French elections: by the time the EU economy revives and the migration crisis is solved extremists could take over Europe

Marine Le-Pen at the European Parliament's Plenary session week 48 2015 in Strasbourg Recent terrorist attacks in Paris - Council and Commission statements (European Parliament Audiovisual Services)

Marine Le-Pen at the European Parliament’s Plenary session week 48 2015 in Strasbourg Recent terrorist attacks in Paris – Council and Commission statements (European Parliament Audiovisual Services)

The National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen won the first round of the regional elections in France while Nikolas Sarkozy’s party came second and the French President Francois Hollande was disappointingly at the third place.

The entire Old Continent was shocked last Sunday when it was announced that the FN received 28% and won six out of a total of thirteen French regions. The leader of the FN stated that this was a “magnificent result proving that the FN is clearly the first party in France”.

It is true that the recent attacks in Paris played important role for this outcome. There are also other factors though such as unemployment, economic stagnation and the migration crisis that pushed the French people to vote in favor of the far-right National Front.

The centre-right Republicans party led by Nicolas Sarkozy and the governing Socialist Party (PS) of Francois Hollande need to take immediate actions if they want to come back to the race at next Sunday’s second round; only that there is hardly any time for that now. Most importantly, whatever the result of next weekend’s second round, tremendous progress has to be shown by France’s mainstream political powers to gain trust in time for the 2017 presidential elections.

FN ‘s appeal is rising

The party led by Marine Le-Pen has been gaining popularity since 2010 when it received 11% of the French vote in the regional elections. Today it has managed so far to win the first round of the French regional elections. The fact that is leading two regions and has high percentages in four others shows that French people are fed up with the Socialist and Republican Parties and think it is a good idea to give a chance to the FN’s demagogy.

More specifically, the FN received 41 percent of the vote in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur regions. Further, 36 percent of the vote was received in the eastern region of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine.

But will Marine Le-Pen’s Party be able to achieve these scores in next Sunday’s final round as well? If we take into consideration last regional elections where competing mainstream parties united to prevent FN from winning, we have better not make fast conclusions about an easy victory of FN. France’s political elite will not die so easily.

Paris attacks’ role in regional elections result

For many analysts recent Paris attacks played a crucial role in the outcome of these elections. At the same time though these tragic events had as a result to increase the popularity of the French president Francois Hollande by 20 points but was inadequate to get him something more than a third place with the slim 23,5%.

However, the outcome of the first round of the French regional elections could be justified for several reasons. First of all, the sluggishness of the French economy which is the second biggest one in Europe has changed people’s belief in the politicians that can finally and truly revive it. Secondly, unemployment in October has risen to 10,8% according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, creating frustration and doubts to the French citizens. Especially, youth unemployment has increased from 24,5% in September to 24,7% in October. What is more, the fear and anxiety of immigration which has reached record levels this year is believed to have increased FN’s popularity; particularly in regions such as Calais which now has more than 4,000 migrants waiting and hoping to reach Britain and the suburbs of major French cities.

Socialists and Republicans respond

The Republican Party led by Nicolas Sarkozy has refused to join forces with the Socialists in order to form a bloc that would stop Marine Le-Pen from winning the regional elections. More in detail, the French former President stressed that: “Our candidates would not join with other parties or withdraw from the race”.

On the opposite side, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the head of the Socialist Party, stated that: “The party of the extreme right threatens many regions of France. The left is, then, the last rampart of Republican France against the xenophobic extreme right”. Thus, the party’s candidates are determined to withdraw from the elections in the two regions where the National Front received the highest percentages and are ready to join with other parties where is needed. However without joining forces is quite difficult, not to say impossible, for any of the two opponents of the FN to win in the coming Sunday.

The surge of migration crisis together with the incapability of the European Leaders to find a permanent solution till now and the enduring economic stagnation of the bloc are reinforcing controversial parties in Europe. FN benefits and could rise to power with unknown and unpredictable results for the people and society.

A dark future

The biggest question is how would Europe look like in 2017 with Le Pen as President and the UK outside the EU? It seems that Juncker’s Commission is called on to give an unprecedented and for many unfair fight in the post second world war era. The business as usual attitude of former Commissions has resulted in centrifugal forces at the core of the EU which are way too strong now. It is not any more about talks and promises from ambitious politicians appealing to an uneducated and underprivileged European minority.

Sadly enough, the major takeaway of the first round of the French regional elections is that the French middle class is ready and thirsty for demagogy. In fact, it is desperate and ready for anything it is being served. Most of all, they are willing to make their new “revolution”, claiming that the mainstream political forces they have trusted for so long have terribly failed.

Voters are known to have the memory of a goldfish. Ten-fifteen years ago the French middle class was enjoying prosperity, buying cars and building houses. Today, the results of a global financial crisis and stagnation pushes them to vote for ultra nationalists or fascists.

At the same time the world goes on war against Syria. Those turbulent signs of our times are simply too much worrying and bring back to our memories the world’s worst nightmares.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CAnyfantis

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