National Front makes ground – Interview with Jean-Yves Camus

"Who is afraid of Marine Le Pen?": This is how German media headlines read after it was reported that, the new leader of the "Front National" (FN) could win presidential elections in 2012.


The daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the FN, could gain 23 percent of the votes according to opinion polls. Therefore she would gain the lead from both incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy and the socialist candidate Marine Aubry (21% each).
Just recently Sarkozy`s governing UMP had to accept a tantalising loss of votes during regional elections, while FN’s gain was considerable in some parts. But does the FN really have good reasons for excessive optimism? Berlin rechtsaußen spoke with Jean-Yves Camus, renownded French political scientist, who has been following the FN and its development for many years.

Do these results seem as surprising to you, as a political scientist, as they are for the public?

They do not surprise me because they are reflecting a very deep political crisis, as the overwhelming majority of French citizens do not trust mainstream parties anymore. Sarkozy’s failure to deliver what he apromised in 2007 on economic and social issues, combined with a few scandals that have tainted the dominant Conservative party UMP, are the main reason for the FN being high in the polls. However, there are still 14 months to go until the first ballot of the presidential election and it is too early to tell what will be the outcome of the vote. Hopefully when the name of the Socialist candidate will be made public in November, provided that the nomination process runs smoothly, the dynamic of the election will switch to the Left.

Marine Le Pen became head of the party only two months ago. In this short time, did she really have such an impact on the party’s developement? Is this all only connected to her person? Or are there other influences becoming invisible by her presence as the „new face“ of the FN?

She ran a very smart media campaign during the internal campaign for the presidency of the party. Her appearances on TV were because of the FN election but in fact, she slowly built an image for herself with the presidential election in sight. She first and foremost succeeded in keeping the unity of FN and started building a new party apparatus that is devoted to making the FN become a mainstream party. The media and many political analysts misunderstood what she stands for: as she is more subtle, more modern and more easy-going than her father, they thought she is a moderate. However, modern and moderate are two very different things. Junge Freiheit is certainly more modern than the Nationalzeitung, but that does not mean it is a moderate weekly. And the Autonome Nationalisten are very modern, but really Radical.
What is new with Marine Le Pen is that, in a March 16 interview with the Italian mainstram Conservative daily Il Giornale, she said her party shares views with the Lega nord and Wilders‘ PVV. She did not mention Forza nuova, the NPD or the FPÖ. That says almost everything about the party’s new course.

The FN had been declared dead several times – often by the right-wing democratic politicians. And then the FN returned stronger than before. Do the politicians make such obvious mistakes in their  analysis? What do you consider their main faults analysing the FN?

The main mistake is a typically French one of not understanding our nation’s history. The historical narrative here, shared by both the Left and Right, is that France does not have an Extreme-right tradition. We think we are immune to that because captain Dreyfus was finally rehabilitated, the 1934 coup was aborted and the Action française failed to reinstall the Monarchy. We still believe-against all historians- that the Vichy regime came into being only because the Nazis invaded France. The news of the DVU or NPD having Landtag members in several Lander was reported in the French media with headlines of the „Brown pest coming back in Germany“, but the FN getting 15% of the national vote is always considered a temporary phenomenon, a „populist surge“ that will soon die out.

Some press comments in German newspapers claim that Marine Le Pen is so popular because she appeases the french public promoting the idea of a strong national state that is able to leave all the worlds problems outside its borders. Is there such a deep longing for national and cultural identity in the French society? And how important is the assumption of a cultural „struggle“ against so called Islamization?

The opinion surveys clearly show that the voters‘ major concerns are their spending power, unemployment and globalization. Law and order or immigration only come second. Nevertheless, there is a growing feling of uneasiness about the multi-kulti society, especially with Islam. We were a colonial power, we have lost a colonial war in Algeria and the southern part of the country is less distant from Algiers than it is to Paris. That is enough for many people to fear the decline of „traditional“ values.

And one last question with a broader look at Europe: The FPÖ under Heinz-Christian Strache actually gets similar survey results. Do you see the danger of a long lasting and strong influence such radical right-wing parties might gain in Europe? And does the FN have relevant connections to other right-wing parties?

The real danger in Europe is that under pressure from extreme-Right voters, the mainstream Conservative parties switch their agenda further away from the basic values of liberal democracy. The means „fortress Europe“ is probably in the making. As for the international relations of FN, Marine Le Pen is not interested in meetings of neo-fascist fringe groups. If she will build links abroad, it will be with populist, xenophobic parties like PVV, Lega, the Danish Folkeparti and the Swiss SVP. the rest is meaningless to her.

Thank you for your time.

Jean-Yves Camus is a political analyst and a research fellow at IRIS. Graduate of Science-Po Paris (field of study : public policy) ; Master’s degree in Political Science from Sorbonne University (Paris 1) ; DEA in Contemporary History from Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) (field of study : ‘The French Extreme Left and Israel”).
In addition, Jean-Yves Camus was a researcher at CERA (Centre Européen de Recherche et d’Action sur le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme) and in charge of research projects for the PNR 40+ “Left-wing Extremism” of Fond National Suisse (2002-2004). He is also a member of the European Consortium on Political Research and of the Task Force on Antisemitism at the European Jewish Congress.
In 2008 he supervised a research project at IRIS for the FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) on the islamophobic analysis in the French newspapers.

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