Far-right surges in French elections

Marine Le Pen “set alarm bells jangling all over Europe” this week with her party’s performance in the first round of the French regional elections, says John Lichfield in The Independent. If the results are confirmed in the second round this Sunday, the Front National (FN) could preside over three of France’s biggest regions. Even if she “falls short” – other parties are “scrambling” to block her – it still establishes her “deodorised far-right party as the single biggest force in French politics”.

She has “repackaged some of the most destructive and sweetly persuasive ideas of both the hard right and the hard left – xenophobia, protectionism, authoritarianism – into a single, seemingly modern programme for government”.

The governments of France’s regions are not particularly powerful, says the Financial Times. But the results show the party’s growing appeal. It won 28% of the national vote, its best yet. Le Pen still only has an “outside chance” of winning the 2017 French presidential election, but “victory is not inconceivable”. It would be disastrous for France and for Europe.

Although she has tried to “disinfect” the brand by rejecting the anti-Semitism of her father, Jean-Marie, she remains “crudely xenophobic”, linking the Paris attacks with France’s “insane immigration policy”. She wants to dismantle the euro and erect protectionist barriers.

Though none of France’s political grandees will admit it, there is nothing irrational about Le Pen’s success, says Anne-Elisabeth Moutet in The Daily Telegraph. Her “broad tent” approach extends a hand to disgruntled voters. The FN won 55% of voters classed as workers (ouvriers), says Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the same paper. Despite all the promises, nothing has been done about France’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, which hit an 18-year high of 10.6% in October. The labour code doesn’t help: it is more than 3,000 pages, acting as a “gale-force headwind against job creation”.

There are 383 taxes, 50 of which cost more to enforce than they yield. Le Pen wants to shrink the state. Her plans include a national industrial strategy that “swats aside EU competition law”, a retirement age of 60 and a “realignment of taxation against capital and in favour of workers”. This makes a “heady brew” when mixed with “nationalist identity politics”.

France’s political class has “presided over a failure in economics”, agrees The Times: high unemployment, “sluggish” growth and high taxes. No wonder voters are unhappy. But Le Pen is a “dead end”.

Her message increases the isolation of France’s Muslim population and is dangerous for her allies. The Socialists and Republicans need to “fix a system in which the state stifles ambition, does too much, and does it badly”.

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