France is facing an unprecedented challenge to their established democracy in the upcoming 2022 French election. This challenge comes from the forces of the far-right populists seeking to change the course of French policies to something more befitting their viewpoint of how France should be governed, and which values the populist element of France believe should be prioritized. You might be asking yourself, why is this important?
Indeed, I am aware that many readers may not have followed the previous French election or maybe just do not know or care about French politics, assuming that the far-right is merely a fringe movement of disgruntled extremists. Unfortunately, in France, this is not the case. The fact is the French far-right are well organized and the leading far-right party, the National Rally (formally known as the National Front (FN) until its attempt at a rebrand in 2018), was able to win enough support in the previous 2017 French election that it was granted opposition party status. Hopefully now the reader sees why this upcoming election is incredibly important.
The reality is that the National Rally’s party leader, Marine Le Pen has grown steadily more popular since her rise to being party leader. The question is why? Why has her leadership of the party allowed it to become legitimate within French politics? How has the situation in France become so perilous that voters have allowed far-right extremists to have a legitimate voice in the government as the opposition party?
To explain this rise of the far-right to actual legitimate status, I must briefly explore the history of how the far-right has grown in France over the past 40 years from illegitimate to a legitimate political power once again. To begin with, I will explain how the far-right’s ideology has shifted from the early 1970s to being less openly fascist and adapted to the times. According to Professor Tamir Bar-On the French far-right group the Nouvelle Droite (ND) aided the French far-right by giving them a reinterpretation in terms of focus while creating the argument that cultural hegemony specifically within a European framework focused on “publicly recognizing differences in order to preserve the ‘authentic’ regions of Europe against the onslaught of non-European immigrants.” Basically it would allow the party who used the idea to have greater legitimacy against the label of fascist as well as boost her popularity by uniting her with those anti-immigration voters, which as you can see from remarks here, she has taken to heart.
The fact is that Le Pen is able to hide her party’s unsavoury qualities by disguising it as a critique of French society in the Evolian school of thought, specifically within the context of claiming her party is merely traditionalists and making an anti-globalist argument rather than a targeted critique against a specific group. By portraying herself within this acceptable context, Le Pen has been able to tap into greater support as well as fortify her party’s radical base. She has also sought to seem more democratic to voters by purging her party of radical far-right people including her father, to distance her party from claims of being extremists.
She and her radical far-right policies regarding anti-immigration have been supported by the radical French author Renaud Camus, infamous for coining the Great Replacement conspiracy theory that refers to the “replacement of a people, the indigenous French people, by one or others; of its culture by the loss of its cultural identity through multiculturalism.” The reiterated fact of her party’s opposition status means that her Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant policies must be highly popular in France, which is troubling.
The destabilizing force of the COVID-19 pandemic on France, resulting in economic downturn across the globe makes French society’s stability more important than ever. The fact Le Pen has switched her stance on the EU and the Euro currency to keeping both, claiming that she wants “a union of national states”, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, given politicians change unpopular policies to get into office and once there, they enact those policies anyway. If Le Pen chooses to enact her initial policy of leaving the EU and abandoning the Euro, it would likely harm France’s economy.
So, what are the far-right’s chances of winning the French election? I’d say a significant possibility and yet they may not succeed. Only time will tell if the infamous statement at a National Front party conference by Steve Bannon: “history is on our side and will bring us victory” was true or just a boast.