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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Frustration of French Voters Will Play into Le Pen’s Hands in the Long Run

The Front Républicain's plan to stop Le Pen may ultimately backfire.

After the first round of voting last Sunday, the French electorate decided to send independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (23.8 percent) and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen (21.6 percent) to the next round of voting on May 7th.

The “Front Républicain” is a coalition of various parties united against Le Pen.

Opponents of Le Pen’s radical policies are now calling for a gathering of the so-called “Front Républicain,” the Republican Front.

Front Républicain

Inspired by the name of Le Pen’s National Front, the Republican Front gathers those who reject the rampant nationalist positions of the French far-right, which they consider contrary to the “Republican spirit.”

While not an established party in itself, the Republican Front represents a coalition of different parties in the République against a particularly unpopular candidate like Marine Le Pen.

Round One

Centre-right François Fillon (20 percent) and socialist Benoît Hamon (6.3 percent), the candidates from both establishment parties which were eliminated in the first round, both expressed their support for Emmanuel Macron in order to avoid “the catastrophe that would be Marine Le Pen.” Sunday night marked a televised parade featuring the Members of Parliament, senators, and mayors from many different parties, all rallying behind Macron and against Le Pen.

This phenomenon isn’t new, in fact, it’s something that has become a habit at the regional level and in parliamentary elections.

Voter’s Dilemma 

The last time the Republican Front rallied together was in 2002, when centre-right Jacques Chirac ran against Jean-Marie Le Pen—Marine Le Pen’s father.

Consequently, Chirac won the second round with 80 percent of the vote. Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, is unlikely to repeat this landslide in the upcoming vote on May 7th. In fact, the first polls project that he could only reach 62 percent.

The National Front has one essential campaign slogan: we are the political outsiders.

For many French voters, the second round is an ideological dilemma. If for instance, the candidate they were supporting fails to progress to the next round, they may be more or less forced to throw their support behind a candidate with whom they have severe disagreements.

Now, the country’s political role models and media personalities expect the electorate to cast a “vote utile,” the “useful vote,” preventing Le Pen from coming to power. And ultimately that is exactly what will happen.

Both candidates will get involved in heated debates but in the end, the gathering of the Republic Front, with all mainstream parties rallying behind Macron in order to avoid Le Pen, will prevent the French nationalist from taking the Elysée Palace.

And yet, the consequences of this policy might be dangerously ill-advised.

Political Outsiders 

For years, the National Front has run on one essential campaign slogan: we are the political outsiders.

In every election, whether local or national, the political establishment has proven this sentiment correct by supporting whichever establishment candidate squared-off against the nationalist party.

In other words, the prophecies of the Le Pen family have been proven right for the last 15 years.

Le Pen Legacy

In many elections since Jean-Marie Le Pen’s successful 2002 qualification to the second round, the National Front has gained support and has started closing the gap between itself and the Republican Front.

On May 7th, the coalition attempting to stop Le Pen might turn out to be beneficial, yet in the long-run, this policy is bound to fail.

French cynicism will result in the National Front marching straight through the gates of the Elysée Palace.

Supporters of far-left and eurosceptic Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19.5 percent), a candidate who praised former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and mourned the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, are now supposed to feel obligated to turn up to vote for Emmanuel Macron. Macron is an EU-supporting investment banker who, as Minister of the Economy, implemented reforms that liberalized the labor market.

For many members of the political Left, Le Pen’s economic policies, such as her positions on protectionism, are already largely supported. How long until the average voter will see little to no difference between establishment politicians and the National Front?

Topics such as the refugee crisis, rising anti-EU sentiments, and severe security concerns will continue to occupy French political life for years to come. And while it is unlikely that Marine Le Pen will be able to take the presidency after the vote in May, her family tree offers enough political offspring to impact the future of French politics. Notably, it is widely assumed that her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, will continue to uphold the family legacy.

The dilemma now faced by millions of French voters will eventually transform into frustration and then into upset until typical French cynicism results in the National Front marching straight through the gates of the Elysée Palace.

  • Bill Wirtz is a Young Voices Advocate and a FEE Eugene S. Thorpe Fellow. His work has been featured in several outlets, including Newsweek, Rare, RealClear, CityAM, Le Monde and Le Figaro. He also works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.

    Learn more about him at his website