Tuesday, April 24, 2012

French Far Right Challenges Both Europe and Sarkozy

At the New York Times, "French Far Right a Challenge for Europe and Sarkozy":

PARIS — To win re-election in the runoff on May 6 against the Socialist François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy will need the support of right-wing voters who have turned their backs on him, disappointed with his presidency.

But there are serious questions as to whether he can win them over, and even if he does, a strong shift to the right would make his European partners uneasy. The next two weeks of the campaign are likely to put a united Europe even more in the cross hairs, with Mr. Sarkozy calling for more protectionism and Mr. Hollande for more growth and easier money, challenging the German calls for austerity.

Already on Monday, major European leaders from Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, to Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, said they were disturbed by the level of support for the far right in France, and the markets are worried that the elections may disrupt efforts to solve the region’s debt and banking crisis.

Mr. Sarkozy won the presidency five years ago by attracting many supporters of the far-right National Front, but in Sunday’s first round, they deserted him, voting instead for the party’s own candidate, Marine Le Pen, who won about 18 percent of the ballots cast, a record for her party. Mr. Sarkozy won 1.6 million votes fewer than he did in the first round of 2007, when he got about 31 percent of the vote, compared with about 27 percent on Sunday.

Ms. Le Pen got twice as many votes as her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, did in 2007. She called it a fundamental change in French politics. “We have exploded the monopoly of the two parties,” she said. “Whatever might happen in the 15 days to come, the battle for France is only beginning. Nothing will ever be the same again.”

Still, France will have to choose between “the two parties” — Mr. Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement and Mr. Hollande’s Socialists — and which way the angry voters of France turn, from both the far left and far right, will decide the election. There are more right-leaning voters than left-leaning voters in France, but polls show that there is a significant group of right-wing voters who have apparently had enough of Mr. Sarkozy, even if the alternative is Mr. Hollande.

Ms. Le Pen and her officials called on her supporters to abstain on May 6 and instead concentrate on the legislative elections in June, and Ms. Le Pen’s father, the party’s founder, said bluntly that Mr. Sarkozy had lost.

Opinion polls are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to the National Front, since its supporters sometimes lie to pollsters about their intentions. But numerous Le Pen supporters share their leaders’ distaste for Mr. Sarkozy and the establishment of whatever stripe, and some youthful supporters of the National Front, jobless and angry about the European Union and globalization, are likely to find the social policies of Mr. Hollande more attractive than a continued dose of austerity. Despite her stands against immigration and radical Islam, Ms. Le Pen’s economic positions — including more state spending on jobs and benefits — were to the left.

Sylvain Crépon, a sociologist of extremist political movements at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, said that Ms. Le Pen had skillfully democratized xenophobia by “tying it in republicanism,” the values of secular France. That is a Sarkozy theme as well, as he has railed against unlabeled halal meat and full-face veils. Just last week, Mr. Sarkozy joined with Berlin in calling formally for a radical restructuring of the Schengen agreement that provides for visa-free travel in Europe and proposing that governments be allowed to re-establish national borders temporarily in the face of poorly controlled immigration on Europe’s borders.
And see Der Spiegel, "Le Pen's Result 'Is a Blemish on French Democracy'."