Marine Le Pen may have lost this time but the French far right is on the move

Marine Le Pen might have had little chance of winning this year’s French election, but that might not be the case in 2022. Her far-right party, like the new president, is "on the move".

Marine Le Pen may have lost this time but the French far right is on the move
Photo: AFP

While the headline figure of 66.1 percent suggests Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche! (On the move) movement trounced Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s second round vote, it doesn't tell the whole story.

The French far-right leader was not wrong when she said the result was “massive” for her party and indeed she too could claim to be moving forward. 

Le Pen pulled in 10.6 million votes, double the number her father Jean-Marie gained in the second round of the 2002 presidential election.

That number represented a new record, beating the 7.6 million the far-right leader picked up in the first round on April 23rd.

All the charts tell the same story: The National Front are on an upward trajectory, and who knows where it will take them in five year’s time.

“France avoided a clinical death but the disease still remains,” wrote Le Monde newspaper on Monday.

“The National Front is not finished,” said author and far right specialist Jean-Yves Camus.  

“We have to look ahead and we have no reason to believe the job market will change for the better in the next few years and we have no reason to believe the negative impacts of globalization will ease in the years to come. There may be a drop in the National Front, but they could rise again,” said Camus, whose latest book is titled Far Right Politics in Europe.

“If Macron does not bring something new and something strong especially in regards to the economy and also in regards to the way the political system works, suddenly he will have a very difficult time,” he told The Local.

In other words Macron is under immense pressure to deliver on his promise made on Sunday night to unite France and heal the divisions in the country.

READ ALSO: Why Le Pen was always likely to fail in her quest to match Trump

Photo: AFP

In front of thousands of supporters at the Louvre he promised to listen to the anger of those who had either voted against him (22%) or couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him, in other words the 34 percent who abstained or cast a blank vote. 

When he mentioned those who had voted for Le Pen during his victory speech it prompted boos from EU-flag-waving supporters.

But Macron stopped them in their tracks.

“Don’t whistle them,” he said. “They have expressed their anger and dismay. I respect that. But I will do everything I can in the next five years so there is no reason to vote extremes.”

But Marine Le Pen knows the issues that drove so many to back her such as immigration, identity, the role of Islam, anti-EU feelings, and of course high unemployment, will likely all be around in the years to come.

She believes that her “forgotten France”, as she calls the peripheral towns and villages that backed her in big number, is unlikely to be suddenly remembered by Macron, a liberal, pro-free market leader who favours the kind of policies that left these voters feeling abandoned in the first place.

Author Camus says many French are beyond the point of despair when it comes to their hatred for the country's political system. 

Macron can promise to hear their “anger and dismay”, but can he really do anything to heal it?

Le Pen knows however that she can’t just sit around and wait for more of the “losers” of globalisation to turn towards her.

Photo: AFP

Her National Front party is a tainted brand. Even before the election some 58 percent of the French people considered the National Front to be undemocratic.

And perhaps her surname is a burden too, thanks largely to her father, a convicted Holocaust denier.

She dropped both for her campaign in a bid to appear more electable, first calling herself just Marine and then stepping down as leader of the National Front after the first round. 

While she has detoxified the party's image to an extent, it still remains in the eyes of many voters a party polluted by anti-Semitism, racism and Islamophobia.

Hence Le Pen’s hint on Sunday night that she will put the National Front through a major makeover, including perhaps a name change.

She told supporters on Sunday night the National Front would “profoundly renew itself to be equal to this historic opportunity and the expectations expressed by the French in this second round.”

“I suggest we begin a profound transformation of our movement to create a new political force,” she said, adding: “I call on all patriots to join us.”

Separately her party deputy Florian Philippot suggested the party would change it’s name.

That image overhaul won’t happen before Le Pen’s next big challenge – the parliamentary elections in June.

She will have to prove there's substance to her statement that the National Front was now the country's “biggest opposition force”, given the collapse of the left and the right in the presidential election.

The National Front currently has only two MPs, she will be hoping to increase that number to above 20.

But Le Pen may face opposition, not least from her father, who immediately dismissed the idea of a name change.

Her powerful niece, the more hardline Marion Maréchal-Le Pen – long rumoured to be a potential successor – may also resist another change in direction.

She said the election result had been somewhat disappointing and “reflection” was needed. 

Marine Le Pen also has allegations hanging over her that she and her party defrauded the EU out of €300,000 of public funds. At some point she will need to answer the magistrates' summons that she has ignored up to now.

There’s no doubt the National Front party has some turbulent times ahead, but the far right knows that the “anger, fear and doubts” that push voters to the extreme will likely still be there in five years time.


Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”