This is an astounding development: The National Front (FN) won a by-election in the French National Assembly with 47% of the vote!
Now I have not written much about the FN. The French right has a checkered past and it is not pretty. Anti-Semitism (They were the supporters of the prosecution of Dreyfus in the 1890s when another hero of mine, the novelist Emile Zola, stood for the innocent Dreyfus), Nazi and Vichy sympathies, anti-foreigner not in a good (sovereignty) way but in a bad (mean, racist) way.
But Marine Le Pen, the daughter of long time right wing icon Jean Le Pen, seems to be changing things in a positive way:
Mrs Le Pen is a single mother of 44, more relaxed about gay rights and abortion than she lets on, closer in some ways to the assassinated Dutch populist Pim Fortuyn than to her cantankerous father Jean Le Pen, who stepped down as party leader two years ago. Mr Le Pen in turn deplores her eclectic modernism as an overlay of “petit bourgeois” views picked up in Paris schools.
She has carried out a quiet purge of the Front, pushing known anti-semites to the sidelines. Vichy nostalgia is out. While her father called the Holocaust an historical “detail”, she calls it the “pinnacle of human barbarism”. She courts Jewish favour, aiming her fire at Jihadists instead. “Political parties are like people. There is adolescence when you do do crazy things, and then maturity. We are now ready for power,” she said.
I like what I read. And check this out – Mrs. Le Pen says right things about the EU:
“The euro ceases to exist the moment that France leaves, and that is our incredible strength. What are they going to do, send in tanks?” she told the Daily Telegraph at the Front National’s headquarters, an unmarked building tucked away in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Her office is small and workaday, almost austere.
“Europe is just a great bluff. One side there is the immense power of sovereign peoples, and on the other side are a few technocrats,” she said.
Mrs Le Pen said her first order of business on setting foot in the Elysee Palace will be to announce a referendum on EU membership, “rendez vous” one year later. “I will negotiate over the points on which there can be no compromise. If the result is inadequate, I will call for withdrawal,” she said.
The four sticking points are the currency, border control, the primacy of French law, and what she calls “economic patriotism”, the power for France to pursue “intelligent protectionism” and safeguard it social model. “I cannot imagine running economic policy without full control over our own money,” she said.
Asked if she intends to pull France of the euro immediately, she said: “Yes, because the euro blocks all economic decisions. France is not a country that can accept tutelage from Brussels,” she said.
Officials will be told to draw up plans for the restoration of the franc. Eurozone leaders will face a stark choice: either work with France for a “sortie concertee” or coordinated EMU break-up: or await their fate.
But the New FN is not a libertarian party. It seems to be more of a populist left-wing party, but one that defends French interests:
It is her defence of the French welfare model and her critique of capitalism that gives her a Leftist hue — some call it 1930s national socialism — so far in outlook from Britain’s UKIP. She sounds like Occupy activists in her attacks on high finance and the way corporations profit from labour arbitrage, playing off wages in the West against cheap labour in Asia. “It is the law of the jungle,” she said.
Nor is she on the UKIP page with her broadsides against Washington and Nato, or her call for France to retake its place as “non-aligned” voice in a multipolar world. It is an anti-Atlanticist patriotism.
It always was ironic to me that the best pro-US French presidents were not the right wingers like De Gaulle or his heirs but socialists like Mitterrand. Of course a sovereign nation should defend its interests.
I am not ready in any way to endorse the FN or Mrs. Le Pen. But she is clearly not a Tweedledee or Tweedledum and people need non-racist pro-sovereignty choices. I prefer libertarian parties. We’ll see what happens. Mrs. Le Pen could play on the ultimate icon of French history: Jeanne d’Arc. People are not sold on the EU superempire. Time to reform the EU radically to ensure the nations are sovereign but find ways to work together for free trade and reform of democratic institutions.