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CRF Blog » Blog Archive » L’Etrangere

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by Bill Hayes

In L’Etrangere, 1843 profiles Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s right-wing National Front party.

The politician who once compared Muslims praying in the streets in France to the Nazi occupation is fast emerging as the scariest, most redoubtable party leader in Europe. On a continent shaken by the double convulsions of Islamist terrorism and the greatest refugee influx in modern history, identity politics is marching back, and Le Pen is in the vanguard. Long before other leaders began to shut the doors and roll out barbed-wire fences, she denounced a borderless Europe and warned darkly of a “giant migratory wave” that would engulf the continent. Today, such troubles play straight into her hands, strengthening her appeal at home and her standing among right-wing nationalists abroad. She believes herself to be on a patriotic mission. She wants to defend a nostalgic version of France from an army of perceived threats — the euro, globalisation, competition, immigration and Islamism. “She is fighting for a sovereign, patriotic, free country,” says Florian Philippot, her closest lieutenant, who came to the party from the nationalist left. In the mind of bien-pensant French, however, Le Pen seeks nothing less than to overturn the liberal order in France and dismantle the post-war project of an integrated Europe.

Each time liberal politicians claim that her popularity has hit a ceiling, she shatters it. Back in 2002, her father, a classically educated former paratrooper who fought in Algeria and Indochina, shook France by making it into the final run-off of the presidential election, where he secured 18% of the vote against the Gaullist Jacques Chirac. She succeeded her father as leader of the party in 2011 and its popularity has risen steadily since. In elections last December in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, a region more populous than Denmark, 41% voted for her. Her sights are now set on France’s presidential elections in 2017. Over the coming year, her mix of homespun nationalism, identity politics and star appeal will allow her to frame the public debate in France and beyond. It is a measure of the difficulty that politicians on the traditional right and left have in countering her message that the only near-certainty about next year’s presidential election is that she will be one of the two candidates on the ballot paper in the final run-off. She is exceedingly unlikely to win, but remains untroubled by that fact: she believes that her struggle is a long one, and that history is on her side. [more]