Long-distinguished by her anti-immigrant views, far-right leader Marine Le Pen now has a real possibility of becoming the next president of France after what is expected to be a close contest in the second round of the French presidential election.
Her manifesto is full of promises to make moving to France, and living here as a non-French citizen, more difficult, so we asked readers of The Local how they feel about the upcoming elections.
More than 100 people responded, most of them foreign nationals living in France, the majority British or American, to share their views.
Overall, 94 percent of respondents said they were worried about the election result, 66 percent very worried, but two people told us that they were not worried at all and think Le Pen will make a great president.
In general their worries covered three areas; practical issues such as being unable to renew residency permits or access healthcare, a culture of increased discrimination or hatred towards non-French people under a Le Pen presidency and worries about Le Pen’s actions on the international stage such as taking France out of the EU and NATO.
Several respondents said that a Le Pen win would result in them leaving the country, but many others felt that France is their home and they intend to stay here, even if life becomes more difficult.
Le Pen’s election manifesto contains a number of pledges that concern foreigners who are already living in France.
These include introducing a language test in order to gain long-term residency, reducing the access of non-French people to benefits and healthcare and expelling from the country non-French people who are out of work.
Proposals around residency cards would affect all non-EU citizens who are currently required to have a visa or carte de séjour, including Brits and Americans, while plans to limit access to healthcare and benefits could include all non-French people, including EU citizens.
Heather Gardiner, in Gironde, said she and her husband have discussed leaving.
She said: “My fear is that racial hatred escalates and foreigners – especially non-white people – become increasingly victimised. Also the possibility that we could lose our residency status – this is our home, I have retired but my husband still works here.”
Tom Crawford, in Corrèze, said: “I fear my citizenship application will stall; having been a victim of Brexit I will feel even more robbed of being a European.”
Mary Vincent, in Puy-de-Dome, is considering moving to Spain if Le Pen wins, and told us she was particularly worried about access to healthcare.
Karen Holmes, in Charente, agreed, saying: “Probably not much would change initially but access to health care etc may get harder. I’ve felt a hardening towards British people since Brexit – I imagine that’s not going to improve under Le Pen.”
Gail Sweeney, in Normandy, simply said: “We’ll be lucky to be allowed to stay in France.”
Discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment
Many people told us that they worried that simply having Le Pen in charge would embolden people to be hateful or discriminatory towards foreigners in everyday life.
This fear was particularly pronounced among Americans, who had seen the same thing happen under the Donald Trump presidency.
Parisian resident Rebecca Brite told us: “I’m an immigrant (American, here 40+ years, not yet naturalised). If the Trump experience is any guide, electing a proto-fascist will encourage others of that ilk to act more freely.”
Emily G, also in Paris, is already researching jobs back in the US. She said: “The aggressive rise in hate crimes and open hate will manifest the way it did in the States following Trump’s “election.” We left the US to get away from that – and while we knew France wasn’t perfect (xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, etc.) it was still better than being back in the States. But we are a queer couple who fear a Le Pen presidency – will it be safe for us to exist here?”
Scott Mauldin, in Dordogne, said: “We saw from the Trump presidency in the US or after Brexit in the UK that an ascendant Far Right has consequences far beyond the policy decisions and actions of government officials; it is wind in the sails of racists and bigots, it is for many a call to celebrate ignorance and xenophobia.
“That is not the France where I wish to raise my son.”
Ian Hirst, in Creuse, said: “Whether or not her plans affect our residency directly (unknown under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement) the fact that other people who are here legitimately may be asked to leave fills me with horror and makes me doubt whether I would want to continue to live in a country with this mindset.
He added: “We’re looking at possible routes back to living in the UK which is also not very attractive with the current administration. As pensioners though, affordability is a major problem to finance a move back.”
Maria Regis-Constant, in Nantes, is already considering moving, saying: “If the majority of people vote Le Pen, I will take it as a clear message that I am not welcome in this country. Nor is my child, who is mixed race.”
John Ramsden, who lives in Charente, added: “Her right-wing government could lead to an increase in violence, hatred and intolerance of anything not in line with her ideals. She is, after all, a supporter of Putin, and is likely to adopt several of his governing methods.”
Le Pen’s foreign policy would mark a major change in direction for France, since she is anti-EU, anti-NATO and over the years has been supportive of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
She has said that she would try to rebuild an alliance with Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.
On the EU her policy has changed from advocating ‘Frexit’ in 2017 to her current policy of staying in the EU but refusing to obey EU rules on freedom of movement and refusing to make financial contributions – essentially amounting to a kind of ‘Frexit by stealth’.
Many British readers pointed out their own experiences of Brexit as a reason why exiting the EU would be a bad idea for France.
Dylan Rubens, who lives in Paris, said: “I left the UK following the Brexit referendum, sad and disillusioned with what my home country had become – an isolated, xenophobic loner. I feel that Le Pen is the French Brexit – a manifestation of political and economic failures leading to a rise in right-wing populism.
“My biggest concern is that a Le Pen election victory welcomes and emboldens right-wing sexist and racist rhetoric into the mainstream and causes more division in France, in a way that Brexit did in the UK.”
Kathleen Gray in Paris added: “Her policies on Europe and immigration worry me most. She could do untold damage to the EU, which Macron has done so much to consolidate, and she would make the lives of immigrants a misery.
“She’s a self-seeking populist and it would distress me that a majority of the electorate don’t see this, in the same way as it distresses me that the British electorate (except for the Scots) are taken in by the self-interested lies of Brexit and Boris Johnson.”
Moving to France
Although most of the survey respondents already live in France, some were people who are either in the process of moving, or have a long-term plan to move to France.
Le Pen’s manifesto calls for an end all non-economic immigration, so several readers told us that they worried that their plan to retire to France would no longer be possible.
Susan Osborne, of California, said: “This is purely selfish, but my first concern would be my inability as an American to retire here. I already own a small apartment in Paris, so am fearful the visa process may tighten and we’re no longer welcome.
“Our country suffered greatly, and still does, since Trump. I don’t want to be anywhere near a population that backs someone like him and I’am afraid those supporting Le Pen have NO idea what’s in store for their home country. NONE of it is good.”
Sandra Wells added: “I am in the process of selling up in the UK and moving to Bordeaux which I having been trying to do the past two years but due to Brexit and the pandemic it had been difficult – now I am holding off due to the worry of Le Pen, if she wins the election in France I shall look to a different European country to move to.
“The Tories are bad enough in the UK – if the Extreme Right get into France they will destroy the country much the same as the Tories have over the past 10 years or so in the UK.”
Jim Gavin is currently house-hunting in France. He said: “I won’t change plans right now, as don’t think Le Pen will win, but if she did, we probably wouldn’t come. It’d be the end of of French dream (and the end of France in many ways, and a severe setback to the whole EU project).”
But it wasn’t all bad – two people told us that they weren’t worried at all.
John Albert Marlow told us he thought Le Pen would be a great president, and Jennifer Willis in Paris agreed and said she thinks Le Pen will make her daily life safer.