Veronique, it’s also worth noting that (as you know) the ‘far-right’ (more on that shorthand, below) National Front had a good day too:
Provisional results from Sunday’s voting showed the protectionist, anti-EU party of Marine Le Pen set to take control of 11 towns across the country, easily surpassing a past record in the 1990s when it ruled in four towns. “This evening is a moment of truth. There is no getting away from it: this vote is a defeat for the government … and I take my part of the blame,” Ayrault told national TV late on Sunday….Provisional results gave the National Front its 11 wins largely in the south of the country, which has a tradition of anti-immigrant feeling, but also in northern and eastern districts suffering from France’s industrial decline.
The FN’s victories included the towns of Beziers, Le Pontet, Frejus, Beaucaire, Le Luc, Camaret-sur-Aigues and Cogolin in the south, and Villers-Cotteret and Hayange in the north. It already made a breakthrough in last week’s first round by winning power in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont.
”The glass ceiling has been shattered,” said Le Pen, who has sought to make her party more acceptable to French voters. “No one can seriously deny this has been a huge victory for us.”
France’s voters may be rejecting the Socialists, but the break with socialism is not necessarily quite so clear cut, as the success of the “far right” National Front reminds us.. Here’s the New York Times on the National Front leader shortly after she had become leader in 2011 (my emphasis added):
The real secret to her success, however, may be in her adroit scrambling of traditional leftist and rightist positions. Signaling a clear break from her father and the right in general, she has come out with a detailed critique of capitalism and a position promoting the state as the protector of ordinary people. “For a long time, the National Front upheld the idea that the state always does things more expensively and less well than the private sector,” she told me. “But I’m convinced that’s not true. The reason is the inevitable quest for profitability, which is inherent in the private sector. There are certain domains which are so vital to the well-being of citizens that they must at all costs be kept out of the private sector and the law of supply and demand.” The government, therefore, should be entrusted with health care, education, transportation, banking and energy.
When I pointed out that in the U.S. she would sound like a left-wing politician, she shot back, “Yes, but Obama is way to the right of us….”
It is important to understand that Marine Le Pen positioned herself to the Left of the UMP [France’s main center-right party] and, at least on economics, arguably to the Left of the Socialists. She railed against capitalism and globalisation, called for higher expenditure, and supported state-run energy, healthcare, education, transport and financial services. Where her father used to complain about welfare scroungers, she wants a more generous range of entitlements. Where he used to describe his party as being of the Right, she recently told Le Monde that it was “neither Right nor Left, but founded on the opposition of the current political class, on the defence of the nation, on the rejection of ultra-capitalism and of Europe”.
This last point is perhaps her most valuable differentiator. The other parties had all made idiotic claims about the single currency boosting economic growth. When the euro crisis came, the Front National, along with the Trotskyists, stood vindicated, having argued all along that monetary union would be a racket, hurting working people to the benefit of bankers and bureaucrats.
I won’t bother to explain, yet again, why it is wrong to call corporatist, protectionist parties like the FN “Right-wing”. Suffice it to say that France has not turned to fascism. It hasn’t particularly turned to anything. It has simply given up on its political class. Having heard their leaders warn, over and over again, against the FN, many French people plainly decided that voting for that party was the surest way to register their contempt for the old parties. Sadly, the underlying problems that caused their disenchantment in the first place are no closer to being addressed.
The fact that turnout was, by French standards, low, reinforces the notion that France has ‘given up on its political class’, but it should be remembered nonetheless that the overwhelming majority of the French who voted last weekend voted for parties of the mainstream. The center (as the French understand that term) still holds. At the same time, I wouldn’t think of the National Front solely as a party of no. Some of what it stands for taps into a discontent with France’s secularist, post-revolutionary order that can be traced back deep into the 19th Century, and which has ebbed and flowed ever since. Like it or not, it offers a vision of a France that is more than just a crude rejection of the way that the country has evolved. And now the failures of the French establishment to confront either economic reality or the catastrophe of mass immigration or the disaster that the euro has brought in its wake have offered a way for the National Front’s savvy new(ish) leader to update that older vision, so that it endures as potentially something rather more powerful than a simple of cry of rage. That this same establishment has abdicated so much power to a supranational bureaucracy headquartered in Brussels fuels the flames still further.
The next thing to watch will be the elections to the EU parliament scheduled for late May. On some projections, the National Front (which is, not so incidentally, committed to taking France out of the euro) will come top in the French vote , which would be another sign that economic incompetence and the stifling Europhile consensus of the EU’s establishment is not only radicalizing increasing numbers of voters, but leaving them with few places to turn other than to parties that were pariahs just a few years ago.
The euro has survived primarily thanks to the political will of the European establishment. Are the voters now finally prepared to push back?