With the shock Brexit result of 52 percent voting to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump with 332 Electoral College votes, 2016 has been a year that has shaken the political establishment. And with the ongoing issues of the Syrian refugee crisis and the huge problems with terror in Europe this could be set to continue in 2017.
Marine Le Pen’s hopes of winning the Presidential election in April are increasing for a number of reasons. Firstly the huge issue of terrorism, which has devastated France far greatly than any other European country. The Paris attacks in November 2015 left 130 people dead and nearly 100 critically injured, and the Nice attacks in July 2016 left 86 dead and have given the far-right Front Nationale plenty of argument to boost their polls against Francois Hollande who has been seen to be weak on terror.
In an interview, Marine Le Pen blamed the Hollande Presidency for inaction: “In any country of the world, a minister as powerful as [interior minister] Bernard Cazeneuve … would’ve resigned a long time ago,” she said. “[This is] the fault of a state, failing in its first priority, which is the protection of our citizens.” The Nice attacks has given Le Pen a huge surge in the polls. The Pollster BVA had the Front Nationale’s popularity increase by 3 points to 27 percent in the days after the attack.
Another reason why the Front Nationale is so popular is the disillusionment between ordinary French people and the political elite. Jérôme Fourquet, head of political studies at lfop, wrote in The Financial Times that: “Even before Nice, François Hollande was extremely weakened but now something is broken”.
“One of the last aspects of his personality that held him was his role as commander-in-chief and now he seems out of his depth there too.” The combination of the poor leadership of Hollande and the changing attitudes in France makes a Le Pen Presidency a possibility.
“The indecisive leadership of the EU has been a rallying call for the Front Nationale.”
The proposal of abolishment of rights for Muslims and the tightening of immigration to 10,000 a year, as well as monitoring Mosques to combat terror, seems to go against the French ideology of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. However, with the increasing fear among French people many are ready to accept restriction of civil liberties.
With terrorism, it always comes back to the same issue of security versus liberty. According to the Financial Times: “eight out of 10 would accept restrictions on civil liberties to better combat home-grown terrorism”.
Another key factor in the anti-establishment victories of 2016 is the idea of a populist movement against the political elite, which has rallied many to defy the status-quo.
Le Pen seems to be adopting the same rhetoric as Farage and Trump have done; in a speech in September 2015 she “spoke repeatedly of “the people”: portraying essentially a French nation defenceless in the face of economic liberalism and multiculturalism imposed from abroad – especially the EU”.
Her anti-establishment and anti-status-quo platform has been attracting support as one of her other policies of taking France out of the EU is popular among the French. According to The Guardian, Le Pen has suggested: “that France could follow Britain in leaving the EU, hailing the Brexit vote as the beginning of “a movement that can’t be stopped”.
The Spectator polled “61 per cent of French voters are hostile to the European Union. Among those the French blame for this unpopularity are Angela Merkel, for encouraging immigration”. The Front Nationale seems to be following the way of extremist parties, as a forum for grievances.
“with the increasing fear among French people, many are ready to accept restriction of civil liberties.”
Many also have been critical of the poor way that the EU has dealt with Syrian refugees, most notably of the situation in the Calais Jungle, the population of which has swelled to nearly 10,000 due to refugees fleeing Syria.
Many blamed the huge problems from people smugglers and the attacks on motorists by armed men on the indecisive leadership of Hollande and the delay in demolishing the camp. The indecisive leadership of the EU has been a rallying call for the Front Nationale, who have promised a referendum on French membership of the EU by October 2017 if elected.
It is evident that there has been a huge shift on the political spectrum to the right. History has shown us before that the dangerous rhetoric of extremist parties can cause greater issues, as seen in the aftermath of the US Presidential election by attacks on minorities. This was also the same in the areas of the UK which voted resoundingly to leave, followed by attacks on Eastern Europeans.
The rhetoric of people such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, while not explicitly encouraging violence, has been seen to increase cultural and religious divides and caused fear amongst minority groups. Whatever the outcome of the French Presidential election in April 2017, there is a sense of anxiety over the future.
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