Front National (FN). France’s most notorious party, the FN is the representative of France’s far-right.
France’s far-right can trace its history back to the legitimist tradition, which totally rejected the French Revolution in all its manifestations they desired a return to the Absolute Monarchy of the Ancien Regime. France is rare, in that it has a genuine tradition of an intellectual far-right tradition.
The far-right made a re-appearance in the 1950s with Pierre Poujade’s poujadist movement. Poujade, a book shop opener, articulated the economic interests of small business owners, and included a heavy bout of anti-establishment discourse – the small man against the elites. Poujadism opposed American influences, and denounced the French state as ‘thieving’ and the parliament as a ‘brothel’. The poujadists won 52 seats in the 1956 election – the last held in the Fourth Republic and the last under PR (until a brief experiment with it in 1986).
Poujadism was principally an anti-tax movement but it also strongly supported French attempts to keep Algeria under its control and its deputies included several ‘proto-nationalists’ including a young Jean-Marie Le Pen (indeed Le Pen was the youngest deputy that year).
Poujadism soon lost out with the shift to the Fifth Republic and much of its electorate moved to another populist and nationalist ideology – Gaullism.
The Front National was founded in 1973 after numerous years in the wilderness for the far-right and sought to unite the far-right into a single party. Jean-Marie Le Pen was chosen as the party’s leader. The FN had trouble in its early years finding a distinctive platform and inspiring platform and it was a fringe party. Le Pen won only 0.8% of the vote in his first Presidential election in 1974.The early party also had some difficulty uniting the French far-right under its banner.
The triumph of the left at the 1981 election was followed by moderation as the Socialists early economic policies failed and the party moved rapidly to the centre. The two political blocs, left and right, became increasingly similar. The FN formed a couple of limited deals with the mainstream right in the 1983 municipal elections and Le Pen was elected a city councillor in Paris. By-election successes created media attention for the party. In a by-election in Dreux the mainstream right had the choice of defeat to the left or a deal with the FN and chose the latter.
Increasing media exposure and the 1984 European elections, where the FN 11.0% of the vote and 10 seats acted as its first major electoral breakthrough.
The party continued to win around 10% of the vote throughout the 80s and 90s, the FN won 35 seats in the 1986 legislative election after a brief use of proportional representation, but otherwise the FN was largely blocked from representation as under France’s two round system mainstream parties would gang up against it in the second round. Ironically this may helped the FN as the lack of representation sought to increase the party’s anti-establishment credentials and made the FN a viable protest vote as voters knew they could vote FN largely without the negative consequences of the FN actually winning power. The FN won a single seat in 1988, and another seat in 1997, where it scored a high of 14.9% in the legislative election that year, but otherwise failed to win seats. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s shock entry into the second round of the 2002 Presidential election sent shockwaves around the world, however. Winning 16.9% of the vote Le Pen just pipped the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, who won 16.2% in a field notable for the divisions on the left. In response left-wing activists campaigned hard for the corrupt centre-right Jacques Chirac, with the popular slogan ‘vote the crook, not the Nazi’.
Len Pen succeeded on only growing his vote from the first round by around 700,000 voters, with 82.2% of voters opting for Chirac illustrating Le Pen’s marmite factor.
Le Pen’s party subsequently began to fall into decline. Le Pen had grown rather elderly and his alleged anti-semitism and Holocaust denialism were increasingly a stain on the party. Additionally, the UMP, under Nicholas Sarkozy, began to clearly and viscerally target Le Pen’s electorate. Collapsing party support meant the loss of state subsidies and the party was forced to sell its historic offices.
Leadership of the FN passed to Le Pen’s daughter and long-time heir apparent, Marine Le Pen in 2011. This resulted in a shift of policy for the party. She softened the party’s xenophobic image, concentrating less on race and more on a perceived threat to France’s vigorous secularism from Muslim migrants. Marine’s FN is also more anti-globalisation and anti-capitalism and has taken stronger protectionist standpoints, as a result FN’s base has become working class and she has dug into more traditionally left-of-centre voter groups. The party has become vigorously pro-Israel in an attempt to distance itself from its anti-semitic past. The party has also broken its ties to the more extreme far-right parties in Europe such as the British National Party and has tried to orientate itself towards more moderate right-wing populists such as the Freedom Party of Austria, or UKIP.
Marine Le Pen won 17.9% of the vote at the 2012 Presidential election, surpassing even her father’s 2002 victory. Her party won 13.6% of the vote in legislative elections and won 2 seats, the first time it had held a seat in 10 years, and the first time it had won more than 1 outside of the PR elections of 1986. However the party did not beat its record 14.9% of the vote in the 1997 legislative elections.
Suffice to say the FN’s main themes are law and order, immigration, anti-establishment populism, and opposition to Islam.
The party is Eurosceptic, and desires a return to the Franc.
Polls suggest the party is likely to win the European elections outright.
The FN is not a member of any European political party, though it was a part of the short-lived Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty group in the 2004-9 parliament. The FN is planning a new right-wing populist group after the elections, though it seeks to keep out extreme right and neo-fascist groups.