Since January 2011, Marine Le Pen, who became the President of the Front National (also called FN), France’s far-right party, has been tediously working on changing the image of the party from its anti-immigration status to a respectable one. Her strategy has been to be more proactive on offering an alternative to mainstream parties, the UMP of Sarkozy and the Socialist Party, by tackling political, social and economical issues from a populist/nationalist approach. Ms. Le Pen has received intense media coverage since February, invited on many French TV shows, making the front page of mainstream French news magazines (such as Le Point, le Nouvel Obs) and articles in the international press (like the New York Times Magazine, and ranked as one of the most influential politicians in the Time). Ms. Le Pen has also been careful in removing the anti-immigration argument from the FN’s main narrative, making the party’s ideas more respectable and ultimately electable for the next presidential elections. Until her father, the Honorific President of the FN, commented on the terrorist attacks in Oslo couple weeks ago by claiming that the attack materialized the naivety of the Norwegian government. During his usual weekly comments on current events on the Front National’s website, he claimed that (see the video in French) (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xk7t1p_le-journal-de-bord-de-jean-marie-le-pen-n-239_news#from=embediframe):
“the situation is grave not because of this ‘accident’ by an individual […]. But what seems more dramatic in this case is the naivety and inaction of the Norwegian government. […] The responsibility comes from the Norwegian government and society, which have fallen asleep in a comfort, provided by the hydro-carburant […] and did not take any measures against the global threat represented by mass-immigration, which seems to be the main cause in the mind of this ‘irrational’ murder.”
The respectable dimension of the party never clearly existed under the long-term presidency of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who created the Front National back in December 1972. His political life started in 1956 as Deputy of the Seine. He always received strong support in the South-East of France, a region with a large North African community, and was elected on several occasions at the European Parliament. His political apogee occurred in April 2002, when he made it to the second round of the Presidential elections with 16.86% of the votes. Mr. Chirac then defeated him in the second round by receiving 82.06% of the votes. Since January 2011, Mr. Le Pen enjoys an Honorific status within the party.
Mr. Charles Grant of the Center for European Reform wrote one of the best pieces on the true colors and values of the Front National under Marine Le Pen untitled, Marine Le Pen and the Rise of Populism. His article rightfully describes the true colors of the FN under its new president, Marine Le Pen. Here is his argument:
- Ms. Le Pen presents her party as a nationalist, populist force
- Strong anti-Europe message: if elected she would remove France from the Union and reinstitute the old currency, the Franc. The Franc would offer more independence and autonomy to the government in order to be more competitive as opposed to the Euro.
- Implementation of protectionism in order to protect France’s industries
- Removal from NATO’s structures
Let’s face it, this political platform is not attractive. France without the European Union and NATO would not last 10 years in this current international system. France has considerably grown under the military and economic umbrellas provided by the EU and NATO, ultimately allowing the country to maintain its status of middle-size superpower. France’s economy alone is not competitive enough to face the emergence of China and India or even its closest neighbor, Germany. Militarily speaking, the case of Libya undeniably proves that France cannot match its words with actions. The expectation-reality gap has become well too wide. France and the UK cannot sustain their military adventure in Libya without the support of NATO. The vision among the French political elite, even the non-conservatives, is that France is still a superpower with a vision, a strategy and a relevant voice on the international stage as illustrated by its seat at the UN Security Council, its leading of the IMF, and its EU, NATO, G8/G-20 memberships. Unfortunately, France holds these prestigious positions mostly thanks to its past and heritage rather than its present achievements. The FN tends to have a romantic, idealist vision of France blurring any rational thoughts.
In conclusion, democratic presidential races are always a very rocky ride. A year in advance, no one can predict seeing Ms. Le Pen or any other candidate making it through the first round. The 2002 elections are a perfect reminder of this argument, as former Socialist hopeful Mr. Jospin was supposed to face Mr. Chirac in the second round. History proved us otherwise. The French public opinion is not yet entirely focused on the message of each candidate and the elections in general. Only the strategic and drama-free candidates usually make it to the end. The French media have jumped to early on the wagon of change promised by Ms. Le Pen. The truth is that the first round of the French presidential elections is set for April 22, 2012, not September 2011. Furthermore, the Front National’s motivation and vision have not changed; the FN has just received a facial make-over. Jean-Marie Le Pen is here to remind us of the true colors of this party: fascism.