europe, and their recent upsurge should concern Europe’s politicians and citizens alike. Even in the face of disruptive demographic changes and economic discordance, it is vital to recognize that the dissolution of the EU would likely cause a dangerous shift in international geopolitics and endanger the health of the globalized economy. It would most definitely bode catastrophically for many nations in Europe, such as Greece, Italy and Spain.
If the European Union is to survive, it will need to restructure its current policies and revive itself as an entity. The reactionary political streak we see in France is happening all throughout Europe and should not be ignored. To limit the continent-wide influence of these groups, the EU will need to adopt a comprehensive strategy to ensure the proper assimilation of immigrants within Europe, including improved access to education and a serious examination of the ghetto-like conditions in many immigrant-dominated neighborhoods. It will also need to find new ways to prevent single member states, such as Germany, from dominating policy discussions, for such hegemony ultimately undermines the purpose of the Union as a whole. If the EU can work as a united body to ensure its policies and initiatives reflect the plurality of the European nations, peoples, and cultures, it will return to prosperity, stability and cohesion.