The French National Front Lost – And Yet It Remains A Force A sinificant minority of French voters feel alienated

WASHINGTON – In the end, Marine Le Pen, her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, and the National Front won absolutely nothing in France’s second round vote for regional election that was held on December 13. After its shocking December 6 first round victory across the entire country, the National Front, an anti-system, anti-EU, nationalist extreme right-wing party, was successfully stopped in the decisive second round by the resourcefulness of its opponents.

Unusual coalition

An unusual last minute united front of left wing Socialists, the party in power at the national level led by President Francois Hollande, and the opposition conservative Republicans led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy  prevented any National Front victory in any of the regions.

The ladies lost 

In the two regions, North (Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie) and South (Provence-Alpes-Cot d’Azur), where Marine, (the national leader), and Marion Le Pen, (her niece and rising star), were leading by a large margin after the first round, the two establishment parties joined forces and managed to field just one candidate instead of two, this way getting enough votes to reach a majority and block both of the National Front national leaders. No other National Front candidate managed to win anywhere else. The vote was a good show for this nationalist force, but not enough.

So, is this the end of the National Front ascent? Was the December 6 surprise first place, after the first round of voting, just a bizarre blip? Well, not just a blip.

Significant minority 

True enough, as the December 13 second round vote proved, the National Front is not strong enough to win nationally. However, in the two regions were both Marine Le Pen and her niece Marion were leading after December 6 vote, they both got more than 40% of the votes in the second round. Clearly not enough to get elected against a coalition of the other 2 main parties. But a remarkable result nonetheless. The National Front on a national average now speaks for about 20% to 30% or more of the nation, depending on the regions.

This is by no means a majority; but it is a significant minority united by its strident anti-immigrant, nationalistic, xenophobic, protectionist, anti-EU message. The other French politicians should be smart enough to appreciate that the National Front, while still a minority voice, has changed the game. Ignoring this fact would be foolish.

Alienated voters 

The fact is that a sizable portion of French voters feel completely alienated. They no longer trust the old-fashioned political process dominated by the traditional center left and center right parties.

Prosperity and security 

Now they believe in the populist, right-wing message delivered by the two Le Pen leaders, because they see themselves lost in a rudderless country. France is drifting, it is in economic decline. There is little or no growth, and high unemployment, while many fear losing their jobs. And now there is fear.

After the November 13 Paris terror attacks many French citizens are afraid that millions of non assimilated immigrants, most of them Muslims, are actually enemies of the nation living among them. These scared French citizens demand security, jobs, and protection. The other parties appear slow and tentative. The National Front speaks with confidence and determination about security and restoring patriotism. Hence the support it gets.

Regain the confidence of disaffected voters

So, here is the challenge for the political establishment. The traditional parties should re-invent themselves. They must regain the trust of millions of disaffected voters with a message of hope and strength.

But can they? I am not so sure.

If they do not, their inaction will open up the possibility of a replay of the December 6 National Front upset, some time in the future. This time around the Socialists and the Republicans managed to rally their base, create a united front where needed, and prevent any National Front candidates to win. Is this going to work next time?

Other Europeans should watch closely 

As for France’s European partners, they should watch future developments in France and in other states very closely. There are political forces similar to the National Front in several European countries: from The Netherlands to Hungary, from Finland to Poland and Italy.

Hard to believe that the European integration process will stay intact, let alone make much progress, with so many nationalist, anti-EU political forces openly opposing it.

Let’s be clear on this. Even though it clearly lost these regional elections, the National Front changed the political conversation, in France and in Europe.

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