Breaking Bad in France?
By Craig Young
13th April 2017 - 12:05 pm
It seems as if Marine Le Pen may not end up as the first French National Front President of France after all, as allegations about financial mismanagement continue to dog her campaign, but centre-right candidate Francois Fillion is similarly afflicted. It seems as if like the Netherlands, France may buck the trend toward anti-immigrant racist populist ascendancy. So who benefits from this?
In the case of Marine Le Pen, she has tried to soften the image of her party as extremist, withdrawing controversial planks in support of the restoration of capital punishment, opposition to abortion access and wholesale opposition to LGBT relationship equality- although she supports civil unions rather than same-sex marriage proper, which was introduced in France in 2013, at the same time as New Zealand legislated for it.
Since Le Pen announced her presidential campaign in April 2016, she has had a difficult time finding finance. Her opposition to the open economy and free trade has antagonised French and other European banks, so the Front National has had to borrow money from the First Czech-Russian bank in Moscow, at the very time that Russia attracted international condemnation for its annexation of the Crimea in 2014. She is currently in trouble at the European Parliament for tweeting an image of beheaded ISIS victim, journalist James Foley, to buttress her anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant campaign. She is also under investigation for spending European Parliament funds on her party, although the Front National is Eurosceptic, opposing French membership of the European Union, a single European currency, the Treaty of Maastricht, free trade and globalisation. She also opposes further privatisation of French state assets, energy utility price increases, low corporate taxation against the interests of French small business, French membership of NATO, World Trade Organisation, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
However, the Front National's core policy is its opposition to immigration, asylum seekers, refugees and Muslim inclusion within French society. She claims to support the separation of faith and state, although it is significant that this only seems to be targeted toward instances where mosque construction and state use of imams as Muslim chaplains within prisons, schools and other environments is underway. Commendably, she has condemned Norwegian white supremacist terrorist Anders Breivik and the neofascist British National Party, noting that the National Front has more in common with the United Kingdom Independence Party and Freedom Party of Austria. However, it should be noted that her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, is opposed to marriage equality and that violent nationalist and neofascist factions participated in lawlessness, vandalism and mayhem during marches against marriage equality mounted by French religious social conservatives, often antagonising more moderate religious conservatives such as Virginie Tellene, former leader of Manif Pour Tous. The European financial scandal has eaten heavily into Marine Le Pen's presidential campaign support, and may be eroding her efforts to spin the French National Front as a moderate anti-market centre-right nationalist party, more akin to the United Kingdom Independence Party and New Zealand First.
At present, the French National Front is only represented within the European Parliament, with only two seats within the French National Assembly, although numerous local council mayoralties. However, conservative French LGBT voters appear to have fallen under her spell despite her opposition to marriage equality, given her pinkwashing of party public relations through employing right-wing white gay men who espouse simplistic Islamphobic populism and ignore extremist French conservative Catholic elements that also support the National Front in the countryside. French terrorist ordeals have affected perceptions of Islam, strengthening the National Front's potential electoral appeal, although this strikes one as a vicious circle. Promoting National Front neofascism will only exacerbate French problems with radical Islamist terrorism given its radical demonisation of French Muslims and calls for racist anti-immigration policies.
As the fortunes of Marine Le Pen and the French National Front ebb, the chief beneficiary is not the moderate centre-right. In January 2017, French news media broke the story that Francois Fillon, the standardbearer for the Republican Party (formerly the Union for a Popular Movement) had apparently been employing his wife as an alleged "parliamentary consultant", yet with no documented evidence that she performed any duties in this context, on two occassions. This has led to investigations of embezzlement of public funds and a steep dive in opinion polls. Francois Fillon is a conservative Catholic opponent of abortion and marriage equality, but this ongoing quagmire seems to have severely damaged his electoral chances.
The chief beneficiary instead seems to be Emmanuel Macron, a former Socialist Party member, public sector auditor, investment banker and Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs under the incumbent Socialist government of Francois Hollande. He supports free trade, NATO, liberal immigration laws, continued European Union membership, alternative energy investment and development, and is a social liberal when it comes to abortion rights, LGBT rights and marriage equality, assisted suicide and drug policy. At the moment, given the eclipse of Fillon and Le Pen due to their own hubris and possible corruption, he seems set to become the next French President. However, his performance during presidential debates has been criticised, and Le Pen has drawn level with him once again, with a fortnight or so before the first round of French presidential electioneering on April 23 begins.
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