Most of you knew it: things have just not been going right (or left) in France these last few years. The recent regional elections proved it again, no matter what are the final results. Is it a sign that the country is tumbling down and that the French political class does not have the courage to reform the country? Or that the French are racist? The problem is a different one, in my opinion.
The problem is not lack of reforms, as we may hear from Germany or from reading The Economist. In reality, the French government is undertaking a great deal of reforms and setting aside most of Hollande’s program. For example, the French social security deficit has been reduced by more than half since 2012, 50 billion euro will be granted to companies in tax credits until 2017, pensions and labor law have been reformed, the Macron Laws are deregulating a significant number of activities, including Sunday trading without wage compensation, etc. This may not seem like enough for some people in Europe, but as we have seen elsewhere, it is never enough for these guys. And I do believe that the French are no more racist than people can be in East or South Germany or in Italy. So what’s the problem then?
Front National has been on the rise since 2010-2011. What happened at the time? First of all, president Sarkozy began hunting on far right territory and speaking loudly about how problematic Schengen, migrants and insecurity were, and how valuable their national identity was. Then, there has been a corruption problem. In the North and Provence regions, some socialist local leaders were charged with corruption. Sarkozy and his republican party (ex-UMP) are also currently involved in a lot of cases, still unsettled to this day. Finally, and at the same time, Marine Le Pen took over her father’s party with a new strategy in mind: keeping the essentials but trying to appear more convenable, especially less anti-Semitic and more socially oriented. This is her dédiabolisation strategy.
And it is working wonders. People are not afraid to proclaim that they vote for ‘Marine’ anymore, in fact, they are even proud of it. And Hollande’s victory in 2012, who campaigned for ‘change now’ while pledging that he would propose only reasonable measures so as to be able to implement them once he would accede to power, did not stop the trend, given the fact that he soon abandoned most of his ‘reasonable’ propositions in favor of a very liberal tone. As I have mentioned, a lot of liberal reforms were indeed implemented. Thus, a lot of voters felt that “once again, the PS had betrayed them” and decide to abstain. Or that in fact right and left were the same; and so the only vote for change could be FN.
Finally, it was not just a liberal tone but also a conservative one. Hollande’s government pursued Sarkozy’s policies of exclusion and deportation regarding migrants and Romani. The socialist government upheld ethnic-based controls. The wearing of Islamic veils was debated again. Quite symbolically in France, the national budget in arts and culture was cut for the first time ever. Terrorist attacks and the fierce security response only further legitimated far right’s ideas. If France’s primary problem is islamist terrorists and barbarians, why shouldn’t the French vote for the party most determined to fight them? As you may know, the state of emergency only strengthened that, as borders’ control and liberties’ suspension were shown as the best answer to terrorism.
French politicians and intellectuals have in their majority stopped fighting the Front National. They have taken over some of Le Pen’s ideas, assured people that they understand their anger, and promised change that they do not deliver. Good, sincere and lower class people are being honest about FN. They may not believe that it is the solution for everything, but at least it is the only ‘party of change’. Euroscepticism now seems to be the social party. Muslims now seem to be the problem. The FN seems to be the only solution. And there is the tragedy.