Marine Le Pen is intelligent

The National Front: A “de-diabolized” party?

Aurora Bergmaier, LMU Munich

Since the last election to the European Parliament in 2014, the Front National (FN) has been able to assert itself as the strongest force in every vote in the first ballot and has always been able to further increase the absolute number of its voters in the runoff election. How did it come about that the FN - at least part of the French party landscape for 45 years - was able to build up such a stable electorate in recent years, of all times, and thus not only from party members, but also from other political actors and some media as "le." premier parti de France ”?

Certainly the changing political, social and economic context in France is one reason for the growing popularity of the Front National. However, challenges such as the tightened security situation would probably not have been enough to win the party’s approval from over 6 million French voters in the 2015 regional elections. This required the (alleged) reorientation of the party, which was proclaimed in 2011 by the new party leader Marine Le Pen. The decisive difference between her strategy and that of her predecessor and father Jean-Marie Le Pen is that Marine Le Pen no longer wants to destabilize the French political system from within the opposition, but rather wants to change it from within. It is therefore their primary goal to make the FN eligible for election to broader social strata and thus also to gain power on a national level. This is to be achieved by a “de-diabolization” of the party, that is, by the liberation of the FN from its right-wing radical image. In the following, three central elements of the strategy change under Marine Le Pen are described in more detail.

Islamophobia instead of anti-Semitism

One of the most noticed changes in the official party discourse is the move away from anti-Semitic statements. While Jean-Marie Le Pen described the gas chambers of the concentration camps as a detail in the history of the Second World War, the new chairwoman condemned the Holocaust as the height of barbarism. Numerous party expulsions of right-wing extremist members are supposed to free the FN from its most striking stigma - Jean-Marie Le Pen himself was also withdrawn from membership in the media. The distancing from the anti-Semitic party ideology is often linked to the creation of the new enemy image "Islam": For example, Marine Le Pen poses as the protector of the Jewish community from anti-Semitic Muslims during counter-demonstrations at pro-Palestinian events and constructs Islam as a common threat.

At the same time, the new chairman's Islamophobia is conveyed more subtly than her father's anti-Semitism. Marine Le Pen makes excessive use of the concept of secularism in order to be able to attack Muslims without explicitly naming them: She applies the principle of a separation of church and state to the entire public space and uses selectively chosen examples (such as the construction of mosques ) clearly that only Islam should withdraw completely into private life. At the same time, she renounces the clearly racist statements of her father and uses the term ethnic group instead of the term race. In addition, terms used by Jean-Marie Le Pen in the field of identity issues are weakened, e.g. Marine Le Pen replaced the term national préférence (national favor) by those of the priority national (national priority). The meaning of the content, however, remains the same - the new party leader also calls for a better position for the French, including when it comes to job allocation.

The Front National is changing its enemy: from Judaism to Islam

In this way, Marine Le Pen is able to avoid breaking the taboo of anti-Semitism and at the same time building Islam as a new enemy image. By distorting republican values, it portrays the Front National as a modern party that defends Western values ​​against reactionary, homophobic Islam that threatens the rule of law. By means of a connection with elements of “Femonationalism” she can at the same time reach the electoral group of women better than her father. By incorporating racist messages much more skillfully into the subtext of her statements, Marine Le Pen does not deter more moderate voters; at the same time, the retention of certain key terms ensures that the traditional electoral clientele will continue to feel addressed. In addition, the FN discourse on questions of identity is extremely adaptable: In the context of the refugee crisis and the Islamist terrorist attacks, the party again increasingly emphasized its radical, authoritarian and nationalist side. The high approval ratings for the party in the 2015 regional elections show that such a tightening of the discourse is also well received by the electorate.

Statism instead of neoliberalism

A second key change can be observed with regard to economic policy positions. In the discourse of leading FN politicians, these experienced, on the one hand, a quantitative increase in importance, on the other hand, a considerable shift to the left in terms of content. Marine Le Pen's argument is based on the assumption that France has lost control of its own economy and is suffering, among other things, from cheap labor from abroad. In restoring the country's economic sovereignty and curbing the effects of globalization, the new chairman consequently grants the state a key role, which means a fundamental departure from her father's neoliberal principles. Demands for the termination of free trade agreements (keyword “intelligent protectionism”), state industrial support, high social benefits, investments in the public sector and the nationalization of ailing banks are derived from this paradigm shift. Last came, in line with the so-called priority national, the proposal to add an additional tax on foreign workers.

In terms of economic policy, the party has made a paradigm shift

The “new” Front National is therefore far more difficult to locate in the classic right-left spectrum. Marine Le Pen is not the first French politician to claim that she is neither left nor right (“ni droite ni gauche”). This supposedly “non-ideological” policy is reflected in the new party logo - a socialist rose in Republican blue. However, their combination of nationalistic xenophobia and statist anti-liberalism can be described as “both left and right” instead of “neither nor”. The NZZ (2016) wrote that the principles of the FN under Marine Le Pen could be called “very soberly viewed,“ national-socialist ”.” Ultimately, only the French should benefit from left-wing economic policy.

The change in economic policy serves to portray Marine Le Pen as a representative of those sections of the population who see themselves as the losers of globalization. In addition, the thematic diversification is intended to free the FN from its image as an anti-immigrant niche party and make it credible as a political force capable of governing. Lastly, this strategy can also be seen as an attempt to "prove" the xenophobic positions of the FN in a supposedly economic way and thus to free them further from the stigma of racism.

Increased Euroscepticism

Although the ideology of the Front National has been moderated in many areas, at least superficially, and thus the political center is to be reached more strongly, the opposite is the case with regard to the European political positions. While the FN has been criticizing the EU since the late 1980s and the number of negative expressions had been increasing since the early 2000s, a drastic intensification of euroscepticism under Marine Le Pen can be observed: The new party leader is in charge of the Union poses an even more aggressive style as a threat to French sovereignty than her father and describes it, among other things, as a worldwide anomaly resembling the Soviet Union.

Euroscepticism is also intended to counter party criticism of a course that is too moderate

The tightening of European policy statements can be interpreted on the one hand as an attempt to counter party criticism of a course that is too moderate and to maintain the internal unity of the FN. In addition, there is also a strategy of differentiation from the other parties, which in some cases also distanced themselves from the idea of ​​an “ever closer union”. In addition, since 2010 at the latest in the context of the European financial and economic crisis as well as the refugee crisis, the EU has offered a larger target and the fears of the voters can be better exploited.

However, the FN's great versatility is also noteworthy in this policy area: After the mood in France became more pro-European in the wake of the Brexit vote, Marine Le Pen recently spoke much less clearly in favor of the country's exit from the euro or the EU out. In a TV debate with her opponents, she only briefly addressed the call for a “Frexit” referendum contained in her election manifesto in the closing statement; a possible exit of France from the euro area - previously one of the key demands of the FN - was not mentioned at all.

Conclusion

Marine Le Pen was not only able to take advantage of the increasing politicization of European policy issues, but also the greater skepticism towards Muslims and the growing fears of the effects of globalization. By combining the various topics with one another, the FN finally creates a worldview that is apparently felt by many to be coherent. While the regular electorate continues to feel addressed by the FN by maintaining radical standpoints on identity and cultural issues and sees itself represented in particular by the right wing of the party around niece Marine Le Pen, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, with regard to the abortion law and same-sex marriage, a discursive one enables Left shift in economic and socio-political questions the expansion and sociodemographic diversification of the electorate. This is supported by the fact that Marine Le Pen packs the party's discriminatory ideology into a more moderate discourse, replaces her father's anti-Semitism with Islamophobic remarks and supplements them with unrealizable populist promises. The attempts to address different parts of the electorate at the same time lead to internal party tensions and discussions about the content of the FN.

The fact that the French media are often willing to accept the narrative of a reorientation also contributes to the success of the change in strategy: the differences between the new party leader and her father are disproportionately emphasized by many journalists. This narrative of two almost antithetical people is still used today by numerous FN voters as a justification for their voting decision. Marine Le Pen's credibility, which she is trying to increase by rhetorically distinguishing herself from an allegedly corrupt elite, does not seem to be questioned by her voters, even in view of the numerous party scandals (such as the recent allegation of fake employment against a close employee) .

Marine Le Pen succeeded in creating the impression of a de-diabolization of the party built by her father, in making the party ideology more contemporary and thus transforming the French two-party system into a three-party system. Even if the party has so far been largely denied access to formal power due to its excluded position in the French party system and the French majority electoral system, the FN was nevertheless able to influence government policy. One example is François Hollande's attempt to withdraw French passports from convicted terrorists - this was originally a demand by right-wing populists. Thus the success of the Front National is both a symptom and a cause of the inner turmoil in French society.

Aurora Bergmaier is a master's student in political science at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and also works as a research assistant in a DFG-funded research project and for a member of the Bavarian state parliament. She previously worked for Das Progressive Zentrum.

 

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