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As you may have heard, the European Elections were today (where many European countries elect which people in their country will go on to represent them in the EU parliament) and in France, the far-right Front National party took at least 25% of the vote.

The FN is today headed by Marine Le Pen. Previously, it was headed by her father, Jean-Marine Le Pen, a man known for not hiding his Nazi sympathies. Given that many in the US have little idea of what's really going on in Europe, I wanted to explain what this might mean.

First, I need to give some context to this so you understand where I'm coming from and why I might be remotely qualified to have a voice on this issue.

I was born in Texas and spent most of my life living in the US. However, I've lived in Europe (the UK, the Netherlands and now France) since 2006. My wife is French, has a Master's Degree in French private law and used to work as a political advisor. We've discussed politics quite a bit and it's been an eye-opener. Our political views are mostly aligned, but given that she has a political background, she tends to be focused on what we can do and I tend to be more focused on what we should do. It makes dinner conversation interesting.

I've written here before about French politics and frankly (no pun intended), they're completely unknown in the US. In fact, much of Europe doesn't understand the politics of other countries, so the US is not alone in this regard.

The Front National (FN), at its core, enjoys support from between 10 to 20% of the French public. But why? For many outsiders, the FN is viewed as little more than a neo-Nazi front. How could the French, who suffered so greatly at the hands of the Nazis during WWII have any sympathy for Nazis? The truth is, they don't. Well, not much.

Think about the Tea Party. While they're often vilified in the US and abroad as being a bunch of racist right-wingers, the truth is far more nuanced than that. Many Tea Party members are not racist at all, but they are passionate about an ideal of keeping America (the US) American. They don't want socialism, they want to adhere to traditional values, and many of them firmly believe that the US is, and should be, a Christian nation.

We know that most of those terms are rather fuzzy and all but the most hard-core anti-Tea Partiers would agree that painting all of them with the same brush is unfair. Not all of them are a bunch of stupid, knuckle-dragging, racists.

No matter how deluded they may be, the same is true for the French National Front.

I have a friend in the UK whom I will call "Bill". Bill's a very nice guy. He's very much not a racist, doesn't give a damn if you're gay, doesn't care what religion you follow, and generally follows a "live and let live" philosophy. That's why I was shocked when he told me that he has a lot of sympathy for the very racist, homophobic, far-right British National Party. When my wife (who, unlike me, is black), asked him about this, he replied very succinctly: he's British, proud to be British, and wants to keep Britain British. He's not anti-immigrant, but he very much wants immigrants to assimilate into British culture. Why move to a country whose culture you reject?

I've pointed out to him that the British Empire did this for centuries all over the planet and now other countries are returning the favor with less bloodshed, but to no avail. How far back must we bear the sins of our fathers, he asks?

It doesn't matter if you agree with this point of view. In fact, it doesn't matter if you can't even accept the fact that this is a compelling argument for some. What matters is reality: many people accept this point of view and if we refuse to face this reality we're hardly better than their refusal to face the reality that the world is become more intertwined and cultures are going to change whether they like it or not.

And that brings us back to the Front National in France.

When Marine Le Pen took the helm of the FN, she immediately took steps to shed the party's neo-Nazi image (currently she is its honorary chairman and no longer the president of the party). Instead of banning immigration, she wants to reduce it. She's rejected many of her father's denials of Nazi war crimes. In fact, some French Jews are supporting her because she's seen as trying to remove the anti-semitic label of her party.

Of course, she's also swapped the NF anti-semitic credentials for fashionable anti-Muslim rhetoric. She's likened Muslim street prayers to the Nazi occupation, but if you watch Le Pen's Al Jazeera interview, she strikes a tone that many in the US would probably not be uncomfortable with. That is, until about the nine minute mark when she stumbles over the issue of her suggesting banning Muslim and Jewish headwear in public. She recovers a few minutes later by claiming that her party was the only one that defended the French Muslim Harkis and follows up with criticism of a France-Qatar economic alliance by claiming that Qatar has financed radical Islamist groups and this is a claim that isn't easy to reject. She also defends her demand that Halal meat be labeled as such by pointing out that we'd be be horrified at the thought of covertly selling pork to Muslims, or consecrated bread. Again, it's a message that many people could understand, if not agree with.

Make no mistake about it: Marine Le Pen is dangerous and her attempts to sound more moderate are a strong threat to France. She exposes this in the Al Jazeera interview I linked to when she said "the Roma have their own nation and let them stay there." But it's hard to deny that many people are being swayed by her message. Were it not for the baggage of her neo-Nazi father, her party might have garnered even more votes (that being said, they might have garnered fewer by not having the notoriety to gain access to the press).

Moving along, in Europe, there's a strong feeling amongst many that the EU isn't serving the needs of the European people. Many people are feeling like they're taking orders from Brussels (but I'd challenge them to name any) and are instead reacting to growing economic dissatisfaction. France's unemployment rate is over 10% and almost 1 in 4 people under the age of 25 is unemployed. France's current president's most notable accomplishment is, well, nothing, though to his credit, he signed into a law a bill to legalize gay marriage. Even gay marriage supporters, however, would be hard-pressed to say how this will help the French economy.

In reality, the FN's stunning result in the European elections isn't a sign of bigotry in France; it's an expression of people who are upset that their country is suffering and they want to lash out. The FN has no real program to deal with the economy, with unemployment, or the general air of pessimism that seems to exist in France, but they've identified two targets: the rest of Europe and radical Muslims and as any student of history knows, this moves people and they don't have to be explicitly racist for this to happen.

I've spoken to a number of people who nonetheless support far-right movements in Europe today. Many are definitely racists whackjobs, but many are simply ordinary people who are afraid of economic hardship or who want to preserve their country's culture. Just writing these groups off as extremist isn't going to help anyone and the only reason they haven't had more of a foothold in the US is the Republican and Democrat's lock on politics.

Despite the horror of the FN's win in the French European elections, I'm hopeful for a positive outcome: perhaps the mainstream groups will start realizing that they need to be more inclusive and not just working for the benefit of their own country. If Europe doesn't change, the promise of the EU may become a curse, but if enough of these neo-Nazi groups start gaining seats, maybe, just maybe, those who hold the reins of power will start looking around and see how they're failing Europe.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for a well informed diary (5+ / 0-)

    on a subject that normally gets very little serious attention on Daily Kos. I am an American who attempts to follow European politics but finds it difficult to do that from afar.

    There is definitely a rising tide of nationalism in many parts of the globe. It comes in different flavors. There are also different ways to view it. It can be seen as a reaction against the forces of globalization or the rise of something akin to fascism. You definitely have to examine the views of individual people before you put a label on them.

    •  True, but (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Richard Lyon, LordMike, Wreck Smurfy

      by attaching themselves to a movement or party, all too many people do a scary good job of labeling themselves.

      Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

      by corvo on Sun May 25, 2014 at 02:44:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Political parties generally try to present (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        limpidglass, LordMike, corvo, FG, Aquarius40

        themselves in an ambiguous manner to appeal to the maximum number of voters. Marine La Pen has made a concerted effort to change the party image from the one her father created.  My guess is that a lot of people like see the EU parliamentary election as a fairly safe place to indulge in a protest vote since its actual powers are fairly limited.

        I certainly wouldn't assume that everybody who wants out of the EU are fascists.

        •  Oh, of course not. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Richard Lyon

          But the converse to the ambiguous manner in which radical right parties present themselves is the tendency of the man in the street not to dig too deeply into the parties' motives and agendas.

          Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

          by corvo on Sun May 25, 2014 at 03:54:23 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Those who want out of the EZ are Economic Rational (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:


          Those who continue to believe that 17 different nation states can cede monetary policy to Brussels are radical extremists.

          Milton Friedman was wrong about so many things.

          But he was so on point when, over two decades ago, he concluded that the EZ made no sense, at least not without a United States of Europe.

          Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

          by PatriciaVa on Sun May 25, 2014 at 04:17:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  As with just about everywhere else, (10+ / 0-)

    when it becomes impossible to tell the difference between the "left" party and the "right" party -- basically because the left party has become a right party -- people look for alternatives.  Communist parties being powerless everywhere, and most Green parties having grown toothless (think of the victory of the "Realos" over the "Fundis" in the German Green Party), those alternatives are almost always on the far right, Syriza in Greece being the one notable exception.  

    Of course, the even more brutal irony is that the bankrollers of the far-right parties are -- surprise surprise! -- usually the same folks who bankroll the right parties.  We see the same thing in America, except that the Tea Party isn't (nor need it be) a party of its own.

    Quite frankly, I'm surprised that the FN got only 25%.

    Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

    by corvo on Sun May 25, 2014 at 02:38:27 PM PDT

    •  Take note U.S.A. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LordMike, judyms9, corvo

      "when it becomes impossible to tell the difference between the "left" party and the "right" party -- basically because the left party has become a right party -- people look for alternatives."

    •  I have thought about trying to do a diary (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LordMike, corvo, chrississippi, Odysseus

      comparing the Tea Party to the various European far right parties. So far I haven't come up with anything that strikes me as a coherent approach for analysis.

      •  Economic stagnation and distress .... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Richard Lyon, TJ, blueoasis, corvo

        seems to be a pretty good link between all the phenomena to me. Which is why Democrats missing the populist boat is such a predictable folly for the party, IMHO; Dems could have chosen to get those people on board who are looking for economic help, and at the same time quell their nativist urges. But there's really no stomach for that ...

    •  When a party fails to keep its promises (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PatriciaVa, corvo

      they can get punished.  Something the Democrats should keep in mind.

      •  But what is that punishment? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        People switching over to vote Republican or not voting at all, i.e., Republicans getting more of the overall vote either way?

        A lot of people continue to vote for Democrats because even when Democrats fail to keep their promises, the fear is that Republicans voted in would keep their party's promises.  

        •  Bingo (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A lot of people continue to vote for Democrats because even when Democrats fail to keep their promises, the fear is that Republicans voted in would keep their party's promises.
          I will never vote for a Republican.  When Republicans run unopposed, I do not vote in those races.

          It is my impression that Ranked-Choice voting exposes some of the undercurrents which feed the major party dynamics.  I want to see it adopted much more widely, and to expand the discussion.  I think that that alone would raise voting participation.

          -7.75 -4.67

          "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

          There are no Christians in foxholes.

          by Odysseus on Mon May 26, 2014 at 10:22:30 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  the problems with Europe (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LordMike, judyms9

    can't be solved at the level of individual European states. They must be solved at a Europe-wide level. A better-defined federal system which more clearly delineates the relative roles and powers of the European parliament and individual European states, reform of the eurozone, the proper role of NATO--these are all questions that must be resolved across all Europe.

    Few European politicians have the courage to put such questions to the electorate, so it ends up being just a bunch of finger-pointing and appeals to jingoism to disguise the fact that they don't have any real ideas. There's not a lot of enthusiasm for inter-state cooperation, either.

    You can't break up Europe, either. I mean, it's possible but you'll have to kill a lot of people and plunge the rest into immiseration, and cause a global economic crisis on top of it. There is no way a bunch of individual European states can run their own economic and foreign policies without a huge drop in the standard of living and a dangerous arms race.

    Voters are hurting economically and they're understandably reacting by lashing out. The EU and the euro are convenient targets for their anger, and the EU's defenders aren't doing themselves any favors by pursuing an agenda that further removes European policy from democratic control and places it in the hands of unelected technocrats. So in the short term it seems euroskepticism will be on the rise.

    "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

    by limpidglass on Sun May 25, 2014 at 03:00:26 PM PDT

    •  The nationalistic impulse that has driven so (0+ / 0-)

      many Europeans to the right, including Great Britain, is understandable, but it makes these nations vulnerable to the designs of say a Vladamir Putin or any other authoritarian.  A euro-swing in that direction would take the continent back 100 years.  All Euro governments need to reconsider the roles of the bankers and plutocrats within their nations.

      Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

      by judyms9 on Sun May 25, 2014 at 03:32:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The prblm with the continent of Europe is the Euro (0+ / 0-)

      If Spain and Greece reintroduced their legacy currencies, their economies would boom.

      Can't dissolve the EZ?

      That's what they said about the Argentine currency board.

      That's what they said about the USSR.

      So many currency unions have been dissolved.

      The EZ will be one more.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

      by PatriciaVa on Sun May 25, 2014 at 04:21:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  well, you may be right (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        charliehall2, LEP

        but on the other hand, the tolerance of non-German Europeans for pain exceeds everything I anticipated when the current crisis began in 2007. I would have been willing to bet that at least some of the southern Eurozone members would have dumped the euro rather than swallow Great Depression levels of unemployment, but I would have lost that bet. So yes, maybe the euro is doomed and maybe not.
             A reform program might include revising the ECB's mandate--currently only to combat inflation--to read like the Federal Reserve's dual mandate of fighting unemployment as well as inflation.  And some sort of Keynesian infrastructure spending, particularly in those Euro nations in which unemployment is high, would help...but to arrange this, the European Parliament would have to have the ability to tax and borrow, and I am skeptical that the individual nation-states would agree.
             In the end, the utterly unnecessary suffering--on both sides of the Atlantic--caused by austerity fanatics blind to the consequences of their failed ideology--may result in convulsions similar to the 1930s. But maybe the suffering will continue until the economy recovers on its own, years or decades from now.

        "Something has gone very wrong with America, not just its economy, but its ability to function as a democratic nation. And it’s hard to see when or how that wrongness will get fixed." Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

        by Reston history guy on Sun May 25, 2014 at 05:19:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Ovid - thank you for a very thoughtful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OrganicChemist, andalusi

    and informative diary, including a rare, accurate, description of the Tea Party.

    "let's talk about that" uid 92953

    by VClib on Sun May 25, 2014 at 05:05:08 PM PDT

  •  Because we have a 2 party system (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    it is harder to define the "far right". Attempts to do so based on individual candidates or issue polling usually come up with guessing that the "far right" in America is about 25% also.
    The reason that the European far right gets about 25% of the vote and this is seen as alarming is that with a parliamentary system 25% is a meaningful amount. In America 25% of the vote is meaningless, so far right candidates (who are not lucky enough to be able to chose their spots) must "moderate" their opinions - they must appear to be moderate enough to not alarm the mainstream while remaining extreme enough to peal to their followers.
    This is how the Republican Party has become essentially a far right party, though true far rightists are only a minority of its membership. Note also that this drift in the Overton Window also affects the Democrats, as it gives conservadems room to drift right without being punished.
    I would like to say that a parliamentary system moderates extremists by giving them a forum, while inducing them to assimilate, but this does not seem to be the case.
    I would also like to assume the process that has led to near if not outright fascism in the US could also work for a sufficiently popular left movement, but corruption pretty much negates that possibility.

  •  Tipped and Rec'd. I have a couple of observations (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fladem, dougymi, charliehall2, LEP

    to add.

    The 25% result for the Front National is a projection based on an Ipsos exit poll. The actual vote counting isn't complete yet. Based on returns, so far, a total of almost 10 million votes, here are the standings:

    Front National 27%
    UMP 20%
    Socialist 14%
    UDI 10%
    Greens 8%
    Leftist 6%
    These results don't include the Paris region where the FN won't do as well. I don't think it will end up with more than 22% which would still be its high water mark.

    I'd like to put that in perspective. Two months ago, in the municipal elections, the FN had only 6.75% of the vote, despite the exaggerations of the press about a surge. The results are posted on the Interior Minister's website.

    When voters in over 3,000 cities and towns had to choose somebody to run their own city hall or town council, the FN didn't get a lot of votes. Since quite a few French are disenchanted with the EU, some voters made a strategic decision today to show their disdain by electing FN candidates to seats in the European Parliament up in Brussels.

    The turnout was very low today, too. 25% of the votes cast would equal only about 12% of registered voters. That's probably the biggest news from the election but it won't get much attention.

    The FN has been around since the early 1970s. I guess most people forgot that it came out in the top 2 in the first round of the 2002 Presidential election. In the general, it was a choice between Jacques Chirac and Le Pen (père) for President. That was probably more of a high water mark than today's election, in terms of importance, if not actual vote count.  

    In the rest of Europe, the returns don't show much of a gain for the right, based on projections.

    Euro Parliament Political Groups Platform # of seats (2009-2014 # of seats (2014-2019)
    Euro United Left/Nordic Greens Left (GUE/NGL) economic/social justice, progressive, left 35 45
    Socialists and Democrats  (S&D) socialist-labor, center-left 196 185
    Greens/Euro Free Aliance  (Greens/EFA) ecologists, inclusive democracy, left 57 55
    Liberals and Democrats  (ALDE) center 83 71
    Euro People's Party (EPP) free-market, center-right 274 212
    Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) national sovereignty, social conservative, right 57 40
    Freedom and Democracy (EFD) Euroskeptic, right 31 36
    Unaffiliated/Independent  (2009-2014) (NI) non-members of any group  (2009 - 2014) 33 40
    Others 25 MEPs  from 7 or more countries are needed to form new groups 0 67
    •  Another source (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mark Lippman

      The mainstream center-left basically did as well as it did before and the center-right lost a lot of votes to the far right. But the center-left, center, and center-right still hold the overwhelming majority of MEPs.

      •  France24 has improved the quality of its reporting (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LEP, charliehall2

        and it has very good coverage in English now.

        Marine Le Pen and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, have held seats in the European Parliament since 2009. They're in the Unaffiliated/Independent group. If the FN picks up a total of 18 seats, it still won't have the meaningful and effective power that the European Parliament Political Groups have.

        Of the MEPs who won seats in this election, 67 is a large number of Unaffiliated/Independents. They could be a wild card if any of them were able to form a coalition and gain status as a new Political Group recognized by the Parliament. It would take a minimum of 25 from 7 different countries.

        The FN itself doesn't count as a recognized Political Group. could probably find enough MEPs to have the minimum requirement of 25. However, it's very unlikely that the FN will find them in 6 other countries, as required. Too, many others have already ruled it out.  

        These new FN MEPs have no chance of accomplishing anything in the context of the European Parliament.

    •  Insane. Suppress the vote, fund the hate. (0+ / 0-)

      It is almost a guaranteed 20% of the electorate and add another 5%-10% from poorly informed voters. Where does the FN get their funding or is their less private money in the top-tier Euro states?

  •  Another possibility is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that it's truly a vent out, and after a stretch of popularity and extreme venting there is collapse of the far Rightist support back to the 15%ish baseline level it seems to have in most places in Europe.

    This has been festering for a while in Europe- I saw it when visiting relatives in rural areas all the time.  There isn't much to be done about the economic part, unfortunately- the basic problem is oversupply of labor, which is due to overpopulation.  But European policy on immigration from outside Europe is a problem area and needs some sort of fixing.  (I think the EU needs to do a lot more to make the immigrants' home countries better places, desirable to return to.)  The far Right aren't the right people to do any fixing, of course, but as in the U.S. they can put issues on the table and make a better solution an urgent matter.

  •  Where do they get their funding? (0+ / 0-)

    Europe has stronger job creation than the United States. (see Krugman's blog). They likely even measure employment better than the US does. So we have once again some faction of the wealthy seeking any political faction to push their need to control and grow their wealth.

  •  Their underlying motivation is still racism (0+ / 0-)

    It doesn't matter how much we try to understand and sympathize with their motivations, the underlying energy that animates the National Front is racism - anti-immigrant, anti-muslim and anti-foreigner.

    Marina Le Pen's more subdued and coded racist messaging enables those who would prefer to deny their racist tendencies a little more comfort to vote for a party that is hostile to immigrants, muslims and foreigners.

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