Despite Le Pen’s win, there is no real chance of change for France

The recent French elections have delivered a resounding message from the electorate: a desire for significant change. With the highest turnout in forty years, voters demonstrated their hope for a shift in the political landscape. Yet, despite the strong showing from Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party, it is unlikely that the French will see the change they are yearning for.

The first round of snap elections for the French National Assembly confirmed the trends observed in the European Parliament elections in early June. President Emmanuel Macron, in a strategic move, dissolved parliament, hoping to curb the rising opposition. However, this tactic backfired spectacularly, as the electorate delivered a clear rebuke to his administration.

The double defeat in the European and National Assembly elections is not just a personal setback for Macron but a broader protest against his policies. These policies include controversial pension reforms, the privatization of national industries, the weakening of public services, preferential treatment for large international companies, and a foreign policy perceived as inconsistent and poorly conceived. The election results are also a delayed response to the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution, where the extreme right and extreme left-descendants of the parties that opposed the European Constitution-secured an absolute majority for the first time.

Back in 2005, the French electorate overwhelmingly rejected the draft European Constitution. However, the constitution was later adopted with minor changes as a European treaty through a parliamentary vote, bypassing the will of the people. This disregard for public opinion dealt a significant blow to European ideals, leading many to question whether “more Europe” truly meant “more democracy.” The disillusionment from this episode contributed to a decline in voter turnout and fueled movements like the 2018 ‘yellow vests,’ which demanded more local and national influence over issues affecting the French populace.

Sociologists predict that the elections on June 30 and July 7 could mirror the ‘yellow vests’ protests, representing the frustration of ‘peripheral France’-residents of small towns and villages impacted by globalization and European integration. These regions are increasingly voting for the National Rally party. Marine Le Pen’s party has seen growing support not just in these areas but also among wealthier citizens, pensioners, and residents of overseas territories. Initially a party of small business owners, the National Rally (formerly the Front National) has adapted its rhetoric and policies to appeal to those left behind by globalization and those who value social Gaullism, with its emphasis on social security, stability, and national prestige. .

Sociologist Luc Ruban argues that the National Rally’s popularity cannot be attributed merely to ‘sharp outbursts of anger,’ ‘racism,’ or a desire for an authoritarian leader. Indeed, figures like Serge Klarsfeld, a respected leader of French Jews and defender of Nazi concentration camp victims, have stated that if forced to choose between the ultra-left and the ultra-right, they would support the latter, asserting that the National Rally is “neither anti-Semitic nor racist.” This shift in perception highlights a significant change in the party’s image. By rebranding and distancing itself from the anti-Semitic rhetoric of its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Rally has successfully tapped into the long-standing discontent of those feeling the adverse effects of globalization.

The nationalism of the National Rally is more defensive than aggressive, reflecting concerns over immigration’s impact on the labor market and societal changes in what was a largely homogeneous society forty years ago. The party has capitalized on these fears, making its growing popularity understandable. Meanwhile, the left has failed to address these issues, transitioning from a working-class movement to a liberal entity focused on defending various minorities. While their programs still contain rhetoric supporting the poor, their actions have prioritized issues like ecology, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and racial tolerance over addressing social inequality.

Today, it is unimaginable to hear a left-wing leader echoing the 1980 sentiments of Georges Marchais, the French Communist Party leader, who called for halting both illegal and legal immigration, arguing it was unacceptable given the unemployment rate among French citizens. Currently, with nearly 5.5 million unemployed and a tenfold increase in legal and illegal immigration, the left seems more focused on combating discrimination than addressing the concerns of the working class.

The Socialists’ credibility took a hit during François Hollande’s presidency. Despite positioning himself as an opponent of international finance, Hollande did little to protect the poor, with his main achievement being the ‘marriage equality’ law. His participation in the New Popular Front, along with the shift to the center-left, undermines any promises of alternative policies from the ultra-left. Voters are skeptical of recent promises about a ‘social, democratic, and strategic Europe,’ especially given the alignment on issues like the Ukraine conflict with Macron’s stance.

While there were hopes in 2019 for a convergence of far-left and far-right protests into a nationwide protest bloc, this has not materialized. Figures like Huria Bouteldja, a leader in France’s decolonization movement, have reflected on the potential for poor whites (“deplorables”) and immigrants (“barbarians”) to rally against Macronism. However, in a multicultural society, income level alone does not define class and political identity. The ruling circles’ shift from assimilationist policies to multiculturalism has fragmented the nation into minorities, creating what sociologist Jérôme Fourquet calls “Archipelago France,” replacing the united French Republic.

The electoral map will reflect this fragmentation. The National Rally is expected to dominate small towns and rural areas, while medium-sized cities will likely lean towards Socialist candidates. Large suburbs of Paris, Marseille, and Lyon may support ‘France Unbowed,’ appealing to the immigrant population. Central districts of Paris and Lyon will remain Macron strongholds, supported by those well-adapted to globalization. In Marseille, ‘France Unbowed’ will likely face off against the National Rally, highlighting the division between the ‘deplorables’ and the ‘barbarians.’

Despite these divisions, neither the far-right nor the far-left is poised to offer a real alternative to current policies. As seen in other European countries where extremists have risen to power, the French opposition, if victorious, will likely integrate smoothly into pan-European structures rather than pursue radical reforms. Vibrant opposition rhetoric may lead to internal chaos, riots, and protests but is unlikely to alter the overall development trajectory significantly.

Economist Frederick Farah points out that regardless of which majority is in power, the policies implemented over the past few decades have been similar, leading to deteriorating working conditions, reduced public services, increased poverty, a shrinking industrial base, strategic vulnerability, and rising populism. . Therefore, the results of July 7 can be summarized succinctly: ‘Macronism is dead, long live Macronism!’

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