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Opinion: France's political nightmare

Every fourth vote went to the National Front, making the party the strongest political force in Paris. The result - a retreat into narrowly national interests - is a fatal signal, writes DW's Alexander Kudascheff.

The victory in France - of the right, the extreme right, the right-wing populist, the xenophobic National Front (FN) - is a shock, even though the results weren't unexpected. It's a shock for France, for Europe, for the European Union and beyond.

France is experiencing a political earthquake and living through a political nightmare. The land of Voltaire and Descartes, the land that made "la clarté" - rationality - a principle of society, has thrown itself into the arms of a petty-bourgeois rebellion against globalization and, thus, against the idea of a united Europe.

A desperate government and weak opposition

It's clear there are many reasons for the victory of Marine Le Pen - the hardly uncharismatic, eloquent, tactically cunning party leader. Within just two years, the government of Socialist Francois Hollande has utterly failed - economically and politically.

Although the French president has been able to win some temporary breathing space domestically through his courageous and not unjustified interventions in Mali and in the Central African Republic, he remains politically defeated. The French trust him less and less. He is the most unpopular French president in living memory - due in part to the fact that his political platform is wishy-washy and vague. He changes his agenda faintheartedly again and again. As a result, the Socialists were humiliated in the European elections, winning not even 15 percent of the votes. A debacle.

The opposition, too, is weak. Since Nicolas Sarkozy was voted out of office, it has splintered up in a series of fights in Diadochi style. The opposition is lacking a boss - a challenger to Hollande behind which the French people could rally immediately. It's no wonder that the conservatives did indeed fare better than the ruling Socialists, but overall remained weak. For voters, the bourgeois opposition doesn't represent an attractive alternative right now. The result: the UMP, too, was punished.

Retreating inward

That's the broader political context in which the Front National and Marine Le Pen rose up and conquered. But there are also other reasons that led to the FN's alarming breakthrough, including a more than apparent shift in mentality among the French.

For years, there's been discussion in the country about fears of "le declin" - its decline. What role does France have in a globalized world? What role does France play in Europe and in the EU - the bloc in which Germany is unmistakably emerging as the timid leader? What is the country's historic mission? What kind of a future does French industry have? And people are answering with resignation: "None, and that's why we're pulling back toward France."

The National Front's slogan is "France for the French." The implication is that France can only survive politically by focusing on itself - and turning away from the EU and the euro. That's a view shared by the far left and right-wingers alike.

It was thanks to these oft-evoked fears of decline that Le Pen was able to dig her party out of the grubby hole into which her father had maneuvered it. Her message reached not just the disappointed and resigned on the fringes of society. She has also successfully reached broad swaths of the middle class, conquering student and urban milieus as well as scoring points with rural voters. Le Pen also spoke to well-known resentment toward foreigners - an approach that drew in parts of a working class plagued by uncertainty.

Le Pen's 'authentic' France

It must be recalled that France is a conservative country at its heart - true also of its left. No other country in Europe has seen so many people protests against gay marriage - hundreds of thousands, a mass movement. That is "France profonde," the authentic France, that Marine Le Pen managed to address successfully.

As a result, she has unleashed a political earthquake - with as yet unforeseeable consequences for France, Europe and, from the German perspective, Germany, as well. After all, French politics will change, becoming more inwardly focused, even nationalistic. That's a fatal signal in light of the geopolitical crises at Europe's borders, from Ukraine down to Africa.

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