The rise of the extreme right in Europe is a contentious issue. Extreme right parties, such as the FN, have flourished in Western Europe in recent years and many academics have attempted to explain why this has happened. Mudde has attempted to explain this phenomenon by identifying a criteria of the extreme right in order to analyse the policy areas they are able to gain support from. This dissertation will apply this criteria to the FN to assess the ways in which the party has been allowed to thrive in France.
Additionally, due to the vast amount of success the FN have had, both electorally and in setting the political agenda, the dissertation will also address the issue of whether this rise of the extreme right is limited to France and whether the FN are just a ‘French Exception’. Due to the parties success the dissertation is able to study a wide range of sources, both qualitative and quantitative in order to give the best conclusion that it possibly can.
To do this the dissertation will have a particular focus on all elections from 1995-2007 so that the thesis has a broad period of time and a wide range of elections in which to critically assess how the FN has been so successful. Introduction This Dissertation will focus on the electoral success of the FN in European, national, and legislative elections from 1995 to 2007. The primary aim of this thesis is to critically examine the policy areas that the FN have advocated in order to further its electoral gains in all elections in the time period under study.
The first Chapter will form the theoretical framework of the Dissertation by conducting an analysis of a set of criteria laid out by academics, such as Mudde and Ignazi, in order to define what policy areas an extreme right party adheres to. The Chapter will then apply these criteria to the FN in order to conclude that the FN is extreme right. Furthermore, it will argue that the FN uses certain areas of the extreme right doctrine and discourse in order to appeal to the French electorate to succeed in European and national elections.
The second Chapter of this Dissertation will study the theory of ‘French Exceptionalism’. Academics, such as Godin and Harmsen, argue that the idea of ‘French Exceptionalism’ is one reason the FN has been allowed to flourish. France is claimed to be a nation that has allowed the extreme right to be particularly successful due to the Presidential system and its history of a polarised electorate, and as such represents the reason why France is considered to be politically ‘exceptional’ in Western Europe.
Chapter 3 will analyse the success of the FN in the two European elections of 1999 and 2004. This Chapter will use electoral data to analyse the level of success the party obtained in these elections. It will also use arguments presented by political scientists, such as Shields and Williams, to display how the FN used the theoretical framework established in Chapter 1 to appeal to the French electorate.
Similarly, Chapter 4 will also use the theoretical framework to examine what policy areas the FN have used in the Presidential elections of 1995, 2002, and 2007. Moreover, Chapter 4 will continue this analysis by investigating the legislative elections of 1997, 2002, and 2007, in order to determine the level of success the FN has enjoyed in the period under study. The Dissertation will conclude that the FN enjoyed a considerable amount of success between 1995 and 2007, with its main success coming in the Presidential elections of 2002.
Additionally, despite the apparent decline in the percentage of votes the FN received in the 2007 elections, the party still remained a considerable threat to the mainstream right due to its influence on the political agenda. The 2007 election may have been a defeat for the FN, however it is widely regarded as an election in which Sarkozy won with the ideas of the FN behind him (Hewlett 2010 p51). Chapter 1: Policy Areas Attributed to the Extreme Right: A Study of how the FN Displays these Tendencies.
This dissertation will focus upon the policy areas of the FN, before moving on to critically examine whether it is these policies that can be attributed to the party’s political success. However, before analysing the FN in greater depth it must first be established what policy areas are considered by academics to be ‘extreme right’ so that when compared to FN policies, one can conclude as to whether the party can be classified as ‘extreme right’. The FN could be conceived as the most successful extreme right party in Europe since the 1940s (Fieschi 2004 p1).
The reason for this is that the FN have been successful in consistently gaining around 15% of the national vote (Shields 2010 p26), whist also enjoying a vast amount of influence over the mainstream parties in France and other extreme right parties in Europe by pushing many issues onto the wider political agenda (Hewlett 2010 p51). Hainsworth states that an example of this is the way in which Le Pen is able to gain “respectable support whilst dressing anti-immigrant themes”, this was due to “the fact that the issue had already been mooted by mainstream parties” (2000 p26).
Since the rise of the new extreme right in Europe, many political scientists have attempted to answer the question of ‘why does the extreme right still exist? ‘. Academics even consider how the extreme right are able to gain success in a contemporary Europe. In order for this Chapter to answer these questions it will first consider the main policy areas attributed to the contemporary extreme right, before analysing these criteria in relation to FN policy and ideology. Mudde states that there are five main policy areas that extreme right parties can embody.
These are nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-democracy, and a belief in a strong state (1995 p209-216). Mudde argues that nationalism is the most influential of the five policy areas, since it is argued that all citizens can adhere to it (1995 p209). Furthermore, extreme right parties can use nationalism to unify voters in order to further their electoral success (Mudde 1995 p209). In regards to racism, Mudde argues that there are two types, which he has branded ‘old’ and ‘new’.
The ‘old’ form of racism is the more obvious, it differentiates races quite clearly by placing them in a hierarchy of ethnicity, in a form of a pyramid. ‘New’ racism is of the belief that there is no hierarchy of races, and therefore all races are equal but should be kept separate. This is due to the belief that there is a fundamental difference between races and as such races are incapable of integration (Mudde 1995 p211). Xenophobia, by definition, could be described as having a fear, hatred or hostility towards ethnic foreigners or strangers (Mudde 1995 p212).
In addition, academics argue that ethnocentrism is a form of xenophobia, which is the belief that there is a centrally important ethnic or cultural group (Mudde 1995 p212, Kitschelt 1995 p98). Ethnocentrism is a dangerous policy line, since it incorporates only one ethnicity or culture upon a geographical area, and thus could be interpreted as another form of racism. Anti-democracy refers to the longing to change or destroy the democratic system. It can also be viewed as working within the democratic system in an attempt to change it (Mudde 1995 p214).
Anti-democracy is arguably the most difficult of the five policy areas to evidence within the contemporary extreme right. This is due to the democratic systems that the modern extreme right work within, thus any form of anti-democratic policy would probably result in a complete collapse in support and membership of an extreme right party. In contrast, to be an anti-democratic party can be viewed as a party that “abides by a system that does not share the values of the political order within which it operates” (Minkenberg ; Schain 2003 p169).
The fifth and final of Mudde’s criteria is the belief of having a strong state, and “is a collective noun for sub-features that have to do with a strengthened repressive function for the state” (Mudde 1995 p216). The collective nouns Mudde speaks of are anti-pluralism, militarism, and law and order (Mudde 1995 p216). Despite these five criteria being included, it does not necessarily mean that an extreme right party must exhibit all these policies to be classified as extreme right. However, in regards to the FN, this dissertation will examine the policies to display how the FN exhibits all of these tendencies.
There is a vast amount of evidence to suggest that the five policy areas highlighted by Mudde have been used by the FN to further their political gains. Nationalist policies are most evident within the FN through an analysis of the ways in which the party has used slogans and imagery in order to further its electoral success, whilst creating a feeling of nationalist sentiment within the electorate. Shields states that the FN is stridently nationalist, whilst claiming that the party fits no predefined mould (Shields 2007 p310). Furthermore, Marcus supports this view by stating that the FN strongly adheres to this policy area.
He argues that nationalism was prominent particularly under Le Pen, as he consistently defined what it meant to be ‘French’, as well as referring to French traditions and customs (1995 p2-4). The second policy area identified by Mudde is racism, and Ignazi argues that the racist stance the European extreme right hold towards immigration is a key reason for the rise of these parties (1992 p23). Racism can be evidenced in both foreign and immigration policy of the FN, particularly in events such as the Libyan and Algerian crises (Fysh & Wolfreys 2003 p2, Davies 2002 p122).
This term is more commonly described as ‘Islamophobia’ (Williams 2010 p116). Racism is also evident in the FN’s rhetoric, one example of which is when Le Pen stated that some races are more equal than others (Hainsworth 2000 p25). Furthermore, Ignazi argues that racism is a key reason for the rise of the European extreme right. Fetzer supports this by stating that it is “most alarming” that there is such a large “proportion of French citizens willing to support Le Pen’s vehemently anti-immigrant party” (2000 p111). The third criteria, xenophobia, is evident in the FN’s European policy.
This is despite the fact that the FN have a strong influence over other European extreme right parties, such as the VB in Belgium, the PFL in the Netherlands, and the FPO in Austria (Fysh & Wolfreys 2003 p7). However, despite this influence the FN is still considered to be predominantly Eurosceptic (Shields 2007 p312). The fourth criteria, anti-democracy, is something that the FN are generally considered not to adhere to, with Davies arguing that the FN could be conceived as forward looking within the democratic system (2002 p143).
In contrast, it is also argued that the FN merely use the political system in France in order to further their political gains (Shields 2007 p37). Moreover, Minkenberg and Schain support this by stating that the FN is not anti-democratic, but yet wish to change the system whilst using it for their own gains (2003 p169). A belief in a strong state can be witnessed in the FN by its policies that advocate a strong judicial system as well as the constant references to a strong military in FN rhetoric.
The militaristic nature of the FN can be seen in regards to its obsession with France’s history, but also due to the reverence of military veterans and old war time leaders, such as Napoleon. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the FN has a desire to reintroduce authoritarianism in France (Marcus 1995 p2-4, Davies 2002 p137, Fieschi 2004 p187). Conclusively, it is evident that the FN are an extreme right party due to the direct correlation between FN policy and the five extreme right policy areas established by Mudde in 1995.
It is important to note that the FN are viewed as Europe’s most successful extreme right party (Fieschi 2004 p1). The growth and continued success of the FN, compared to other extreme right parties has lead academics to refer to this as a ‘French Exception’ (Godin 2005 p66). The dissertation will now analyse why this might be the case, and how this ‘exception’ may have contributed to the FN’s electoral success. Chapter 2: The French Exception The question of whether there is such a thing as a ‘French Exception’ has been heavily debated by many leading political theorists, such as, Jack, Godin, Hewlett, and Schain.
This debate has lead academics to believe that there are many more types of French exceptionalism, as opposed to just that of the rise of the French extreme right. This Chapter will first define French exceptionalism before analysing whether there are many forms of French exceptionalism or just the one. It will then conduct an examination on the success of the extreme right in France to conclude whether it is a French exception, or whether it is down to extreme right popularity in a wider European context. The existence of an extreme right French exception can be witnessed due to the polarised and extremist nature of French politics.
Hewlett claims that the main reason for the existence of a successful extreme right in France is due to the long history of Bonapartism (2010 p41). This is even more evident in the way that Hewlett defines Bonapartism, in which he states that “an authoritarian but charismatic leader is able to rule with an unusual degree of popularity for a relatively short period of time within the framework of a strong state and with claims to being above party politics” (Hewlett 2010 p41). Furthermore, Hewlett emphasises the need for the leader to be “populist, with electoral appeal across classes” (2010 p41).
Both of these definitions refer to elements of extreme right ideology, including authoritarianism, a belief in a strong state, and populism, elements of which are apparent within the FN. The long history of Bonapartism in France thus displays why the FN have been able to form the French exception. Moreover, the fact that beliefs of the extreme right are built into the political culture of France displays that the presence of a strong extreme right is a fundamental part of the political spectrum within the country.
Furthermore, the belief that the leader should be above the party can also be witnessed in the individualist Presidential system that exists in France. Presidentialism, by definition, promotes a single leader into the sole position of the executive branch of power, and thus effectively makes that person the most powerful within the state (Comfort 2005 p630). This system is arguably the legacy of a series of authoritarian regimes in France, but there are safeguards to prevent anyone from winning.
As will be discussed later, the two-round Presidential system disadvantages smaller parties, such as the FN (Givens 2005 p28), whilst the need to gain 500 mayoral signatures to be placed on the ballot paper has caused an element of concern to the FN on more than one occasion (Cole 2002 p325). However, both safeguards arguably make politics in France more individualistic, this is due to the fact that the two-round Presidential electoral system places two candidates into the national media spotlight (Eatwell 2003 p65, Hewlett 2010 p47), whilst the 500 mayoral signatures gives each candidate on the ballot paper a mandate on which to govern.
Individualistic politics, such as those promoted within the Presidential system can be conceived as advantageous to the extreme right due to their inherent belief in strong charismatic leadership (Hewlett 2010 p41) and undeniably allows the extreme right to promote the legacy of Bonapartism in France. Jack claims that French exceptionalism represents a series of exceptions, as opposed to just one. However, he highlights the fact that the ‘ugliest’ of these exceptions is that the FN continues to grow in strength (Jack 1999 p196). In contrast, Godin claims that in relation to the extreme right in France there are four different ‘waves’.
The first wave was in the 19th Century, and he brands it as Boulangisme, the second wave represents the rise of the leagues in the inter-war period, the third wave is the Poujadist wave in the 50s and 60s, whilst the fourth wave is that of the FN’s growth since the 1980s (Godin 2005 p61). This is argued to have culminated in Le Pen’s first round victory in the 2002 Presidential elections (Godin 2005 p61). Godin argues that each of these four waves had a fundamental ideological shift. Despite this he claims that one feature is prominent at each stage, which is populism (Godin 2005 p65).
The fact that academics even consider there to be ‘French Exception’ implies there must automatically be evidence to suggest such a phenomenon. Hewlett states that the FN success is the most notable exception of all (2005 p12). This can be attributed in part to the so-called “historical weight of an authoritarian-plebiscitarian tradition” (Godin 2005 p62). Moreover, this tradition has meant that the FN has achieved a large amount of electoral success, and is now considered the common third party of France due to the fact that they gain disillusioned socialist and moderate right voters at election times (Jack 1999 p198).
Furthermore, Godin states that in 1997, only 46% of FN voters voted because of a belief in FN ideology, whilst an additional 38% of them stated they only voted for the FN as a rejection of other parties (2005 p61). However, this was only the case in the 1990s, as in 2007 Sarkozy broke the traditional FN vote due to his security policies (Hewlett 2010 p51). Even Le Pen’s own daughter, Marine Le Pen, has stated that Sarkozy won as a result of the ideas of Le Pen, and that Sarkozy was Le Pen-lite (Hewlett 2010 p51). Academics have also argued in part that the French Exception is due to the electoral system in place.
Hewlett argues that since the Fifth Republic’s creation the French electoral system has become increasingly individualistic in regards to the personalisation of candidates in French political elections (2010 p53). Other academics argue the exact opposite, and in fact believe that the French exception has only come about due to the way the FN portrays itself at election time. Many academics believe that the FN is populist, and through the populist doctrine has distanced itself from the past in order to become a party anyone can vote for (Harmsen 2010 p110, Godin 2005 p66).
One key issue which highlights and supports this line of argument is the policies surrounding Europe. In both 2005 and 2010, Collard stated that the European policy FN is stridently populist. She uses the example of the Maastricht Treaty in 2002 to evidence Euroscepticism within the FN, whilst stating that they dramatically change their views later on to argue that the French should use Europe to make France the international superpower it once was (Collard 2005 p37, Collard 2010 p24).
Harmsen supports Collard’s view by stating that the FN have dabbled in both Euroscepticism and Eurocentricism, depending on the popularity of the issue at each time (2010 p111). Harmsen then contradicts his argument by arguing almost the opposite by suggesting that the FN’s view on Europe doesn’t affect its vote numbers either positively or negatively (2010 p113). Therefore, this Chapter will argue if the FN’s European policy forms the main evidence to suggest that the FN is populist, but yet doesn’t affect voter numbers, then the FN’s populist viewpoint cannot be the sole reason for the French exception.
Schain has taken a different line of argument, and suggests the French exceptionalism is more likely to be a fault of the political system as well as the views of the political class in France, rather than due to the direct policy areas that the FN adheres to (2010 p134). This is because governments in France, either left or right, always take into account the FN’s position on policy before making law (Schain 2010 p134). Conclusively, the French Exception is a belief which can be evidenced, but can never be examined to find a cause.
The evidence suggests that the French Exception has been caused by the political system which allows parties with radical views, such as the FN, to gain electoral success. When put on a European comparison, the political system has also meant that the populist viewpoints that are both generated and encompassed by the FN have managed to create significant support. This support has come from both the left and the right, and has given the FN the opportunity to be this ‘exception’.
Chapter 3: The FN’s Success in the 1999 and 2004 European Elections Academics have consistently referred to Le Pen’s talent at manipulating the issue of immigration and turning it into a discourse which undoubtedly creates electoral support through a fear of a loss of national identity (Freedman 2004 p3, Davies 2002 p137). This Chapter will focus on how the FN have used this issue of immigration coupled with a Eurosceptic discourse, in order to generate electoral success at the European Parliamentary level.
It will explore the issue of immigration using leading academics, such as Shields, Safran, and Freedman, in order to assess how this issue has been used in conjunction with other policies to generate an entire manifesto’s worth of policies to thus mount two successful EU election campaigns. Le Pen summarised his views towards immigrants when he stated: “I like my daughters better than my nieces, my nieces better than my cousins, and my cousins better than my neighbours.
It is the same thing in politics, I like the French people better” (Rydgren 2004 p178). There was a common consensus at the end of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st that immigration was to blame for most of the social and economic problems of France (Minkenberg ; Schain 2003 p166). The main reason for this, arguably, is down to the influence of Le Pen. Freedman states that the immigrant became the scapegoat for all of France’s ills, and in order to benefit from this, she claims that the FN used it as a focus for their appeal (2004 p40).
This so-called resurrection of the traditional scapegoat is in part due to the events of 2001, in which the attacks on the World Trade Center left the world stunned and fearful, thus giving rise to the ethnocentric feeling of Islamophobia (Williams 2010 p129, Evans & Ivaldi 2008 p183). It was this rise of the ethnocentric vote that meant Le Pen could use certain rhetoric in order to use this fear to his advantage. Before the 2004 European elections Le Pen referred to Muslim immigration becoming a deadly menace to French national identity (Rydgen 2004 p177).
It was the fear of instability generated by Muslims that enabled the FN to include xenophobia within its already bordering on racist messages. One particular policy advocated by Le Pen is the idea that people of different ‘types’ should be kept separate in order to prevent the national identity, or character, of a nation from eroding (Rydgren 2004 p152). This not only implies that France should operate a closed border policy, but also represents an anti-assimilation doctrine, and a non-integrationist stance (Rydgren 2004 p177).
The FN state that immigration from Muslim countries is the most dangerous, due to the fact that Muslims are so culturally different, and thus makes it impossible to assimilate them into France (Rydgren 2004 p177). The slogan “le droit a la difference” (the right to be different) has been a widely regarded saying by Le Pen, particularly before the 2004 European Parliamentary elections, and is in reference to the fact that French culture should be protected and preserved from the ‘encroachment’ of immigrant culture (Freedman 2004 p27).
However, Le Pen has stated that the menace of uncontrolled immigration is what leads to disorder and insecurity in France. Thus the framing of immigration as a security issue has been used by Le Pen to put pressure on the government to introduce increasingly repressive and exclusionary legislation on immigration and asylum (Freedman 2004 p3). Furthermore, the FN have stated that they wish to preserve the French nation, which they described as a traditional ethnically-inspired entity, that can be easily undermined by alien values, groups, cultures and influences (Williams 2010 p114).
In order to justify these xenophobic policies the FN has stated that it is ethno-nationalist and not racist (Rydgren 2004 p176), whilst fielding candidates of ethnic minority in order to justify their acceptance of minorities (Freedman 2004 p96). However, it is worth noting that the majority of these candidates are not of Arab or Muslim origin (Freedman 2004 p96). Before 2001 there was also a large ethnocentric sentiment presence in the FN, but mostly against North African immigration.
Due to the historic links between France and her previous colonies there was a large influx of African immigration, which Le Pen frequently put on to the political agenda throughout the 1990s (Williams 2010 p113). Le Pen used this to build upon the FN’s racist rhetoric, and explicitly stated that he believed there is an inequality of all races and that North African’s do not have the same capacity to evolve (Rydgren 2004 p179). This neo-racist stance of the FN is what Williams claims forms the main populist stance of the FN, which contributes to any electoral success they have gained (2010 p116).
Merkl supports this by stating that the FN ‘immigrant bash’ to gain electoral support (2003 p29). However, the reason that it can be perceived as an undeniable doctrine that was soon to be accepted by the mainstream right was due to the link between immigration and unemployment. Le Pen was most successful in linking unemployment to mass immigration with his slogan of “two million unemployed, two million immigrants too many” (Sowerwine 2001 p391, Hainsworth 2000 p26, Ardagh 2000 p1).
Sowerwine expands on this argument by stating that unemployment can be strongly linked to immigration due to the fact that it touches people on an everyday level, not just on a national cultural level. This was arguably the FN’s major success in the 1990s to gain electoral support (2001 p429). To support this, Givens states that Le Pen regularly highlights the number of unemployed French workers to the number of employed immigrants (2005 p37). This undoubtedly creates a rather fuelled dislike of immigrants, and can be attributed to xenophobic, nationalist, and anti-immigrant sentiment.
The FN not only blames immigration for unemployment, but they also blame the left in France for failing to protect French jobs. The FN states that this is due to the open-border policy to immigration advocated by the left (Minkenberg ; Schain 2003 p166). Furthermore, Le Pen uses rhetoric within ideology, such as family values, in order to spread the idea that the next generation of French citizens will be the ones that won’t be able to gain employment due to the vast amount of immigrants in the country.
He did this by advocating the policy of protecting the rights of France’s children, as opposed to welcoming foreigners to take their place (Rydgren 2004 p145). This was an incredibly tactful move by the FN, as anti-immigration and unemployment were two of the three biggest issues to the French electorate in the time period under study (Schain 2000 p73). Thus by grouping these issues together it has allowed the FN to form a unique, and highly populist platform which generates a large amount of support in not only European elections, but also in Presidential and legislative elections as well (Shields 2010 p26).
Despite the overt Islamophobic tendencies of the FN, there is a large amount of evidence to display that the party also hold an anti-American viewpoint. This is supported by the party’s rhetoric, such as when Le Pen stated that American imperialism has begun to dominate the world (Minkenberg & Schain 2003 p166). Le Pen used the First Gulf War as an example of this ‘imperialist’ doctrine (Safran 2003 p113, Minkenberg & Schain p167, Hainsworth 2000 p28). Not only did the FN publically oppose the First Gulf War, they were also part of the extremist coalition in Europe that supported Saddam Hussein’s regime (Minkenberg ; Schain 2003 p166-167).
Anti-Americanism is not only due to the imperialist motives of US, but also refers to the dislike of the fact that the US has, since WWII, been enforcing its culture and way of life upon the rest of the world (Williams 2010 p129). This view undoubtedly contributes to the xenophobic nature of the party, and can thus be easily linked to anti-immigration. The FN’s dislike of the US is strongly linked to the FN’s inherent hatred of globalisation (Freedman 2004 p27).
Le Pen argues that globalisation has meant that France is a victim of global mutation, or an invasion that seems peaceful, but in fact poses a ‘deadly’ threat to France’s identity, security, and culture (Rydgren 2004 p177, Ardagh 2000 p1). Ignazi states that Americanisation and globalisation are strongly linked due to the fact that both undermine French culture in terms of placing ‘alien’ or foreign values upon it (2006 p106). Moreover, Givens states that the process of globalisation can also be blamed for the increase in unemployment and uncertainty in the industrial sectors of Western Europe.
This, among other factors, is why the extreme right can gain such a solid and loyal working class voter base, as well as providing a general dislike towards certain parts of American doctrine, such as a free market globalised economy (Givens 2005 p3). The EU has also been recognised by Le Pen as the institution that supposedly spelt the end of French independence and stopped it being its own nation. This not only meant a loss of national identity, but also a loss of national sovereignty and power to Brussels (Safran 2003 p343, Drake 2005 p116).
Furthermore, Flood claims that in recent years the FN has used the European question to attack the government, and to ensure an increase in Euroscepticism (2005 p59). Moreover, it has also been stated that the FN have grouped globalisation and Europeanisation together to form a xenophobic argument. To support this, Le Pen states both movements undermine the safety network of the French welfare state. This demonstrates high levels of xenophobic belief, coupled with an attack on almost every transnational institution, all of which were due to the FN belief of defending French national identity (Rydgren 2004 p149-150).
Consequently, Le Pen has had the ability to influence major European decision making, such as how French MEPs vote, and even put pressure on the moderate right to change their stance on the Maastricht Treaty (Startin 2005 p80). As with other European extreme right parties, Euroscepticism is what can be seen as the major contributing factor for FN European parliamentary success. The split of the FN in 1999, whereby Megret broke away from the FN to form the MNR (Knapp & Wright 2006 p246), was a major shock to the extreme right of Western Europe, and it was widely believed that the FN would be at risk of completely disintegrating.
Despite this the European elections of 1999 gave them just over a million votes and five MEPs (Shields 2010 p26). Although it was not their best result, it represented that there was still life within the FN, as can be evidenced in 2004 when the FN increased their votes by over 4% (Shields 2010 p26). The European election of 1999 was perhaps disappointing after the near success in 1995 and 1997, in which the FN received over 15% of the vote (Safran 2003 p114). Having received only 5. % in 1999, it proved that there was perhaps not enough difference between the moderate right and extreme right in European policy (Safran 2003 p114-115). In fact, there was very little difference between immigration policies of the moderate and extreme right, since being anti-immigration was not on the political agenda. However, after the events of 2001 anti-immigration policy became the vote winner which would see a dramatic rise of the FN, particularly in 2002 (Ysmal 2004 p65).
Lahav supports this as she reiterates the importance of immigration in any election as it brings success to the extreme right, and when Le Pen turned the FN anti-immigrant it immediately gained an increase in votes in opinion polls (2004 pxiii). Furthermore, Freedman claims it was not only the FN that adopted anti-immigration policy, but after 2001 the entire of the European extreme right also changed its image to embody being tough on illegal immigrants and asylum seekers (2004 p39).
Moreover, the FN gained the initiative in the build-up to the 2004 European elections by proclaiming that the French electorate had a choice, they could either choose the FN or choose the immigrant (Lahav 2004 p1). This, coupled with the aforementioned xenophobic tendencies of the French electorate, are what ensured the vote increase for the 2004 European elections (Lahav 2004 p1). The 2004 European elections enabled the FN to increase its number of MEP’s from five to seven (Shields 2010 p26), whilst gaining approximately 1. 6 million votes (Shields 2010 p26, Drake 2005 p117).
However, those that are less hard-line on immigration and just embody Euroscepticism have been said to be more likely to vote for the moderate right as opposed to the FN (Flood 2005 p48). This meant that despite gaining just under 10% of the vote in the European elections of 2004 (Shields 2010 p26), there was a fear that the FN was seen as too hard-line for the French electorate, thus it has been stated in recent academic publications that Le Pen attempted to ‘soften’ the stance on immigration by still embodying the same fearful messages, but advocated less harsh policies in order to attract more votes (Williams 2010 p129).
For example, Williams claims that in 2007 the FN ‘watered down’ their Islamophobic beliefs by advocating the policy of no “overt religious practices, including the wearing of the headscarf or the hijab”, but has no direct problem with Islam itself (Williams 2010 p129). Furthermore, Le Pen even indicated messages of Republicanism in his doctrine in order to try to seem more moderate. This can also be seen as an attempt to remove religion and immigration as a central theme before the 2007 Presidential election (Shields 2010 p36).
Freedman states that the reason for the increase in vote between 1999 and 2004 was also due to the consensus that politicians did not do enough to defend traditional French values (2004 p41). Additionally, it could also be said that it is the fault of the moderate right, since they failed to confront Le Pen’s anti-immigrant diatribe (Freedman 2004 p7). Moreover, they seemingly lost votes in their attempts to become as anti-immigrant as the FN (Lahav 2004 p24).
Finally, it is worth considering that the main reason for the FN’s success in European elections is due to the electoral system, as they gain less votes in the European Parliamentary elections compared to other French elections (Shields 2010 p26, Lahav 2004 p230, Givens 2005 p11). National Assembly elections have a two-round electoral system and thus could arguably discriminate against smaller parties, as despite winning in the first round it is unlikely they have the support base to win in the second (Givens 2005 p28).
Despite this being a fairer system, Le Pen still ardently opposes it since the fundamental belief of the FN is to have a strong state (Marcus 1995 p2). In summary, this Chapter has discussed the policies advocated by the FN in order to further its electoral success in the European parliamentary elections. Arnold stated that there are two main policies as to why the FN gains votes. The first is to combat the issue of unemployment, whilst the second is to address the problem of immigration and national insecurity (Arnold 2000 p267, Fetzer 2000 p110). This statement sums up the electoral success of the FN in European elections.
Since the 1990s, Le Pen has advocated a harsh anti-immigrant discourse, as well as promoting the idea of immigration as a threat to the French populace (Freedman 2004 p40, Rydgren 2004 p150). This not only increased the popularity of the party, but also secured a solid electoral base for almost every election (Shields 2010 p26). The idea that the FN embodies the power to prevent this loss of national identity and culture has also meant that they have managed to beat every rival who advocates similar policies, such as the MNR, and have achieved the goal of cementing themselves as the third major party in France (Evans ; Ivaldi 2008 p177).
In Chapter 4 the Dissertation will discuss Le Pen’s famous victory in 2002, as most of the aforementioned policy areas contributed to this success. Finally, when analysing the electoral victories in 1999 and 2004, it can be clearly evidenced that through using the policy of immigration as a matrix in conjunction with unemployment, national security, anti-Americanisation, and Euroscepticism (Hainsworth 2008 p70), that the FN can achieve such a solid support base in the European parliamentary elections, despite combat from both the moderate right and other extremist parties. Chapter 4: The FN’s Success in National Elections from 1995-2007
This Chapter will focus on the period of 1995-2007, with meticulous focus on each Presidential and legislative election in that time period. The Chapter will examine whether each election was a success, and if so then why it is deemed to be successful. Furthermore, in order to examine the FN’s success, the Chapter will analyse how the FN used the policy areas established in Chapter 1, and will compare it to empirical data, such as opinion polls and electoral results, in order to critically analyse the ways in which the FN have used the extreme right criteria in order to further its electoral gains.
Chapter 3 concluded that there were two main policy areas that were attributed to the FN’s success. The first, xenophobia, is in direct correlation to the anti-immigration agenda, and is used both rhetorically and in manifesto policy in order to increase their chances of electoral success through ethnocentric fear. The second, nationalism, has been strongly linked to the xenophobic policies, due to the fear that immigration is eroding French culture and national identity.
It is highly evident that both of these policies will have played a major role of the electoral success of the party in this Chapter, but there are other factors which contribute to its national success, as will now be discussed. The 1995 Presidential campaign saw a solid 15% of the national vote go to Le Pen in the first round of the elections (Goldey 1997 p67). Despite coming fourth, this is still viewed as a great success for the FN, and particularly due to the fact that they achieved this despite the presence of Philippe de Villiers and his MPF (Safran 2003 p104).
This party was a huge threat to the success of the FN due to the fact that it was ideologically located midway between the FN and the moderate right (Safran 2003 p104). This meant that the MPF embodied similar ideals to the FN but were less hard-line, and were widely considered by academics to be more acceptable (Safran 2003 p104). Without this parties presence, Safran argues, the FN would have obtained more than 15% of the vote (2004 p104).
The 1995 Presidential election is widely regarded as the most predictable of the period under study, since every electoral poll predicted Le Pen’s vote share, only underestimating him by around 0. -1% (Charlot & Charlot 1997 p220). There is a general consensus that the main reason contributing to the success of the FN in 1995 is due to the policies of immigration and unemployment (Mayer & Tiberj 2004 p36). This link, as established in Chapter 3, made working class and unemployed people support the FN and agree with Le Pen’s hard-line rhetoric in the build-up to the election. Goldey states that there was a clear dividing line between the FN and the moderate right due to the radically different policies between Chirac and Le Pen (1997 p66).
This can be evidenced by analysing where Le Pen’s votes came from. Over 33% of the ‘underprivileged’ voted for Le Pen, as did 20% of the working class (Goldey 1997 p67). Additionally, a quarter of all Le Pen’s voters were unemployed (Goldey 1997 p80). In terms of immigration, 88% of those who voted for the FN agreed completely with the statement that “there are too many immigrant workers in France” (Lewis-Beck 2000 p9). Despite this, when Le Pen called for all his voters to abstain in the second round, only a third obeyed (Goldey 1997 p69).
This implies that perhaps only a third of FN votes in this election formed the core support of the party, whilst the rest were either protest votes, or single-issue voters. The 1995 Presidential election is considered to be the first election in which the FN has proletarianised, and meant a division from the traditional extreme right to embody parts of Socialist, working class doctrine (Knapp 2004 p329). The 1997 legislative elections have been described “as a considerable, though not an unqualified, success” for the FN (Schain 2000 p69).
Schain argues that this is the case because it provided an indication that just because the FN could provide voters with little prospect of governmental power, it does not affect its ability to increase its electoral support (Schain 2000 p69). The election can also be seen as unrepresentative of FN support, as despite achieving 15. 2% of the vote, the FN only gained one seat in the national assembly (Minkenberg ; Schain 2003 p170). Givens argues this is due to the electoral system, in that it discriminates against smaller parties due to the two-round system (2005 p28).
Moreover, this election established the FN as the third biggest political party in France, gaining almost 3. 8 million votes (Schain 2000 p70, Shields 2010 p26). Furthermore, Givens supports the view of Safran, by stating that 15% is not the FN’s limit, since the percentage of those who agree with the FN’s policies are much higher than the percentage that actually vote for them (Givens 2005 13). Therefore, this means that the FN have the potential to grow and provide a serious challenge to the mainstream parties.
Moreover, there is a positive correlation between departments with the most immigration and numbers of votes for the FN (Minkenberg ; Schain 2003 p172, Kestel ; Godma 2004 p142-143). In the department with the highest level of immigration they also achieved their highest number of votes (Minkenberg ; Schain 2003 p172), thus displaying the importance of anti-immigration doctrine in their bid to have a successful campaign. However, the importance of the electoral system cannot be ignored, especially since it is the most limiting factor towards FN electoral success.
To illustrate this, despite the fact that 76 FN candidates competed in the second round of the legislative election of 1997, only one was elected (Givens 2005 p28). Additionally, another reason for the FN’s success is the party’s tough stance on law and order, in which two thirds of people who voted for the party stated this is their most important issue (Schain 2000 p73). The election also allowed the FN to cement themselves as the clear second strongest right wing party, as out of the 555 electoral districts in France, the FN came first in 44 and second in 456 among the parties of the right (Schain 2000 p76).
The 1997 legislative elections also brought up the question of alliances and coalitions within the French party system. Bornschier and Lachat state that it is surprising that there cannot be a common consensus on the right despite there being one on the left (2009 p372). Furthermore, Knapp states that the moderate right actually did consider an alliance with the FN, as the election lost them votes to the right and to the left (2004 p50). It has also been suggested that an alliance with the right would vastly improve the number of FN candidates that succeed in the second round of the legislative elections (Schlesinger ; Schlesinger 2000 p145).
As a result Le Pen started the move towards the mainstream, as can be clearly evidenced in the 2002 Presidential elections. The Presidential election of 2002 is undoubtedly the greatest ever FN success in any French election. Not only did they break their vote record by gaining 17% in the first round (Givens 2005 p1), but they increased this to 18% in the second round (Laurent 2004 p15). However, what is even more surprising is that the FN managed to obtain over 20% of the vote in nine different regions, and even gained 26% in Alpes-Maritimes (Laurent 2004 p17). There are a number of reasons for this unprecedented electoral success.
The first are the policy areas which Le Pen advocated in the build-up to the election. As studied in Chapter 3, anti-immigration sentiment was at an all time high due to the terrorist attacks of 2001 (Ysmal 2004 p65). The FN attempted to portray Le Pen as the best candidate to defend France from this foreign invasion. However, out of those who voted, immigration was only the third most pressing issue, whilst criminality and unemployment ranked above it (Mayer ; Tiberj 2004 p35). As aforementioned, there was a strong link in the French mind between immigration and unemployment so these statistics are perhaps misleading.
Another reason for the FN’s electoral success is political dissatisfaction (Kitschelt 1995 p98). Furthermore, there was very little difference in the voters eyes between Chirac and Jospin. To illustrate this, 82% believed that politicians did not care what the average person wants, whilst 58% believed that politicians were corrupt (Mayer & Tiberj 20004 p33). Moreover, the main reason for Jospin losing to Le Pen was because he was considered boring in comparison (Safran 2003 p108), and that he also lost votes to Le Pen due to the way that the FN policy line embodied elements of the traditional left (Safran 2003 p110).
Furthermore, the election itself was unique, due to the fact that 16 candidates stood, which was more than any other Presidential election before, and also because Jospin came third in the first round despite leading in the polls (2003 p108). Safran also considers this to be Chirac’s weakest mandate for Presidency due to the small amount of votes he received in the first round (Safran 2003 p110). Ysmal highlights the lack of confidence by the public towards the major political parties, and this further illustrates a lack of confidence in the political system (2004 p58).
Whilst many academics also note the massive 27% abstention rate in this election as a cause for the FN’s success in the first round of the Presidential election (Ysmal 2004 p70, Cole 2004 p50). The reason for this was due to the aforementioned political dissatisfaction, and because of the belief that all the mainstream parties are the same. It was only when faced with Le Pen winning did the abstention rate decline dramatically, and the largest cross-party campaign ever seen in France began, in order to stop Le Pen from winning the second round (Ysmal 2004 p70, Shields 2010 p30).
This meant that the transfer of votes from the first to second round went heavily in Chirac’s favour, and he won with 82% of the vote (Ysmal 2004 p71). Le Pen himself was disappointed with this due to the fact that he predicted a third of the votes would go his way (Evans ; Ivaldi 2008 p184). However, Shields argues that the second round was in fact a success. This is because not only did he retain the percentage of vote he received, but the actual number of votes actually increased, with a predicted 6. 5 million people voting for him at least once in the elections (Shields 2010 p31).
Cole would argue that another reason for Le Pen’s victory is due to the fact that voters misinterpret the Presidential electoral system, since they treat “the first round of the Presidential election as a second-order election, expressing a preference in the same way they would in a regional or European election” (2004 p45). No matter what, the 2002 Presidential election has meant that the FN will now always remain and identifiable political presence in the French party system (Safran 2003 p113). The success of the 2002 Presidential election was an astounding “political earthquake” (Mayer 2009 p179).
However, two months later in the legislative elections the success would not be repeated. The FN gained a mere 11. 3% of the vote (Shields 2010 p26), displaying a massive reduction in votes from the Presidential elections. This legislative election was also seen as fairly strange, since every previous coalition experienced some infighting during the campaign (Ysmal 2004 p59). The failed turnout for the FN in the legislative elections can best be illustrated by the fact that only 2% of voters between 18-24 who voted in the Presidential elections bothered to vote in the legislative elections, whilst the abstention rate was a high 35. % (Ymal 2004 p73-74).
The most loyal FN vote came from the male working class, in which 96% who voted Le Pen in the Presidential election also voted for the FN in the legislative elections (Ysmal 2004 p79). Despite the apparent failure of these elections, one success for the FN was the fact that they got more than eight times the vote of the MNR in both the Presidential and legislative elections (Evan & Ivaldi 2008 p177). In addition, the FN had the most loyal voters out of any other party in France (Minkenberg & Schain 2003 p 170).
Safran supports this by stating that France has room for populist nationalism, but not technocratic nationalism, as represented by the MNR (2003 p113). After this election Evans and Ivaldi also believe that the FN should consider becoming a part of a right wing bloc, due to the fact that the FN seemingly remained confined to the margins of mainstream politics (Evan & Ivaldi 2008 p187). The 2002 elections were not a total disaster for the FN, as Ysmal states the exact same thing happened in 1988, when despite doing well in the Presidential elections, the FN did badly in the legislative elections (2004 p80).
The 2007 Presidential and legislative elections represent a dark period in the FN’s history. Not only did their vote share in the Presidential election drop from over 17% to just over 10%, but the legislative score for the party dropped from 11. 3% to 4. 3% (Sen 2010 p61). Shields argues that this was the weakest showing in a legislative election for more than 25 years (2010 p25). Hainsworth states that the electoral system has meant that the FN never succeeded in legislative elections, and as such voters have become discontented with the legislative elections so therefore do not vote (2008 p31).
However, one factor that contributed to the failure of 2007 was the fact that may more voters turned out, with around 8 million more people voting than in 2002. This had the effect of contracting Le Pen’s share of the vote (Shields 2010 p34). The low percentage of votes in the first round troubled Le Pen due to the fact that opinion polls suggested that the FN might gain a third of the entire vote and the possibility of another Presidential run-off election (Shields 2010 p33).
In regards to policy, the reduction in votes can at least in part be attributed to the fact that Sarkozy was far more authoritarian that Chirac, and in fact included anti-immigrant and strong state policy in his manifesto (Bale 2009 p143). This had the effect of stealing votes from Le Pen, and Marine Le Pen claimed that the 2007 elections were a victory for the ideas of her father (Hewlett 2010 p51). Moreover, to illustrate this, 94% of people who previously voted for Le Pen voted for Sarkozy in 2007 despite the fact that they agreed with Le Pen’s ideas (Shields 2010 p37).
This humiliation of the FN resulted in a huge amount of debt being collected from the party, with the financial difficulties being so apparent that many staff were fired, and even went so far as to sell Le Pen’s car on eBay to help reduce the debt (Shields 2010 p39). Evidently, the election results of 2007 were a disaster for the FN. Similar to Le Pen’s Presidential election bid, the party also did very badly in the legislative elections in regards to percentage of votes. However, these elections can still be viewed as a success for the party.
Although Le Pen lost, the ideas he advocated were still pushed through by Sarkozy (Shields 2010 p39, Hewlett 2010 p51). An example of this is that a quarter of Le Pen’s core support actually rated Sarkozy better on issues relating to law and order, one of Le Pen’s main policies (Shields 2010 p36). The difference in policy between Le Pen and Sarkozy was so small that both were considered to be of the moderate right during the 2007 elections (Shields 2010 p39). However, Le Pen’s stance had not changed, and the FN was still the extreme right party it was in 2002 when it enjoyed a great deal of success.
Sarkozy’s law and order policies lost Le Pen votes as now there were candidates standing on the same message as Le Pen, but who actually had a chance of winning the elections. As a result, many of Le Pen’s voters switched to Sarkozy, and as aforementioned, the vast majority of Sarkozy’s voters agreed with the Le Pen (Shields 2010 p37). Therefore this proves that whilst the FN was unsuccessful electorally, the party was very successful in placing issues on the political agenda and keeping them there. The defeat in 2007 for most parties would have caused a period of crisis.
There was a widely held consensus that this was Le Pen’s last Presidential election, and that new leadership will promote a different direction for the FN to head (Shields 2007 p317). Evans and Ivaldi stated that in 2008 a change in discourse was necessary in order to limit the damage of the 2007 legislative elections (2008 p188). Whilst Hainsworth argues that Le Pen achieved enough by allowing the FN to break through into the French party system, but a change was necessary in order to achieve some level of governmental representation (2008 p32).
However, there is an academic argument that states that the FN have steadily become less extreme since 2002 (Shields 2007 p312). Shields also argues that Le Pen was an extremely powerful leader for the FN due to the way that he and his party have maintained pressure on the mainstream right (2007 p342). The task of leading the party towards popular acceptance is left to his daughter, Marine Le Pen, and seemingly she has pursued a modernising agenda which will seek to ‘clean-up’ the image of the FN, and potentially make the FN a mainstream, moderate party (Williams 2011 p690).
The past five years has enabled Marine Le Pen to somewhat achieve this goal, and she has established herself as a real contender for the Presidential elections of 2012 (Williams 2011 p679). There is a fear that the FN could repeat its success of 2002 as there is a real chance that Marine Le Pen could qualify for the second round of the elections. In conclusion, the FN has been through a number of highs and lows in the years 1995-2007. Evans and Ivaldi hold a pessimistic view towards the FN’s future, and claim that the party will be marginalised to the extreme of the political spectrum, and thus will never gain electoral success (2008 p188).
However, as represented in 2002, a more respectable and moderate candidate may have prevented the cross party movement that occurred, and conceivably could have formed a real challenge for the Presidency. In regards to legislative elections, the FN only gained a fair share of representation when proportional representation was introduced (Schain 2000 p70). Since that is no longer the case, the FN will be hoping that the modernising agenda will give them greater popular acceptance. Conclusion
In conclusion, this Dissertation has conducted an in-depth investigation as to how the FN has gained electoral success in European, parliamentary, and Presidential elections in the years 1995-2007. It has achieved this by first examining the policy areas which extreme right parties use in Europe, which have been attributed to their electoral success. Mudde identified five criteria, which are nationalism, xenophobia, racism, anti-democracy, and a belief in a strong state (1995 p207). All of which have been embodied by the FN at some stage in their history.
By furthering the study to include an investigation into the ‘French Exception’, it is evident that the party system, French culture, and the unique political opinions of the French people, allow extreme parties to gain success, which they never would be able to achieve in other Western European countries. The European election of 1999 and 2004 are a good example of elections where immigration, nationalism, and xenophobia have mixed to form a doctrine which gains a reasonably large proportion of the vote.
Furthermore, it is one of the best indications of how an electoral system can make or break an extreme right parties success story, since despite getting a lower average of votes in European elections, they have achieved greater amounts of electoral success than any other due to the amount of representation they have gained. There is a large difference between the 1999 and 2004 elections, which can be witnessed in the vote percentage change.
This motivating factor, Islamophobia, has provided the FN with arguably its greatest electoral victory, the 2002 Presidential elections, since the French electorate wanted a more hard-line government to combat the fear of not only immigration, but also the perceived threat of religious fundamentalism. Furthermore, this can also be evidenced when discussing the vote difference between 1995 and 2002, where despite gaining 15% of the vote, Le Pen managed, due to Islamophobia, to gain a further 1. 5million votes by 2002 (Shields 2010 p26).
By 2007, Islamophobia had decreased due to the unpopularity of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in which despite Le Pen’s open anti-American doctrine, voters still linked him with, thus other issues such as unemployment and strong state became vote winners over anti-immigration. Arguably, Le Pen could have achieved the same, if not better result, of 2002 had his opponent not been Sarkozy. Sarkozy represented a more hard-line moderate right than Chirac, thus stole votes from the FN, and caused the crisis of 2007 and the argument that there is a need for reform, modernisation, and moderation of FN doctrine.
The FN can take heart from the fact that throughout this more people support the ideas of the FN than actually vote for them. This means not only do they represent a wide electorate, but that they also have room to grow. Academics have argued for years that a more moderate FN would become a real contender in French politics. Thus it is conceivable that Marine Le Pen should be able to achieve the goal of beating her father’s 2002 Presidential election achievements in her tenure as FN President.