Last Sunday, Marine Le Pen was elected the new chair of France’s National Front (FN) party. She thus succeeds her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 82-year-old dean of Europe’s so-called “far right” parties. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen caused a sensation by finishing second in the first round of France’s presidential elections with nearly 17% of the vote. He thus eliminated the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin and moved on to the second round of voting, in which he was defeated by the incumbent Jacques Chirac.
According to current polling data, Marine Le Pen could do even better in the upcoming French presidential elections in 2012. A newly released poll by France’s CSA polling institute shows her drawing either 17% or 18% of the vote in the first round of voting, depending on the candidate fielded by the Socialist Party (PS).
Moreover, at least part of the surge of support for Marine Le Pen appears to be coming not from the “moderate right,” as represented by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), but precisely from the left.
As reported in the weekend edition of the French daily Le Figaro, this is the conclusion of a memorandum written by the French Socialist Party’s own public opinion specialist François Kalfon. According to Kalfon’s prima facie paradoxical findings (as summarized by Le Figaro), the far right “appeals to a part of the working class electorate that was previously to be found on the left.”
The Le Figaro report continues:
With Marine Le Pen, the FN has changed its discourse, attacking free trade or claiming the mantle of secularism [la laïcité] in order to promote its anti-Islam theses. “If the FN is taking from the right electorally, it is taking from the left socially,” Socialist Party official Razzy Hammadi sums up. He argues that the PS has to reappropriate these themes.
Hammadi’s distinction between the “electoral” and “social” appeal of the FN is clearly a distinction without a difference. He presumably resorts to it in order to avoid having to address the embarrassing fact that the National Front and the Socialist Party are competing for the same segment of the electorate.
That they are, however, is also suggested by the findings of the CSA poll. The poll shows that Marine Le Pen’s support increases on the supposition that the Socialists field the more “centrist” candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Strauss-Kahn is presently the head of the International Monetary Fund. His position at the IMF can be presumed to be equally off-putting to both “Lepenists” and traditional leftists.
Le Figaro’s assertion that the FN has “changed its discourse” in attacking free trade is simply false. Opposition to free trade and economic “globalization” has long been a standard element of the FN repertoire under Jean-Marie Le Pen. As archived versions of the FN website show, the denunciation of the “destructive ideology of free-trade” [le libre-échangisme destructeur] features in the FN political program from 2002 at the latest. In his 2007 presidential platform, Jean-Marie Le Pen assailed what he called “ultra-liberal globalization” in terms indistinguishable from those of the French left.
For evidence, moreover, that such anti-free-trade, “anti-globalization” rhetoric is also a standard part of the repertoire of Germany’s “far right,” see Jan Langehein’s report on “Germany’s Other Anti-Globalists: Neo-Nazis Against the G-8.”
All of which raises the obvious question: why do they call it the “far right”?