National Front leader Marine Le Pen's desperate efforts to "de-demonize" her anti-immigration, anti-EU party are predicted to translate into hundreds of seats and even the capture of several towns in the municipal elections later this month.
The group will present a party record of 596 electoral lists across France in the first round of voting on March 23rd.
Recent polls suggest the party, whose historic leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine's father, has repeatedly been convicted of racial hatred and Holocaust denial, could walk away with hundreds of local council seats and the mayor's office in about a dozen towns across the country.
The National Front threat has easily been the main talking point in the run up to the elections.
So will the 2014 elections mark the big breakthrough for the National Front in French politics? What will a strong showing mean for France? The Local speaks with far-right specialist Jean-Yves Camus, a political analyst at France's Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), to find out.
Could this be the year the National Front wins the most seats in its history?
“Probably, they have new members, they have money because of the successful presidential election in 2012 (Le Pen gained around 18 percent of the vote in the first round, which many saw as a huge victory). I really see them as having a lot of momentum.
“I can’t guess how many seats they will get, because in France we have so many small cities it is almost impossible to keep track of all the candidates.
“If they win a few hundred seats and they win a few cities, they will be in a position to make a successful campaign for the European Parliamentary elections in May, which in my mind is at least as important as the local elections. Because if you win seats in the European Parliament you get a lot of publicity and you get a lot of money."
Why are the National Front set to do well in the upcoming elections?
“I think there is political turn to the right in terms of racism, nationalism and some kind of refusal of a multicultural society. We are now witnessing the rise of the post-1968 generation. (France’s student-led, left-wing rebellion in the 1960s).
“It’s those who grew up in families who were quite on the left of the political spectrum. We see youngsters saying, ‘I grew up in a family with liberal values and I reject them, because I think this is plain wrong. I want to be more conservative, more into family, more into religious values.’
“Those people want authority, they want to keep what remains of the social state for the French and not give anything to foreigners. They have a sense of national pride that was totally alien to their parents. This is some kind of a counter-revolution on the right.
“Most of the National Front candidates are young people, who came to the National Front without any prior membership in any kind of strange extreme right movement. Those people are not fascists, they simply come from nowhere.
“I think the National Front is very much contributing, but it is not alone in encouraging France to focus on its past and not on making the necessary steps to regain its influence. If France wants to be a powerful country in the world it has to look to the future and not to a past that is certainly great, but is obviously the past.
“The influence of France is lost because we have no more empire, French is spoken less and less especially when compared to English and the economic situation is bad. So we used to think of ourselves as one of the two or three most powerful countries in the world, but now that’s over."
Has the National Front encouraged France's current pessimism?
“They keep saying that we are a declining country. They keep saying that we have lost all our sovereignty to Brussels. They keep saying that we are under American influence. So what do we expect from the French people when you keep on telling them ‘Your country is not worth anything’?
“What I do not see here is the same kind of hope and pride that I see in the United States and many other countries. We are obsessed with decline, and when you are obsessed with decline you can follow strange and dangerous leaders.”