The Way Things are Going Marine le Pen Could be French President in 2017 – L’Express
If conditions in France continue to worsen, Marine le Pen could be head of state in 2017 says l’Express editor Christophe Barbier, under a provocative cover banner in the widely-read French weekly baldy asserting — in his words — “the worst outcome is possible”.
In his latest podcast editorial (see video clip below) Christophe Barbier says politicians and voters alike should take the magazine’s cover story as a serious warning.
As each day passes he says the likelihood of Marine le Pen, charismatic leader of the hardline Front National, winning through to the runoff second round of the 2017 presidential election is “probable or in any event strongly likely”. The reasons, he adds are clear: there is popular anxiety and anger about rising unemployment, immigration, the state of the economy and social problems. Worse, should she come to power her programme will: ‘lead the country into decline’ ”, he claims.
He calls on the French elite to “mobilise and wake up to the fact that the Front National has changed. This change calls for fresh tactics from the other political parties whose focus to date has been on ritual demonising, classing her and her party as a devil with whom no-one will sup. The big problem he continues is to work-out why voters both in and out of work, are flocking to support the Front National. He suggests one reason is that no established party in parliament offers ‘any hope, any coherent programme’ able to convince the electorate that they really have a solution (to France’s problems).”
His views were to a large extent supported by an earlier (Sept 2-14) IFOP survey for Le Figaro which suggested that 62% of young voters and 70% of the working class preferred Le Pen for 2017:
The Express story was published to coincide with a nationwide television broadcast (November 6) by the hapless president — whose popularity rating has now slipped to an absolute historic low of 12% — to mark the mid-point of his contested five-year term in office.
This was widely billed as his last chance to make a comeback and revive flailing links with the French public. Sadly for the gaffe-prone president, he was overwhelmingly considered by media pundits to have flunked the test.
At one point in response to a questioner during the broadcast he reportedly said: “Ça ne coûte rien, c’est l’État qui paie” (that costs nothing it’s the state which pays) an appalling lack of political nous and one which quickly spawned the Twitter hashtag – #CaNeCouteRienCestlEtatQuiPaye via which social media heaped derision on the head of state. (BUT see update below on this point).
Over on Deutsche Welle Germany’s state-run national broadcaster, Europe editor Christoph Hasselbach warned of the dangers to the Franco-German partnership following French President François Hollande’s failure to pass his mid-term exam: “It could hardly have been worse and the whole of Europe should be worried”, he says.
“Opinion polls show that Le Pen has a good chance of getting onto the final ballot in the next presidential election in 2017. Some even envisage her making it all the way to the Elysée Palace. That would be a disaster, both for France and for Europe. And this is why nobody should rub their hands with glee over France’s decline, or its president’s devastating mid-term review. Germany in particular would be well advised to offer support to its most important partner, to try to find common ground and facilitate compromise, even if at present the ideological differences between Berlin and Paris are often considerable. Hollande may have been a failure so far as president, but the Franco-German partnership cannot be allowed to suffer as a result,” he concludes.
Le Pen’s Front National pleases voters but confuses political observers because it manages to be both conservative and radical at the same time, breaking the traditional mould and increasingly proving that the old Left and Right labels in politics can be blended in some cases into a new type of political smoothie, basically the drink offered by the new insurgents that shook up the European Parliament in the May 25 2014 elections.
L’Express writer Tugdual Denis and his team set out to document why French voters are now openly embracing what was once a political demon — the formerly ‘infréquentable’ Front National. Their report in the November 5-11 edition is available online to subscribers here.
The report begins: “Marine le Pen president? ‘Unlikely yesterday, that question has today become a plausible one’, whispers her father Jean-Marie le Pen. The founder of the FN shares that view with … the entire French political class … she has in the words of (Socialist) PM Manuel Valls arrived ‘at the front door of power’. From election to election France is voting more and more for the Front National with a loyalty that has not escaped Gilles Finchelstein of (Socialist think tank) the Jean Jaures Foundation.
“He says: ‘90% of FN voters in the European elections (in March this year) voted for Marine le Pen in the presidential election (two and a half years ago). With the other parties this figure of a history of voting loyalty is just 50-60%’. In restaurants, at train stations, at the cinema, the French repeatedly turn the discussion to the progress of the FN. From voting district to voting district the background music is the same. A Socialist senator from the south-east tells of a meeting with local voters who he says ‘not only no longer have any fear of the FN, they actively want the FN and they tell us that without a moment’s hesitation…’. A Socialist deputy for the south-west of France says he meets many Socialists who happily admit they vote for the FN. ‘The spirit among electors is ready for the FN. It is terrifying…’.
“The FN is a political party that resembles a popular TV network. People vote for FN the way they watch TF1 or M6 (two popular national chains) because it is easy to identify with their programmes. The leaders of the FN pose the same questions as the audience researchers of the TV networks: how do we do something about (this or that issue) … According to IFOP pollster Frédéric Dabi, Marine le Pen’s secret is her ability to get close to individual voters and to identify directly with them. ‘A good politician is one who gets inside a person’s skin who feels and experiences the things people tell them’ and le Pen and her fellow elected politicians appear to have that in spades…’ “
The magazine goes on: “in the Var (south east) a priest recently confided to a member of parliament that in his view 80% of all the priests in the area voted for the FN, the same MP also learned directly from local journalists that they too were sympathetic to the FN, suggesting the battles being won by Marine le Pen are also cultural ones…”
“A single term ‘UMPS’ (a portmanteau embracing the Socialist Party, (PS) and the opposition centre right UMP) conveys the reason why voters are embracing the FN. UMPS is no longer a slogan says Frédéric Dabi, ‘it is a vision a restructuring of the political playing field. It means voters believe that the (traditional) political parties of the right and left are identical and both have driven the country into a corner …’
“The chants at Front National political meetings have also changed. In early days they were militaristic — ‘La France aux Français’ (France for the French) for instance but today they are more like the chants at a football match ‘On est chez nous on et chez nous’ (We are at home, we are at home)… All fear of the Front National appears to have disappeared, the inhibitions are all gone, people are perfectly happy freely to discuss the party and the fact that they vote for it…”.
The report goes onto to touch on a secondary phenomenon underlining the swing of voter sentiment in France. Eric Zemmour’s best selling Le Suicide Francais (French Suicide)which NPR the US public service broadcaster noted said in a nutshell: ‘Zemmour says France is in decline because its traditional values — nation, family — have been destroyed over the past 40 years and replaced by a feminist, pro-gay, egalitarian agenda imposed on the country by left-wing elites. And, he says, the country has been undermined by successive waves of Muslim immigration.’
L’Express adds: “Zemmour’s book is part of the cultural revolution being driven by the Front National. When as he did on October 10 Zemmour tells Radio Courtoisie (a rightwing French broadcaster) ‘I smack the representatives of the system and the people rejoice, they do so because the people detest them (the representatives)…’ Zemmour is showing himself to be a very useful ally. Because Zemmour, a journalist with Figaro (and a regular TV and radio commentator)belongs to no political party he is seen as a vehicle enabling Front National ideas to spread higher up the social scale…”.
In a special report (November 5) on why the Front National appeared to be making such inroads Reuters Paris correspondent Nicholas Vinocur writes: “The National Front (or FN, by its French acronym) still campaigns against immigration, same-sex marriages and the euro. But politicians like Rachline are part of a new generation that current leader Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie’s daughter, hopes will win over more mainstream voters.
“Past National Front politicians who won office have often messed up and been voted out. If the National Front is to capitalize on the weakness of France’s Socialists, Marine Le Pen and her followers know they must prove they can govern.
“That’s why the 11 FN candidates who were voted in as mayors at the March elections, including Rachline, have been given how-to manuals for executive office and offered round-the-clock advice from experts in party headquarters in Paris. The orders: Apply the rulebook, manage conservatively and, above all, show the FN is fit to rule.
“Some FN mayors have slipped already. One near Marseille banned free lunches for poor children while boosting his own salary by 44 percent. Another had an anti-vagrancy decree knocked down by a court as racist. But most have largely stayed out of trouble.
“One star is Rachline, whose father was Jewish and who sees himself as “culturally” Catholic. At 26, he is the party’s youngest ever mayor, and when elected he booked the biggest winning margin in the party’s nationwide success. People in the party say he was picked for his organisational skills.
He’s already impressing many in Frejus. Shopkeepers like his decision to extend summer opening hours. Others are pleased he increased the police budget. And he has laid on extra shows at the newly renovated Roman arena…”
Not everyone agrees with Christophe Barbier of course and for an-in depth analysis of why the Express spectre is unlikely to happen, try this recent piece by Paris-based academic Arun Kapil: Can Marine Le Pen win in ’17? ‘No way’ is his succinct conclusion.
However way back in 2011 this paper published what now turns out to be a prescient story, where one French academic, Cynthia Fleury, a professor of political philosophy at the American University of Paris was happy to predict the imminent rise to high office of Marine le Pen. Read it here and note also the warnings by Henry Farrell, a politics professor at George Washington University about possible political fallout from the banker-fomented economic chaos of 2007/8.
Watch here a debate in English on France24 which coincided with Hollande’s lacklustre mid-term performance:
The conservative newspaper Figaro reported November 10 that the maladroit phrase (#CaNeCouteRienCestlEtatQuiPaye see above) attributed to the president during his TF1 television interview was in fact never made.
The paper says more than 4000 tweets and dozens of Facebook pages appeared after the phrase was picked up and attacked on social media, but writes Figaro’s Adrien Sénécat, “he never said it”.
The paper explains that in the course of an exchange with Hasen Hammou (a jobseeker and one of the participants) about the problems of the unemployed, François Hollande drew attention to the ‘jobs of the future’scheme. Hammou pointed out that local authorities were sometimes reluctant to make use of them … especially interposed TF1 presenter Gilles Bouleau, as “it’s a very expensive scheme”.
Here is the dialogue that followed:
– “No, it is the state that pays” and not the local authorities, Francois Hollande replied. “So in this case it cost …”
– “Three billion euros for 150,000 ‘jobs of the future’,” Gilles Bouleau butts in
– “Yes, but it is the state that pays” replies Francois Hollande
– “the state of course being the taxpayers …” adds Gilles Bouleau
-. “Yes, but that is not the Marseilles community that is paying, so I will come back, and say it is the state that made the effort ” François Hollande insists”.
For the record then here is the correction. Visit the Le Figaro to see the video clip about the controversy.
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Story: Ken Pottinger