France à Droite

Le Pen Takes the French Right From Star Status to Irrelevance

The second round of the election of the French National Assembly of Jun. 17 had a surprise ending: Following the success of Nicolas Sarkozy in the Presidential elections a month earlier, all major political commentators across Europe estimated gains for his Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP), with possibly winning a three-quarters majority.

However, no one predicted the actual outcome, the loss of 46 seats for the mainstream conservative party, still however guaranteeing a comfortable majority.

The parliamentary elections brought another surprise on the far-right side of the political spectrum: Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National, for the first time in its 35-year-old history, with only 4.6 % share of votes did not gain any seats in the National Assembly, thus losing millions of Euros worth of election expenses. The far-right leader, who is renowned for his hate messages against immigrants and anti-European sentiments, now begs his supporters in a video on the party website to support the Front National financially to bridge the “current crisis.”

Le Pen, who became second in the presidential elections of 2002 against Jacques Chirac stood no chance of repeating this success this time in April 2007.

With Sarkozy, France elected a president who clearly was fishing for votes in the far-right electorate by playing though as Interior Minister. Although Le Pen urged his supporters to abstain for the second round in the presidential elections, his voters evidently supported Sarkozy, and they did so on Jun. 17. Sarkozy, unlike his predecessors Mitterand and Chirac “thanked” his opponent on Jun. 20 by inviting Le Pen into the Elysee for talks.

The strategy of conservative parties in Europe to gain a majority by appealing to the far-right sentiment is not new, as here in Austria, the ÖVP did the same thing successfully in the 2002 national elections. However, it is questionable whether such a strategy makes the far-right redundant, or whether they are entering mainstream politics. The former is what any democrat would hope for, the latter is what any democracy has to be seriously concerned about.

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