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France seduced by far right

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
Barbara Wesel
December 7, 2015

The National Front has emerged with the largest vote share in the first round of regional elections in France. Marine Le Pen's political recipe is dangerous - and not only for France, DW's Barbara Wesel writes.

Frankreich Erste Runde der Regionalwahlen 2015 Marine Le Pen
Image: Reuters/P. Rossignol

Gaining first place in the first round of France's regional elections was a master stroke by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front (FN). The party pandered openly to voters' resentments, using rhetoric that went just far enough to be legally safe, flying the French flag in abundance and claiming the mantle of true patriotism.

One should always be careful with historical comparisons, but, with an eye to Germany's own past, such election results make the stomach churn. Are the FN and the nationalists led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski who recently came to power in Poland dangerous in a similar way to the German fascists of the 1930s? Probably not, but they could be potentially.

The pattern is very similar. The exclusion of a social group and appeals to xenophobia and nationalism. In France, Muslims have become a perceived danger to the identity of "true Frenchmen," and they must be fought. So far, similar enough. One must not be hoodwinked by Le Pen; she is no democrat, and her party is not harmless. And her only goal is power in France.

Barbara Wesel Studio Brüssel
DW's Barbara WeselImage: DW/G. Matthes

From one point of view, one can understand French voters. The Socialists and the center-right Republicans, the parties that have been strong in the past, are now distant from the public and have lost credibility after a seemingly endless series of scandals. There is a real need for change, which has been reinforced by the inability of Francois Hollande to get the economy going and unemployment under control.

'No economic boost'

A large proportion of Le Pen's voters come from the ranks of France's lower class. But the FN's economic program is utterly nonsensical. The proposal of closing borders to neighbors and leaving the European Union would not generate an economic boost.

A France that seals itself off and clings to notions of yesterday's ideas of national identity will neither attract investors nor ascend to the status of being a top exporter. And French farmers would be in for a shock when the subsidies from Brussels that they have become accustomed to over the decades suddenly disappear. The FN will not raise already ample social security benefits, nor will it - in a fossilized economic structure - create new jobs for all Frenchmen.

Meanwhile, Le Pen's friend Vladimir Putin will not be able to help. And a France controlled by the far right would not be very welcome in the European Union. Germany and a few of its neighbors would finally have to retreat to become a small European core.

A warning shot

Le Pen has one goal, and that is the Elysee Palace. But the road is long, and by 2017 a more unifying center-right candidate should be able to stop Le Pen from moving in.

The outcome of Sunday's elections is a warning shot, however. The French have become susceptible to temptation by the far right and do not recognize the consequences of their actions. They almost seemed to be enticed by the transgressive contrarianism of the FN itself.

On top of it all, the idea of a utopia may also be a factor - a golden future much like the past, when men were proud, women were beautiful, and all were wealthy. It is for this reason "La Marseillaise" is sung, and red-white-and-blue tricolor flags flutter in the wind. It is a dreamy garden idyll to which many citizens run, fleeing the pressure of modernity.

Parties like the FN arouse such emotions, and play with them. Of course, we have already been here before, and it is rather distressing.

One must hope that in the next 18 months the French remember that they are indeed a reasonable nation.

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