‘France’s far right can gain from Paris terror’

After France was hit by a series of terror attacks carried out by homegrown Muslim extremists, The Local examines whether or not Marine Le Pen's National Front party will see a boost in support in the coming months.

'France's far right can gain from Paris terror'
French far-right Front National (FN) party president Marine Le Pen takes part in the Unity rally on January 11th in Beaucaire. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP
The leaders of France's National Front party, the third largest political party in the country, were not invited to Sunday's march in Paris that attracted 1.5 million people.
Instead, party leader Marine Le Pen led a demonstration of her own in the FN-controlled southern town of Beaucaire.
But perhaps Le Pen didn't need to be in Paris as the world watched. The attacks themselves – which killed 17 in the French capital – could end up adding wind to the nationalist party's sails at a time when the party is already flying high in the polls.
"It's possible that these attacks are a turning point in French politics," researcher and far right specialist Jean-Yves Camus from the think-tank Iris (Institute of international relations and strategy) told The Local.
"Undecided voters may take the issues of immigration and Islam into consideration in a way they might not have done if the attacks had not taken place. It's 100 percent true that the National Front can benefit from all this."
But if the National Front may see a boost the next time the French go to polls, Camus believes that it won't be down to Le Pen and her father's efforts to appeal to voters in the wake of the attacks.
"I didn't think their 'political meeting' in Beaucaire was a very good public relations initiative. And anyway, the demonstrations in Paris were so huge that I saw almost no footage of the National Front at all," he said.
Camus also said that Marine Le Pen's call for the reintroduction of the death penalty in the aftermath of the attacks was "totally pointless".
(In the tweet above, Le Pen says she wants to hold a referendum on the death penalty as she believes this possibility "should exist".)
"Most French people realize that when it comes to Islamic terrorists that they are prepared to die as martyrs anyway. France wouldn't be impressed by the idea of bringing the death penalty back, it's a pointless gesture," he said.
He added that Le Pen was trying to look "as mainstream as possible, as usual" with her comments, and that the real negative publicity came from her father – National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who said "Sorry, but I'm not Charlie".
Le Pen senior later referred to those marching as "charlots" – the French nickname for Charlie Chaplin that also means "clown".
"His comments showed France exactly where the National Front stands on the extreme right of the political spectrum," Camus explained. 
Camus concluded that while he hadn't seen anyone openly supporting the far right during Sunday's marches, he was glad it was only the party heads and not the supporters who were banned. 
"If you say to National Front voters that they can't be part of a demonstration then you're telling them they can't be part of a national community. They like to see themselves as an ostracized segment of the community and it gives fuel to the party," he explained.
"They should be told that if they truly stand for democracy, human rights, and the freedom of speech, then of course they are welcome to attend."
But the terrorist attacks in France will not just have an impact on the political scene within France. The shootings have sent ripples across Europe, where some countries have already seen anti-immigration and anti-Islam sentiments on the rise.
What happens next is anyone's guess, Camus believes, saying that it was "impossible to predict" what Europe could expect next from the rising tide of the far right. 

But the signs are already there. Anti-Islam sentiment has cropped up across Europe since the Paris shootings.
In Germany, members of the growing Anti-Islam Pegida movement ("Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West") have come together to condemn the Paris attacks. One march saw a record 25,000 people rally in Dresden on Monday night.
German officials pleaded for the group to stay at home. 
"If the organizers had a shred of decency they would simply cancel these demonstrations," Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild newspaper. "It's simply disgusting how the people behind these protests are trying to exploit the despicable crimes in Paris."
Counter protests against anti-Muslim sentiment have seen seen soaring support across Germany, however, with 100,000 marching on Monday night. 
Elsewhere, Swiss members of Pegida plan to march in February, and activists have called for spin-off groups in Austria and Scandinavia, reported the AFP news agency.
In France it's still anyone's guess how the attacks will shape the political landscape, but the march has already begun for the National Front.
Not only did the party come out on top in the European elections in May, but opinion polls from before the attack suggest that Le Pen and co are popular enough to reach the second round of the presidential elections in 2017. 

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Tensions mount in France ahead of new pension strike

France braced on Monday for another day of mass protests and strikes over proposed pension reform, with the government of President Emmanuel Macron and its left-wing opponents trading blame for the expected disruption.

Tensions mount in France ahead of new pension strike

Around 1.1 million people took to the streets for the first strike day on January 19, according to official statistics, the biggest demonstrations since the last major round of pension reform under right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

A police source told AFP that security forces were expecting similarly sized crowds on Tuesday, with 1.2 million seen as the upper limit at 240 demonstrations around the country.

With unions warning more stoppages are to come, the strikes represent a major test for Macron as he seeks to implement a showcase policy of his second term in office.

The president’s ministers and their opponents are desperately seeking to sway public opinion ahead of what is expected to be a bitter and costly standoff over the next month.

READ MORE: LATEST: What to expect for Tuesday’s French pension strikes

Senior hard-left MP Mathilde Panot from the France Unbowed (LFI) party accused Macron and his ministers of being responsible for the stoppages that are expected to cripple public transport and other services again.

“They’re the ones who want to wreak havoc on the country,” she told BFM TV while also criticising comments by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin over the weekend as a “provocation.”

Darmanin, a close Macron ally, said Saturday that left-wing political parties were “only looking to screw up the country” and were defending “idleness and champagne socialism.”

Macron’s reputation

The most controversial part of the proposed reform is hiking the minimum retirement age to 64 from its current level of 62, which is the lowest level in any major European economy.

Macron made the change part of this re-election manifesto in April last year and he insists it is needed to guarantee the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to tip into deficit in the next few years.

Opponents point out that the system is currently balanced and that the head of the independent Pensions Advisory Council recently told parliament that “pension spending is not out of control, it’s relatively contained.”

For pro-business Macron, who has repeatedly told French people they “need to work more”, failure to succeed with a signature proposal would severely undermine his credibility for the remainder of his second and last term in office, analysts say.

The government headed by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has signalled there is wiggle room on some measures as parliamentary committees started examining the draft law on Monday.

Conditions could be improved for people who started working very young, as well as for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children and for people who invested in further education, Borne has suggested.

But the headline age limit of 64 is not up for discussion, she said Sunday, calling it “non-negotiable.”

Despite the policy being a flagship of his second mandate following his 2022 re-election, Macron has so far sought to stay above the fray and commented only occasionally on the growing tensions.

Darmanin’s intervention has not helped reduce strains, with the tough-talking minister telling the Le Parisien daily Saturday the left were defending an idea of a “society without work and effort”.

Parliamentary battle

The left-wing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft legislation in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s centrist allies, short of an absolute majority in parliament, will need votes from conservatives to get their pensions plan approved.

A new poll by the OpinionWay survey group, published on Monday in Les Echos newspaper, showed that 61 percent of French people supported the protest movement, a rise of 3.0 percentage points from January 12.

A majority of French people — 56 percent — think reforming the pension system is necessary, the data showed.

But the proportion convinced of the need for change is falling, down five points since January 12, the survey group said.