A strange thing is going on in France. Politicians are positioning themselves for the 2007 presidential elections when the French will have to chose a successor for Jacques Chirac. It is not in the mold of the repulsive and corrupt Chirac, however, that the contenders want to present themselves, but in that of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
I met Le Pen twenty years ago at an international press conference that the Front National leader was giving in Brussels. He made quite an impression. The mainstream media were very hostile to Le Pen (they still are), which made me instinctively sympathise with him. I was about the only conservative journalist in Belgium and because of this I was not very popular with my overwhelmingly liberal colleagues. During the press conference they tried to roast Le Pen, but he roasted them instead.
When at a certain moment an arrogant Brit from The Guardian asked Le Pen a denunciatory question, the latter bluntly replied: “I do not answer that question. Next question!” The journalist retorted: “I have a right to ask this question,” whereupon Le Pen: “And I have a right not to answer it.”
Although I disagree with some of his opinions – his anti-Semitism, his anti-Americanism, his economic protectionism – and though his style is often needlessly provocative and offensive, Le Pen is by far the most authentic of all the French politicians. In last week’s Spectator Taki wrote that it would have been better for France if Le Pen had become president in 2002. It would have been better for the whole of Europe.
Ever since he founded the FN in 1972, Le Pen has been warning that multiculturalism is dangerous nonsense, that no-go areas should not be allowed to exist, that immigrants should assimilate and that the French have the right to be at home in their own country. If only some of the conservative politicians had been as perceptive as Le Pen, or had had his courage. If the so-called “extreme right” is as popular as it is today in Europe, it is the so-called respectable and moderate right that is to blame.
“For years, if not for decades we’ve been repeating our alarm of a massive immigration from outside Europe that will result in the submergence and ruin of France, and unhappiness of the immigrants themselves!” Le Pen said at a meeting last Tuesday. The mainstream media are as dismissive as ever. According to a UPI correspondent who was present at the meeting, Le Pen did not speak but “bellow.” A liberal university professor, quoted by the same correspondent, said that Le Pen builds “his political fortunes on a fear of violence coming from the suburbs.” His words betray moral repulsion for such an attitude. What is wrong with a politician addressing the fears of the electorate if these fears are justified?
Another political ‘expert’ quoted in the same article opines that those who cheer Le Pen today may, as they get older, “be very happy to have these immigrants [around] – to pay for our social security, to pay for our retirement funds.” Only liberal political ‘experts’ can be so naive as to think that immigrants who deeply despise the natives and their culture will be prepared to finance the latter’s future welfare benefits. Le Pen’s voters, who live next door to the immigrants in the suburbs, know better than the journalists and correspondents, the university professors and the other ‘experts’ in their bourgeois neighbourhoods.
In 2002 Le Pen thrashed the left-wing parties, once the parties of the natives in the suburbs, and became Chirac’s contender in the second round of the presidential elections. The press, the intellectuals and the ‘experts’ were “stunned” and “convulsed” at what in their eyes was an “unexpected” success for Le Pen. Today they know what the future has in store for them. They can only hope that the 77-year old Le Pen will be too old to stand for election in 2007.
Because of Le Pen’s age, many politicians see opportunities, too. Like a typical politician Jean-Marie Le Pen has not provided for a political heir. He eliminated every potential rival within his own party. Le Pen’s weakness is his nepotism. Though he has not explicitly appointed a successor, he paved the way for his daughter Marine. The ambitious 37-year old lawyer and member of the European Parliament (MEP) shares her father’s anti-islamism but not his ethical conservatism. She is also more of a socialist in economic matters. Because of the latter the liberal media write that the tall and good-looking, fair-haired Marine is “trying to soften the party’s extremist image,” although she is more of a nationalist socialist and less of a conservative than her father was. This will likely lead to FN infighting once the old Le Pen is gone.
The leader of the conservative wing of the party is Bruno Gollnisch, at present the FN’s number 2. The 55-year old Gollnisch is a university professor and also a MEP. He got himself into trouble recently by saying that “There is not a serious historian who still totally agrees with the conclusions of the Nuremberg Trials.” State prosecutors at once opened a judicial investigation to see if Gollnisch can be charged with Holocaust denial, and his university suspended him. Gollnisch was also attacked publicly by Marine Le Pen, who said that French society should reject all statements belittling the gravity of the Holocaust.
Politicians from outside the FN are also positioning themselves to attract Le Pen voters. One of them is the Eurosceptic Count Philippe de Villiers, the leader of the conservative Mouvement pour la France. Count Villiers, too, is a MEP, but his Mouvement is not likely to attract a large following.
Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s Interior Minister, is another contender. It is generally assumed that his “tough” language has to do with his presidential ambitions in 2007, when he hopes to attract “Lepenists.”
Le Pen’s shadow even hangs over the Socialist Party, where some realise that many of Le Pen’s voters are disenchanted former voters of the Left. Yesterday the Parti Socialiste (PS) reappointed François Hollande as its party leader. This makes Hollande the likely socialist candidate for the 2007 elections. The presidential ambitions of former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, however, are well-known. Last May, Fabius positioned himself as the leading opponent of the European constitution within the PS, despite the fact that PS officially backed the constitution and despite the fact that Fabius had always been an outspoken Euro-federalist when he was still Prime Minister. Fabius also opposes Turkey’s admission to the EU, while the PS favours it. By openly appealing to French nationalism and positioning himself as “the Le Pen of the PS” Laurent Fabius hopes to be the electoral favourite by 2007.