Huge gains for Le Pen as Macron government loses majority

Voting has ended across France in today’s decisive second round of elections for the National Assembly.

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (previously the National Front) achieved perhaps the greatest election result in the postwar history of European nationalism, advancing from eight seats in 2017 to 89 seats today.

At previous Assembly elections the two-round electoral system tended to favour ‘centrist’ candidates. The big exception was in 1986, when Socialist President François Mitterrand deliberately introduced a proportional representation system to divide the conservative vote, boosting the RN’s predecessor Front National, led by Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie. The FN gained 35 seats at that 1986 election but immediately slipped back two years later when the PR system was abolished.

Today’s election reversed that usual pattern, with heavy losses for both President Macron’s party and for the French conservatives, now known as ‘Republicans’.

Le Pen’s RN won 89 seats today and will be the third-largest block in the new Assembly, where President Macron’s coalition has lost exactly a hundred seats and will be 42 seats short of a majority.

One early result was the defeat of Macron’s health minister Brigitte Bourguignon, who lost her constituency in Pas-de-Calais by just 56 votes to Le Pen’s candidate Christine Engrand.

Similarly the President of the National Assembly, Macron supporter Richard Ferrand, narrowly lost his seat in Finistère to a far-left candidate. Other members of the government losing their seats to leftists included ecology minister Amélie de Montchalin and sports minister Roxana Maracineanu (a silver medallist in swimming at the 2000 Sydney Olympics). Ms Maracineanu lost her seat in a Paris suburb to an African woman who was famous for leading a cleaners’ strike at one of the French capital’s biggest hotels.

Lame duck presidents? Emmanuel Macron (above right with Joe Biden) waves goodbye to credible government.

Exit poll projections were highly accurate in predicting excellent results for both the RN and for the left-wing coalition formed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which will be the main opposition in the new Assembly. This left-green coalition won 142 seats, with another thirteen won by assorted left-wingers who don’t accept Mélenchon’s leadership. Other MPs from tiny parties include the Eurosceptic Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, easily re-elected in the constituency he has represented now for 25 years, who on many issues will vote with the FN.

Today’s result is a remarkable boost for Marine Le Pen, who as recently as February seemed likely to be ousted from her leadership of French nationalism by an alliance of her niece Marion Maréchal and controversial journalist Éric Zemmour. The new Zemmour-Maréchal party Reconquête crashed out of the Assembly elections last weekend, failing to qualify for a single second-round contest, whereas Le Pen’s RN has achieved the greatest result in the history of French nationalism.

Five years ago mainstream commentators confidently predicted a new era of ‘centrism’ under Macron, but the French Fifth Republic now increasingly resembles the German Weimar Republic of 1919-1933.

The July-August edition of H&D will reflect on the progress (or otherwise) of nationalists across Europe, including these French elections as well as local elections in Italy whose second round was also held today, and an important regional election in Andalusia, southern Spain.

(NOTE: Some commentators give a figure of 88 rather than 89 RN Assembly members elected today. This is because of the ambiguous status of Marie-France Lorho, re-elected in a southern constituency based around the town of Orange. Technically, Mme Lorho was elected as a candidate of the League of the South, a tiny breakaway party founded in 2010 by former FN mayor Jacques Bompard. However while Bompard was affiliated with Zemmour this year, Mme Lorho is aligned with Marine Le Pen and can be counted as the 89th RN Assembly member.)

French nationalist divisions contrast with leftist unity as Le Pen’s party slips to third place

Posters for rival nationalist candidates in Montpellier

The first round of elections to the National Assembly yesterday delivered a sharp setback to the ‘centrist’ President Emmanuel Macron and modest advances for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. This follows the presidential election two months ago when Macron defeated Le Pen, despite the latter achieving the best nationalist result in postwar European history.

Le Pen’s Rassemblement National finished in third place with 18.7% of the first round vote. This compares to 13.2% at the previous Assembly election in 2017 but is well down on her 23.2% in the presidential election’s first round two months ago.

A feature of this Assembly election is that the far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has managed to rally most French socialists and greens into a united slate. This leftist slate known as NUPES finished with 25.66% – less than 0.1% behind President Macron’s slate which polled 25.75%. (The newspaper Le Monde calculated the results slightly differently, showing the NUPES slate a fraction ahead of the President’s.)

It was a bad night for both the conservative Republicans and for Marine Le Pen’s nationalist rival Éric Zemmour.

The Republicans polled just 10.4%, even worse than polls had predicted: a historic defeat for the French centre-right which raises serious questions about its future viability.

An election leaflet distributed in Bedous, close to the French border with Spain, for Margaux Taillefer, one of the leaders of the Zemmour campaign’s youth wing ‘Generation Z’. The leaflet highlights Zemmour’s alliance with Marion Maréchal.

Meanwhile Zemmour’s party Reconquête which once seemed set to overtake the RN as the main party of French nationalism polled 4.2% – less than a quarter of the RN vote. The big losers from such a dismal result are not only Zemmour himself but also his ally Marion Maréchal (Marine Le Pen’s niece) who now has much work to do if she is to re-establish herself as the future leader of French nationalism. Another significant Reconquête defeat was in Maréchal’s Provençal region Vaucluse where Stanislas Rigault – 23-year-old president of Zemmour’s youth wing ‘Generation Z’ – was a distant fourth with only 10.5%.

Maréchal was Rigault’s ‘substitute candidate’ – a French system designed to avoid National Assembly by-elections. If an Assembly members dies or quits to accept executive office, the substitute takes his place. To add insult to injury for Rigault and Maréchal, Le Pen’s candidate topped the poll and will go into next week’s second round against a pro-Macron candidate.

It seems that the Zemmour faction has recruited many of the best and brightest of young French nationalist activists, but has not convinced voters. A bad situation for the movement overall.

In his own constituency east of Toulon on the Mediterranean coast, Zemmour was knocked out in the first round after polling 23.2%, a shade behind Le Pen’s RN candidate on 24.7% and a pro-Macron candidate on 28.5%. It will be a bitter pill for Zemmour to swallow, but presumably he will endorse the Le Pen candidate in next week’s run-off, and frankly he no longer has much of a negotiating position. (Unsurprisingly the other seven Reconquête votes across Zemmour’s Var département were even worse, and all of the Var constituencies will face second round run-offs between RN and pro-government candidates.)

Another high-profile Reconquête candidate was Damien Rieu, founder of the anti-immigration youth group Generation Identity, standing in France’s most south-eastern constituency which runs from Nice to the Italian border. Rieu finished fifth with only 10.7%; his RN rival Alexandra Masson topped the poll and will go into another of the second round contests between Le Pen and Macron supporters which will be a feature of the Provence, Alpine and Côte d’Azur region next Sunday.

The crushing defeat of Stanislas Rigault (above left), president of the youth wing of Zemmour’s party, in Marion Maréchal’s home region was a blow to Ms Maréchal’s long-term ambition to lead French nationalism

By contrast Marine Le Pen easily won her home constituency in northern France, which includes the town of Hénin-Beaumont, with 54% of the vote. However due to the low turnout (which meant even this vote was only 22.5% of the electorate) she faces the formality of a run-off against the left’s candidate next week.

In all but five cases there will be a second round next Sunday, as only candidates who achieve more than 50% and more than 25% of their constituency’s electorate are elected outright in the first round. One of the very few to be elected on the first round today was far-left candidate Alexis Corbière who polled 62.9% (!) in his part of Seine – St Denis, which includes the notorious multiracial suburb of Montreuil. (This is sometime called Mali’s second-largest city, as it includes so many immigrants from the former French colony.) Nationwide a total of four leftists were elected on the first round, and one of President Macron’s ‘centrists’.

Any candidate who achieves 12.5% or more of the electorate in the first round can qualify for the second: on a low turnout election such as this one, this in practice means only the top two candidates from the first round. There will only be eight ‘triangular’, three-way contests in next week’s second round, and 564 two-way contests. Of these, 278 feature Macron’s party against the left; 110 Macron’s party against Le Pen’s RN; 62 the left against RN; 29 conservatives against RN; 29 conservatives against the left; and 22 conservatives against Macron’s party.

Former education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer was one of several ‘centrist’ technocrats backed by President Macron to be knocked out in today’s first round

The first result declared – from a constituency in the Loire Valley of central France – showed the incumbent ‘centrist’ defeated after being pushed into third place. The second round run-off in this constituency next week will be between a veteran Communist (backed by the united left-green slate) and the candidate of Marine Le Pen’s RN. The ‘centrist’ vote fell from 33.3% in 2017 to 22.6% today, and the conservative candidate was a distant fourth with 12.3%.

In another Loire Valley constituency further north, another of Macron’s candidates – former education minister and typical Parisian technocrat Jean-Michel Blanquer – was ousted, creating another run-off between the left and the RN.

Many more results such as these, and France will be approaching Weimar Republic territory! Various analysts have projected that after next week’s second round Macron’s coalition will either lose its majority in the Assembly, or have a sharply reduced majority, with the main opposition now coming from the left, but with Le Pen’s RN holding something between 20 and 45 seats, compared to just eight seats won under the old FN label in 2017.

France is roughly split into four camps, each with about a quarter of the electorate. One quarter backs the President and his ‘centrist’ allies; another backs Mélenchon’s left-green alliance; another backs a nationalist (either of the Le Pen or Zemmour stripe); and the final quarter is an assortment of folk who for various reasons do not fit into any of the above (including dissident leftists, regionalists, and various protest votes). These fringe candidates include those who (as in the UK) persist in the strange belief that there is some electoral mileage in wild conspiracy theories about the CoVID pandemic and rhetoric about ‘freedom’. Such candidates (as in the UK) achieved little more than joke votes even when they were minor celebrities: for example ‘radical’ singer-songwriter and anti-vaccination campaigner Francis Lalanne was in eighth place with 2.2% in the Charente region of south-western France.

Former President François Hollande (above right with Benjamin Netanyahu) denounced the left-green alliance for ‘anti-semitism’ and backed his own slate of ‘centre-left’, pro-Israel socialists, all of whom were heavily defeated.

Perhaps the worst humiliation was suffered by the rump of the once-powerful French Socialist Party that refused to go into Mélenchon’s left-green alliance. These sad remnants of the 1990s centre-left were endorsed by former President François Hollande, who like his contemporary Tony Blair has still not grasped that their project of business-friendly, pro-immigration, pro-New World Order social democracy has been rejected by the working-class voters they despise and by most of the younger, educated generation they once courted. Every single one of these ‘moderate’ socialists was decisively defeated in yesterday’s first round.

Bear in mind that around half of the electorate did not vote at all in the first round, despite the apparently wide ideological choice offered!

Unlike the UK, France has eleven constituencies for French citizens living abroad. The third of these is made up predominantly of French citizens living in the UK (though also including far smaller numbers living in the Baltic States, Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland). This constituency will face a run-off between the pro-Macron candidate who polled 38.5% and the leftist alliance candidate (in this case a green) who polled 31.5%.

Unsurprisingly among this group of business folk and academics, Le Pen’s RN polled very badly indeed – only 1.7% – and was well-beaten even by Zemmour’s candidate who managed 3.5%. Pretty much the only demographics where Zemmour’s party is stronger than the RN are among very affluent nationalists and young intellectual nationalists. For example in the socially exclusive 7th arrondissement of Paris, Zemmour’s candidate polled 8.7% and Le Pen’s candidate only 3.2%.

The unfortunate situation for the French right is that such unrepresentative elite folk are not by themselves a basis for winning an election, but it’s difficult to build an effective movement without an elite cadre.

It will be up to the bitterly divided RN and Reconquête leaders to resolve this problem quickly.

Huge increase in Le Pen vote – but another defeat

Marine Le Pen conceding defeat this evening

Marine Le Pen – leader of the nationalist party Rassemblement National (formerly the National Front) –has lost the French presidential election to former banker and ‘centrist’ Emmanuel Macron by a margin of 58.5% to 41.5%.

More than 13 million French voters backed Le Pen. This is by far the strongest vote for a nationalist candidate in postwar French history – up from 33.9% (10.6 million votes) in the equivalent second round in 2017, and 17.9% (6.4 million votes) when Marine Le Pen was knocked out in the first round in 2012.

When her father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round in 2002, he polled 17.8% (5.5 million votes). His daughter Marine took over as leader of the Front National in January 2011, then renamed the party as Rassemblement National (National Rally).

Nationalists in France and elsewhere will naturally be disappointed by Marine Le Pen’s third presidential defeat, and there will be much speculation as to whether she can credibly campaign for a fourth time in 2027.

The initial challenge will be to present a unified nationalist campaign at the National Assembly elections in two months’ time. As with the presidency, the two-round electoral system is weighted against nationalists, because even if they ‘win’ the first round, RN candidates tend to face a united front of liberals, leftists and ‘moderate’ conservatives in the second round.

Marine Le Pen with her father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen: their views of nationalist strategy eventually diverged

One of Marine Le Pen’s greatest strengths has been her ability to build RN support among working-class voters in depressed post-industrial areas such as her home constituency of Hénin-Beaumont in the northern French region of Pas-de-Calais.

However her determination to ‘dedemonise’ her party led to an obsession with avoiding allegations of ‘racism’ or ‘antisemitism’. The RN became utterly determined to remove any racial component to its nationalism, and to denounce the wartime government of Marshal Philippe Pétain (even though in his time Pétain was supported by an overwhelming majority of French citizens).

This rewriting of history and redefinition of French identity provoked many traditional French patriots this year into rejecting Marine Le Pen in favour of rival nationalist candidate Éric Zemmour. Among those to endorse Zemmour was the RN leader’s own niece Marion Maréchal, as H&D‘s Tony Paulsen explained in an article for this website.

Eventually Zemmour’s presidential campaign collapsed and he polled only 7.1% in the election’s first round two weeks ago, compared to Marine Le Pen’s 23.2%.

Marion Maréchal (above left) endorsed Éric Zemmour in the first round of this year’s presidential election. Will she be able to repair relations with her aunt Marine Le Pen? And is Marion Maréchal still the eventual successor as leader of French nationalism?

Will there now be a swing in favour of the new Zemmour / Maréchal party Réconquete? And will that party be able to strike electoral pacts with RN candidates at the Assembly elections in June?

Most critically, what will the new balance be within French nationalism? Marine Le Pen’s social nationalism aimed at repairing the extreme inequalities in post-industrial France, or Zemmour’s focus on reassuring the middle-class? Zemmour’s outspoken engagement with racial questions, or Le Pen’s multiracial civic nationalism?

H&D will focus on these and related questions in our next edition to be published early in May, and will have further analysis later in 2022 of the choices facing European nationalists.

Le Pen heads for second round run-off in French presidential battle

Marine Le Pen is contesting her third (and possibly last) presidential election, having polled 17.9% in 2012 and 21.3% in 2017

Marine Le Pen – leader of the French nationalist party Rassemblement National (‘National Rally’ formerly the Front National) is heading for a second-round showdown with the incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron, after winning the support of more than 8 million French voters, almost 500,000 more than she obtained in 2017. The second round will be in two weeks time, on April 24th.

Macron was the clear first-round winner with 27.8% (slightly better than the final opinion polls had suggested) ahead of Le Pen on 23.2%. The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon was in third place with 22% (well ahead of his opinion poll ratings).

Le Pen’s nationalist rival Éric Zemmour – who had won the support of Marion Maréchal, granddaughter of FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, and many former RN activists – had been running level with Le Pen until late February, each with about 16%, but finished in fourth place with 7.1%, ahead of the conservative candidate Valerie Pécresse who fell to a historic low of 4.8%, only just ahead of the Green candidate Yannick Jadot on 4.6%.

Both Zemmour and Pécresse fared worse than polls had predicted. Since February’s opinion polls, Mélenchon has doubled his vote, while Zemmour’s vote has halved and Pécresse’s shrunk by two-thirds!

This is a disastrous result for French conservatives, who spent a fortune on their campaign believing they had a chance of overtaking Le Pen and qualifying for the second round. It had seemed inconceivable that they could fall below 5%, a vitally important threshold for qualifying for millions of euros in campaign subsidies from the French state.

Meanwhile the Mayor of Paris and candidate of the once-powerful Socialist Party, Anne Hidalgo, polled only 1.7% – tenth of the twelve candidates on the first round ballot paper – confirming her party’s slide into irrelevance. The socialists have less of a financial crisis than the conservatives, because they knew from the start they were not going to reach the 5% hurdle, so they cut their spending accordingly.

Overall turnout was 74%, the second-lowest in modern French history (though higher than any UK election since 1992).

Eric Zemmour had until a month ago seemed likely to challenge Marine Le Pen for leadership of French nationalism, but first round results have confirmed that his campaign ran out of steam

The biggest surprise is that Zemmour did not win a single region, even in the south of France where Marion Maréchal has her power base. It had been thought that while Marine Le Pen would be stronger in the north and in working-class areas, the southern middle-class would desert her for Zemmour.

Le Pen did indeed poll strongly in the north, winning the Hauts-de-France region with 33.4% and taking her strongest département within that region – Pas de Calais – with 38.7%.

But Zemmour’s challenge collapsed in the south.

Le Pen won the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region in south-eastern France with 27.6%, while even though this was predictably Zemmour’s best region he finished fourth with 11.7%.

Zemmour did finish ahead of Le Pen in Paris, though neither of the nationalist candidates are very strong in the increasingly multi-ethnic capital. Le Pen took only 5.5% of the Parisian vote compared to Zemmour’s 8.2%. If one includes the entire Île-de-France region which includes both Paris and its outer suburbs, some of which are very multi-ethnic, the winner was far-left candidate Mélenchon with 30.2%, no doubt boosted by a heavy turnout of immigrants alarmed by Zemmour’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Marine Le Pen is far better placed than any previous nationalist candidate to persuade working-class voters who might have voted Mélenchon in the first round to back her against Macron in the second, though left-wing activists and media will campaign hard for an ‘anti-fascist’ vote.

French nationalist politics in crisis: is this the end for Marine Le Pen?

A political family in happier times: (above left to right) Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marion Maréchal, and Marine Le Pen.

Recent issues of Heritage and Destiny have commented on serious political problems for Marine Le Pen, who this year is fighting her third and perhaps last French presidential election.

Ever since the early 1980s the once fractious world of ‘far right’ French politics has been effortlessly dominated by the Le Pen family: first Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the Front National (National Front), and then his daughter Marine, who renamed the party Rassemblement National (National Rally) as part of a continuing effort to win acceptance in mainstream politics – a process termed dédiabolisation (‘dedemonisation’).

Both of the Le Pens were (until now) assisted by the weakness of rival claimants to leadership of French nationalism. Yet in recent months a credible and charismatic rival has emerged – author and television personality Éric Zemmour.

Due to his Jewish ancestry (and at least semi-observant Jewish faith), Zemmour is partly exempt from the stigma usually attached (since 1945) to any European politician to the right of mainstream conservatism. While Marine Le Pen has aimed for respectability, Zemmour has aimed for maximum outrage, on issues ranging from Islam to the CoVID pandemic.

During the last few days several prominent figures in the National Rally have defected to Zemmour’s camp, and even Marine Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal told an interviewer that she would not be supporting her aunt, and might endorse Zemmour.

Criticising her aunt for “incessant ideological and programme changes …[showing] lack of logic and vision”, she hinted:
“I’m thinking about it. I haven’t decided. If I support Éric, [it] would not just be a question of passing by and saying hello. It would mean returning to politics. It’s a real life choice, a heavy decision.”

Éric Zemmour, Jewish challenger for leadership of French nationalism

One of many issues here is that MLP has striven so hard to be more Zionist than the Chief Rabbi, that she is not only outflanked on the anti-Islam issue by Zemmour, but to some extent on the ‘Jewish Question’ (or ‘Questions’) as well!

Zemmour has openly called for the rehabilitation of Marshal Philippe Pétain and his wartime government based at Vichy – which was in its day supported by the vast majority of French citizens but quickly demonised after 1944-45; and for repeal of the French anti-revisionist law known as the Gayssot Law (or more precisely the Gayssot-Fabius Law), which was drafted primarily to criminalise the late Prof. Robert Faurisson and should perhaps therefore be termed Lex Faurissoniana.

Marine Le Pen by contrast has openly supported this anti-revisionist law, as part of comprehensive efforts to distance herself from her father’s perceived ‘anti-semitism’. In order to ‘dedemonise’ herself she has steadily adopted the ‘mainstream’ demonisation of European fascism, national-socialism, and even Pétain’s French traditionalism.

She has now confronted the doubters in her own party, asking them to “leave now if you want to go. Having people here while their heart or their mind is elsewhere is unbearable. It is a total lack of dignity and respect towards all of our supporters.”

The latest development is that 93-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen has called on his niece and her supporters to remain loyal to Marine, while also hinting that even he feels some sympathy for the Zemmour campaign. Some might question his motives for this intervention, but undoubtedly the last few days have seen what was already an unusually interesting presidential election become even more so: perhaps a turning point in the history of postwar European nationalism.

The March-April edition of H&D will include extensive analysis of the changing shape of Europe’s ‘far right’.

Old gang parties unite to block Le Pen – but most French voters boycott election

Next year’s election still seems likely to end in a run-off between President Emmanuel Macron (above left) and Marine Le Pen, but both suffered disappointing results yesterday.

The second round of the French regional elections yesterday ended in disappointment for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN – successor to the French National Front founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen), but disaster for President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘centrist’ party En Marche.

Mme Le Pen had hoped her party might gain control of a region so as to demonstrate its capacity to govern, ahead of next year’s presidential election when she expects to be Macron’s main challenger.

Her main target was the southern region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA), a traditionally strong area both for the RN and in earlier years for the FN. The RN list was headed by Thierry Mariani, who was transport minister a decade ago in the conservative government of Prime Minister Fillon and President Sarkozy and has been the highest profile defector from the centre-right to Mme Le Pen’s ranks.

In last Sunday’s first round, this RN list was narrowly ahead by 36.4% to 31.9%, with the largest of the leftist-green slates on 16.9%. This meant that the latter slate had the right to contest the second round (which is not simply a run-off between the two largest parties, but can be joined by any list that polled above 10% in the first round).

However in a move showing that despite the Le Pen strategy of dédiabolisation (‘de-demonisation’) the RN is still regarded by its opponents as a ‘far right’ / ‘fascist’ threat, the left decided to withdraw from PACA’s second round and endorse the conservative ‘centre right’ slate, headed by incumbent regional president Reynaud Muselier.

This despite the fact that Mme Le Pen is far close to the traditional left than the ‘centre right’ on economic policy. Her party duly lost the PACA second round by 57% to 43%. This was slightly down from the 45.2% achieved by the RN slate (then headed by the leader’s niece Marion Maréchal) in this region six years ago.

Sébastien Chenu (above left) – former head of the LGBT wing of the French centre-right conservative party – was one of several leading conservatives to defect to Marine Le Pen’s RN and headed her slate in the party’s second strongest region, but finished a distant runner-up yesterday.

Potentially good news for Mme Le Pen is that only 34% of the PACA electorate turned out to cast a valid vote yesterday, in line with mass abstention nationwide. In particular, despite calls for a ‘republican front’ against the RN ‘fascists’, 90% of voters under 25 seem to have boycotted the election. Not only did they refuse to turn out to block the ‘far right’ in this second round – they weren’t even interested in the first round, when a vast range of alternatives, from Trotskyists to traditional conservatives, and including different varieties of green, were on the ballot.

Yet it must remain disturbing for the RN leader that although the French government is widely perceived to have failed during the Covid crisis – there is no Boris-style ‘bounce’ for Macron – and despite all her efforts to make her party seem less ‘extreme’, she remains unable to breakthrough to a wider public than the people who have supported her for much of the past decade.

Perhaps as for racial nationalist parties and groups across much of the White world, the RN has been unable to develop a clear message during Covid, with some favouring a version of anti-lockdown or even anti-vaccination theories, while others wanted to maintain a focus on our movement’s traditional issues and criticising (where appropriate) government inefficiency and cronyism in the face of the pandemic.

In the RN’s second-strongest area Hauts-de-France they made almost no progress, from 24.4% in the first round to 25.7% in the second (compared to 42.2% in the equivalent region in 2015, when Marine Le Pen herself headed the slate); in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (one of four mainland regions won by left-green coalitions) the RN slipped from second to third place with 23.8%; while in Brittany (also one by socialists and greens) the RN vote fell from 14.3% in the first round to 13.2% in the second.

President Macron’s party En Marche failed to win a single region, and in several regions polled below 10%.

No breakthrough for Le Pen in low turnout French elections

Next year’s election will be Marine Le Pen’s third attempt to win the French presidency

Yesterday’s regional elections in France were preceded by customary liberal media scare stories about likely breakthrough for a ‘resurgent far right’. Yet the first round results – while undeniably bad news for President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘centrist’ party La République en marche (LREM) – were not a great success for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Rally – the renamed National Front).

Turnout fell to less than 34%, indicating that the Macron government (unlike Boris Johnson’s UK government so far) is seen as having failed the nation during Covid – yet voters have not swung behind the RN opposition.

The main winners of the first round were ‘centre-right’ conservatives, though next year’s presidential election is still almost certain to end in a choice between Macron and Mme Le Pen.

There are thirteen regional councils governing mainland France (the most important tier below the republic’s national government), plus five overseas. Voters in these regions choose among party lists in a two-round system. To qualify for the second round a list must poll 10% in the first: having done so, it can then fight the second round either by itself or on a combined ticket which can be joined by any other list that polled over 5% in the first round.

As part of Marine Le Pen’s strategy of dédiabolisation to win respectability for her party, it would be important to win control of a region and demonstrate that the RN is capable of holding serious political responsibility.

Her best chance is in the traditional FN/RN stronghold known as PACA – the southern region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Here the RN list is headed by Thierry Mariani, who was transport minister a decade ago in the conservative government of Prime Minister Fillon and President Sarkozy.

Mariani leads a right-wing conservative faction that broke away to ally with Le Pen in 2019 – one of the big successes of her dédiabolisation strategy. Yesterday RN’s list in this region ‘won’ the first round with 36.4%, but was not far ahead of the centre-right conservative list (backed in this region by the President’s party LREM) on 31.9%. A socialist-green list with 16.9% also has the option of contesting next Sunday’s second round and can expect support from a range of smaller green and left-wing parties knocked out in the first round, but despite Mariani’s ‘respectability’ there is likely to be some swing of ‘anti-fascist’ voters behind the conservatives.

Xavier Bertrand is set for re-election as regional president of Hauts-de-France, a boost to his ambition to become conservative presidential candidate next year.

Marine Le Pen’s home region Nord Pas-de-Calais was merged with Picardy in the restructuring of French regions a decade ago and now forms part of Hauts-de-France. Here Sébastien Chenu, one of several open homosexuals among Mme Le Pen’s party leadership, was hoping to defeat one of the leading French conservatives, regional president Xavier Bertrand, who is likely to be the centre-right’s presidential candidate next year.

However, Bertrand’s list won the first round easily with 41.2% ahead of the RN’s 24.4% and the socialist-green list’s 19.0%, with President Macron’s LREM knocked out on 9.1%.

The centre-right also looks likely to win the Île-de-France region that includes Paris and its environs, after its list led the first round with 35.9% ahead of the RN’s 13.1%. The result here did illustrate comical divisions on the French left, with three rival socialist/green lists all qualifying for the second round by polling over 10% (unless they can negotiate a combined slate).

Good news for Marine Le Pen is that her party has qualified for the second round in all thirteen mainland regions, with one first-place and eight runners-up. Aside from the three regions mentioned above, RN votes ranged from 12.3% in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes to 23.2% in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.

Apart from Corsica (where the RN polled only 4%) and various ‘French’ regions in South America, the Caribbean and Indian Ocean where the RN is predictably weak, Marine Le Pen can claim to lead a serious alternative party of government.

But the main challenge in next Sunday’s second round (and in next year’s presidential election) will be to convert widespread public disillusionment with Macron into positive support for the RN rather than yesterday’s winners – apathy and the ‘centre-right’.

European populism reshuffled as Orbán’s party quits ‘centre-right’ alliance

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has for years been seen as a leader of Europe’s populist right, while his party remained in the mainstream ‘centre-right’ bloc

The Fidesz party led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – seen as a leading force in the European populist right – has resigned from the main centre-right group in the European Parliament. This move will lead to a rebalancing of populist and anti-immigration forces, dependent on Orbán’s next move.

As regular H&D readers will know, international groups broadly representing ideological tendencies are an important feature of the European Parliament. Forming such a group is the key to unlocking substantial extra funds and representation on Parliamentary committees. (There is also a complicated difference between groups within the Parliament and extra-parliamentary political alliances that can also receive European funds and tend to cover much the same ground as the Parliamentary groups, but are technically separate.)

For many years ‘far right’ parties struggled to qualify for group status, partly because the rules were changed by Eurocrats, and partly because of internal divisions between populists and racial nationalists, or over sundry ‘petty nationalist’ or ‘national chauvinist’ issues that loom large especially in Eastern and South Eastern Europe.

Leading figures in ‘The Movement’, an alliance of European populists that preceded formation of the ID group – (left to right) former Trump adviser Steve Bannon; former Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini; and Brussels-based Jewish lawyer Mischael Modrikamen

The present situation is that (reading from ‘centre’ to ‘far’ right) the following Parliamentary groups exist covering a wide spectrum of right of centre views:

European People’s Party (EPP) – the largest group, covering the mainstream of Europe’s Christian Democratic and centre-right tradition who were the core of the European federalist project from its inception. The largest parties in the EPP are Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU-CSU from Germany, and the Spanish conservative Partido Popular (PP).

European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR) – comprises conservatives who are more ‘right wing’ on economics (i.e. anti-state, pro-market), and/or more sceptical about European federalism than their EPP colleagues, but who would wish to avoid being tainted by radical anti-immigration politics or by association with parties that have even faint historic associations with European fascism. Until Britain left the EU, the Conservative Party was the largest force in ECR alongside the Polish governing party Law & Justice.

Identity & Democracy (ID) – the greatly expanded populist rightwing / anti-immigration group launched after the 2019 European elections. The largest parties in this group are Lega, led by Italy’s former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini; Rassemblement National, formerly Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, a leading contender for next year’s French presidential election; Germany’s anti-immigration party AfD; and Marine Le Pen’s original allies – the Austrian Freedom Party and the Flemish separatists Vlaams Belang.

Marine Le Pen with one of her original European allies Geert Wilders

Another group that was significantly more Eurosceptic than ECR but frightened of even mildly racial nationalist associations was Europe of Freedom & Direct Democracy, formed by UKIP / Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and his allies. This dissolved after Brexit as it no longer had sufficient members.

And to the right of ID are an assortment of more hardline racial nationalists who are unacceptable to Mme Le Pen and Salvini because they are explicitly national socialist or otherwise deemed ‘extremist’. These have included Golden Dawn from Greece; the Slovak national socialist party led by Marian Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia; and the Hungarian nationalist party Jobbik.

There have been several unexpected alignments, some the result of political calculation rather than ideological purity. Though a committed social liberal, UK Prime Minister David Cameron took his Conservative Party out of EPP and into alliance with far more right-wing parties in ECR. This was a cynical gesture designed both to secure Cameron’s election as party leader and to prevent voters (and even MPs) defecting to UKIP – it was part of Cameron’s political gamble that ended in his political ruin at the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Meanwhile Viktor Orbán (though far to the right of Cameron on all social issues) was in the more ‘moderate’ EPP. The surprise is that it has taken so long for this odd marriage to end in divorce. After liberal elements in the EPP forced through a rule change that would have allowed them to expel Fidesz, Orbán today chose to pull his party out of the group before he was pushed.

The big question now is whether he will bite the bullet and sign up with the Le Pen / Salvini group, or whether (like the Spanish ‘far right’ anti-immigration party Vox) he is too frightened of ‘fascist’ associations and opts instead for the ECR, which would then be dominated by a Polish-Hungarian axis, though curiously it also includes the ‘post-fascist’ Italian party Fratelli d’Italia.

Can Le Pen win?

Marine Le Pen: can she win in 2022?

As in 1848, “a spectre is haunting Europe”. But unlike in Marx and Engels’ time, it’s not the “spectre of communism”. In 2021 the ghost at the socially-distanced feast is the ‘far right’, or what its more hysterical opponents would term ‘fascism’.

And as has been the case periodically ever since the mid-1980s when Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National (National Front) made its first electoral breakthrough, France is the main focus of ‘anti-fascist’ concern.

The latest flurry was prompted by an opinion poll carried out on 19th-20th January and published this week. It shows not only that Marine Le Pen, who took over her father’s party in 2011 and renamed it Rassemblement National (National Rally), would ‘win’ the first-round of a presidential election, but that she would be only 4% behind in a hypothetical second-round run-off against incumbent ‘centrist’ President Emmanuel Macron.

Analysts have long taken for granted that Le Pen would be one of the top two first-round candidates at the next presidential election (due to be held in April 2022), and would probably lead the field at this stage, but have assumed that she would certainly lose the run-off.

In 2002 it was a ‘shock’ when Jean-Marie Le Pen overtook a divided left and qualified for the run-off against conservative President Jacques Chirac, but he was then defeated 82%-18%. Then in 2017 Marine Le Pen finished only just behind Macron in the first-round, but lost 66%-34% in the run-off.

There are two big factors presently helping Ms Le Pen. The first is of course Covid-19. Unlike his German neighbour and fellow ‘centrist’ Angela Merkel, whose popularity has been boosted by the pandemic, Macron is not seen to have had a ‘good war’. Indeed French failures in the production of vaccines have dragged down the entire EU and made the UK look a model of competence by comparison.

The second, perhaps deeper problem is that Macron has sought to reassure French voters by taking a hard line against what he would call ‘Islamism’. Perhaps intentionally, this is perceived not just as anti-‘Islamist’, but anti-Islam.

To be fair, there is a substantial section of French liberals and socialists who are committed secularists, for whom suspicion of all religious influence (originally suspicion of Catholics but now also or especially of Muslims) is central to their politics. Such committed secularism would seem eccentric in the UK and outrageous in the USA, but is perfectly normal in France.

A socially distanced (and increasingly politically isolated) President Emmanuel Macron lays a wreath at Charles de Gaulle’s London statue in June 2020. Might Macron emulate de Gaulle in stepping aside from the presidency rather than risk defeat in 2022?

But even in France, other socialists and liberals prioritise their ‘anti-racism’ above their secularism. Macron is taking a big risk: in attempting to win over voters who are concerned about Islam or about wider immigration-related issues, he risks alienating these sections of liberal-left opinion. The latter group of voters might be so disgusted that they abstain or ‘waste’ their votes in next year’s run-off rather than voting for Macron as the ‘lesser evil’.

Moreover yet another section of the old socialist/communist vote – working class voters in depressed post-industrial areas – have become a core part of Le Pen’s support.

Perhaps this latest opinion poll is the nadir of Macron’s fortunes: the Covid news can surely only get better, can’t it???

If it doesn’t, one risky option would be for the French establishment to ditch Macron in favour of a ‘fresh face’.

Marion Maréchal, seen here with her grandfather FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, might be the long-term successor to her aunt Marine Le Pen.

Either way, the 2022 elections are surely Marine Le Pen’s best but also last chance. If she cannot defeat a Covid-damaged Macron (or a last-minute substitute), the French anti-immigration movement would be likely to seek a new figurehead.

There’s everything to play for, and an interesting year ahead for race-conscious patriots across Europe.

Mixed results for RN in French elections

For the 2020 local elections the anti-immigration RN headed by Marine Le Pen (above right) formed joint slates with the much smaller eurosceptic party headed by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (above left)

On Sunday 28th June French local government elections held their decisive second round, postponed for more than three months due to Covid-19 restrictions.

These elections were for more than 35,000 communes across France, ranging from tiny villages to giant cities. The three largest cities (Paris, Lyon and Marseilles) also elect councillors and mayors in their various districts known as arrondissements. There are also regional councils known as départements, but these departmental elections (once known as cantonal elections) are held separately from the communes – most recently in 2015, and next due in 2021.

Similarly the mayors and councillors in the communes are elected to six-year terms, so the positions elected on Sunday were last elected in 2014.

In those days Marine Le Pen’s party was called the Front National (National Front – FN); it was renamed Rassemblement National (National Rally – RN) in 2018.

Six years ago the FN won 1,438 councillors spread across 463 communes. After this week’s second round the RN’s councillor total was down to 840, spread across 258 communes.

Despite this patchy performance, one headline result was very positive news for Marine Le Pen. Louis Aliot (who was Mme Le Pen’s domestic partner for a decade until last year) is the new Mayor of Perpignan, after his RN slate won the second round with 53.1% against 46.9% for his conservative opponent.

This is the first time in almost twenty years that the RN or FN has controlled a city with a population of more than 100,000. From 1997 to 2001 the FN controlled Toulon, a slightly larger city further along the Mediterranean coast.

Steeve Briois (above left) was re-elected Mayor of the RN stronghold Hénin-Beaumont after the first round of local elections in March

Aside from Perpignan, the other communes won by the RN this year are relatively small towns. Six of these had already been won on the first round in March, by the RN polling more than 50%.

All of these were communes that the FN/RN had already controlled since 2014:

  • the Mediterranean port of Fréjus; first round RN vote 50.6%, population 52,672
  • the Avignon suburb of Le Pontet; first round RN vote 57.2%, population 17,530
  • Beaucaire, a small town in the Rhône Valley ten miles south-west of Avignon; first round RN vote 59.5%, population 15,963
  • Villers-Cotterêts, a small town fifty miles north of Paris; first round RN vote 53.5%, population 10,872
  • Hayange, an ancient iron manufacturing town in the Lorraine region close to the Franco-German border; first round RN vote 63.1%, population 15,811
  • Hénin-Beaumont, a former coal mining town in the Pas de Calais region of northern France, and now the strongest nationalist area of France – very much the heartland of Marine Le Pen’s brand of populist nationalism; first round RN vote 74.2%, population 26,022

The three communes gained by the RN after Sunday’s second round were:

  • Perpignan, a city on the Mediterranean coast, very close to the Franco-Spanish border; RN second round vote 53.1%, population 120,158
  • Moissac, a small town in the Occitania region of southern France; RN second round vote 62.5%, population 13,039
  • Bruay-la-Buissière, a former coal mining town in the Pas de Calais, close to the existing RN stronghold of Hénin-Beaumont; RN second round vote 52.0%, population 21,831.

The bigger picture of last Sunday’s elections was a historically unprecedented win for the French green party EELV who gained control of several important cities including Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Besançon.

Stéphane Ravier, previously Mayor of a Marseilles arrondissement, was one of the RN’s high-profile defeats in Sunday’s second round, beaten by a conservative slate by a very tight 51-49 margin.

A joint slate of Greens, Communists and Socialists became the largest party grouping in Marseille, winning 38.3% in the second round ahead of a conservative coalition on 30.8%, the RN on 20.3%, and assorted dissident leftist and dissident conservative slates making up the remaining 10.2%.

After negotiations later this week a Green mayor is likely to take power in Marseille. The bad news for Marine Le Pen’s RN is that by a very tight margin their candidate Stéphane Ravier lost the mayoralty of the 13th-14th arrondissement of Marseilles. Under the old FN label he had won the mayoralty of the old 7th arrondissement in 2014 and had controlled the new 13th-14th after boundary changes in 2017.

On the bright side, President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party suffered numerous defeats across the country. Opinion polls still suggest that the most likely second round in the next presidential election in 2022 will be between Macron and Marine Le Pen – and that Macron would again win such a contest, though by a closer margin than in 2017.

However Macron’s authority is steadily dribbling away. The challenge for Marine Le Pen’s party will now be to make a success of running Perpignan, make further gains in next year’s regional elections; and achieve the difficult balance between reassuring ‘mainstream’ voters that the nationalist right can be trusted, without disillusioning traditional nationalists whose support is still required to provide an activist base.

The danger is that purging ‘hardliners’ leads to an exodus of local government candidates and other activists, without inspiring an influx of new blood. Floating voters are all very well, but any party also needs a solid base of committed supporters.

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