The growing popularity of the far right is related to the EU problems: low growth rates, high unemployment, debts and, of course, the influx of refugees.
Last Sunday, France’s far-right Front National won more votes than any other party in the first round of the country's regional elections, possibly paving the way for taking power in a number of French regions. In an exclusive interview with valdaiclub.com Yuri Rubinsky, Professor at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics and Head of the Center for French Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for European Studies, explained the significance of this victory and reasons behind the party’s improving electoral performance.
The success of Front National reflects a broader European trend, Rubinsky said. “The growing popularity of the far right is related to the EU problems: low growth rates, high unemployment, debts and, of course, the influx of refugees.”
Since 1958 France has had a de facto two-party system represented by the socialists and the moderate right, Rubinsky said. These two political forces have ruled the country at all levels and the dismal results of their governance have caused the current crisis in trust for both the top leaders and the political elites as such.
France’s big government model of socioeconomic development inherited from the postwar era, when it was efficient, is clearly obsolete, Rubinsky said. While UK and Germany have been able to overcome problems related to excessive government role, France is lagging behind.
“Fifty-seven percent of the nation’s GDP is channeled through the government and the volume of tax liabilities is equivalent to 43% of the GDP. In a globalized economy, this causes serious problems: budget deficit, balance of trade deficit, plus government debt accounting for 95% as a share of the nation’s GDP,” the scholar said.
The success of Front National is directly related to the fact that problems stemming from this state of affairs have not been resolved by the traditional parties, Rubinsky pointed out. Another reason is the fear of new terrorist attacks perpetrated by French-born Islamists, similar to those that hit Paris this year, he added.
The biggest change that Front National has undergone over the past two decades is that it now wants to become a mainstream political force, something Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine Le Pen, the current party leader, always shunned, Rubinsky said. “Marine Le Pen got rid of her father, who was excluded from the party for discrediting (racist, anti-Semitic etc.) comments, and took a course on turning the party into an element of the political system. Now she has a chance to make it to the second round of the 2017 presidential election.”
“It is the presidential election prospect that matters now,” Rubinsky explained. “After the presidential term was reduced from seven years to five, electoral campaigns have become more frequent enabling Front National to boost its influence”.
Referring to the problem of competence at Front National cited by many analysts, Rubinsky admitted it was real. “Due to domination of the systemic parties at the top of the ruling elites Front National is short of competent functionaries,” he said. However, this is not a problem for the voters, who point to the dismal situation brought about by supposedly competent members of the traditional elites, he added.
Le Pen’s program is simple, Rubinsky said: “advantaging French-born citizens when hiring workers and distributing social benefits, stemming migration, introducing border controls, quitting the euro zone”. Interestingly, she has borrowed populist slogans from the far-left, like reducing the retirement age from 62 back to 60.
At a time when trust in the country's political elites is at a low, this combination of populist promises is appealing for the masses, and it is almost certain that she will make it to the second round of the next presidential election, Rubinsky said. The only question is who her opponent will be, he concluded.