France’s outspoken, yet controversial, Marine Le Pen is surging ahead of her rivals in opinion polls. The leader of France’s National Front won 28 per cent of first votes in a poll conducted by Le Monde. President Francois Hollande has witnessed a remarkable decrease in the amount of popular support among French people as he only acquired 14 per cent of the popular vote. This survey, which was compiled ahead of the French presidential election in April-May 2017, showed that former president, Nicholas Sarkozy, was on track with 21 per cent of first votes. Considering UKIP has been emerging as a political force in the United Kingdom since 2012, does Le Pen’s rise to popularity demonstrate a growing trend in France of hostility and disillusionment towards the traditional establishment parties? And what could possibly be causing this rise of the far-right in France?
53 per cent of French voters suggested that they are not satisfied with their current leader. This marks a ten per cent increase since interviews began in March this year.
The significant increase in Le Pen’s popularity has long been associated with her opposition to the Euro and the EU. Like Farage in the United Kingdom, Le Pen is pushing for a referendum on France’s membership of the EU. The recent success of Vote Leave in managing a campaign that resulted in Britain voting to withdraw from the EU will only increase her demands for a similar referendum in France. Le Pen hailed the Leave result in Britain on the day the results were announced. But that does not explain why demands for an EU referendum in France have grown in recent years or why Le Pen’s popularity is on the rise.
Don Murray of CBC News reported that a French woman he spoke to in the south of France was not terrified of the economic crisis in France, but of incidents like an encounter between tourists and young Arab men, whereby the latter suggested to the former that the street was theirs and access for outsiders was blocked. Murray reported that Carpentras, the city that is home to MP Marion Marechal-Le Pen, the granddaughter of Marine Le Pen, is a divided city. Even though the woman he spoke to was not concerned by economic insecurity, Murray suggested that ‘fear is the wedge’ that is fundamentally dividing this town and many others in France. For example, unemployment among young people stands at 25%. Many are convinced that factors such as the free movement of workers has allowed outsiders, Muslims in particular, to have secured all the scarce jobs in France.
Compared to the days of economic prosperity of the 1990s and 2000s, the divisions in Carpentras are considerably more visible today. Carpentras is now a city with a Muslim minority of up to 15%. Today, many more Muslim women walk the streets of France veiled, even young Muslim women born in France. This suggests a rise in immigration can be linked to growing economic insecurity since the end of the boom years during the 1990s and 2000s.
The Carpentras weekly market consists of stands where men and women of North African decent sell their vegetables. These specific stalls have increased in numbers in recent years.
Therefore, it is reasonable to attribute the National Front’s success with growing support in the south of France. In the ‘elections regionales’ in December 2015, the National Front took 52% of the vote in the second round in Carpentras. It is no remarkable coincidence that these results happened; they took place just a month after the atrocious terrorist atrocities in France that resulted in 130 people being killed.
Le Pen’s growing support will also increase pressure on Hollande to call for an EU referendum in his own country, even though he has overwhelmingly rejected calls for such a referendum. So far, opinion polls suggest that 41 per cent of French people would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was called in France tomorrow. Whilst this is not a sufficient enough result to win a referendum, Le Pen’s calls for a referendum and her argument that the Euro is associated with a decline in jobs and economic growth in France will certainly chime with those who demand a French EU referendum.
Therefore, it is clear that the reasons behind Le Pen’s surging popularity are a result of fears over uncontrolled immigration as a result of EU membership, general disillusionment towards the French establishment and the EU, and economic insecurity linked to France’s membership of the Eurozone. These issues sound increasingly familiar with the situation in Britain prior to June 23rd, and whilst many political commentators have dismissed Le Pen’s chances of winning next year, there is no doubt the National Front’s popularity will continue to grow in the future regardless of the results next year. The French establishment cannot afford to continue to ignore these issues.