Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

IN THE PAPERS

UK: '60% want voting reform'

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Women journalists to male politicians: Hands off!

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Top Burundian judge says he has fled country after government pressure

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

UN denies claims it tried to cover up sex abuse in Central African Republic

Read more

DEBATE

François of Arabia: Hollande's Budding Friendship with the Gulf (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

François of Arabia: Hollande's Budding Friendship with the Gulf (part 1)

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

'François of Arabia' criticised in French press

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

France's billion-euro private beach industry

Read more

TALKING EUROPE

Guy Verhofstadt: Lack of EU asylum system is 'pushing people to come to Europe'

Read more

An in-depth report by our senior reporters and team of correspondents from around the world. Every Saturday at 9.10 pm Paris time.

REPORTERS

REPORTERS

Latest update : 2014-02-07

France’s National Front courts the rural vote

As municipal and European elections approach, France’s far-right party the National Front is poised for another strong showing. Rural areas are key to the party’s strategy: economic decline and feelings of neglect in the countryside have been fuelling the National Front’s renaissance.

Our assignment was to understand why the far-right is making strides in rural areas. So we headed out for the “Meuse”, a department in the east of France where the party traditionally does well.

To our initial surprise, villagers readily expressed their support for the National Front, even on camera. “We’re 100 percent for Marine Le Pen around here”, smiled one supporter as we approached. “I’m not afraid to say so, and I always will!”

“I hope the National Front gets elected and changes things”, explained another, “because left and right haven’t done anything. They’ve made things worse!”

Not so long ago, voting for the far-right was taboo. Pollsters even had to adjust their forecasts and factor in a nationwide tendency to hide one’s sympathies for the National Front.

But that was before. 

Before Marine Le Pen took over from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and set out to overhaul the party’s image. Once chastised for promoting xenophobic ideas, the National Front has polished its message. “People get it all wrong”, says Michel, a local businessman and long-time supporter, who insists that times have changed and the party is no longer racist.

So why do people turn to the far-right?

The list of reasons given by voters is endless: joblessness, taxes, increasing isolation in the villages, crime, fear of immigration, disappointment in the mainstream parties, feelings of neglect by the government, or simply a desire for change.

The National Front is successfully casting itself as an answer to the country’s many frustrations, a standard-bearer for those who are frustrated by the current state of politics. And in times of economic crisis, with unemployment at near-record levels, there is no shortage of frustration and disappointment.

Consider the employees of Sodetal, a steel-making factory which has been churning out high-quality cables in its Tronville-en-Barrois headquarters for almost half a century. New owners are mulling a possible shutdown of the factory. More than 300 employees may soon be without a job and their chances of finding new employment in the region are low.

“Unemployment breeds despair”, says Ralph Blindauer, a lawyer for the CGT trade union. “When people are desperate they look for someone to blame, and they tar all political leaders with the same brush. Obviously those who benefit are those who’ve never been in power”.

At a Sodetal gathering, many of the workers we met were considering voting for the National Front. Over the years, Jerome Leroy has thrown his support toward both ends of the French political spectrum and places in between – socialists, conservatives, the far-right – and he plans to vote for the National Front once again. His reason: he feels the government is wasting too much money on handouts for the poor, and not doing enough to save companies like his.

As businesses close down, the feeling of isolation in the villages grows. David Kobilansky used to be a member of the conservative UMP party but he recently switched to the National Front. Mostly, he says, because he feels the countryside has been abandoned by the government. “There used to be barber shops nearby, grocery shops… all the little things that made up the social life around here. Now there’s nothing! The village shops are disappearing, the barbers are closing. We’re losing everything, and we’re forced to travel further to get services”.

A final example sheds further light on the party’s widening appeal: that of Daniel Klaus, a well-spoken farmer in the Meuse who has had a successful career and still owns ten acres of land. Klaus is hardly the picture of a downtrodden, disenfranchised voter. Yet at age 77 he is about to vote for the National Front for the very first time. Why? Because burglaries are on the rise. He feels his tranquil way of life is under threat. And with mainstream parties failing to provide a solution, he wants to sound the alarm bell. A protest vote, known in France as a “vote de contestation”.

One ballot at a time, the protest vote is swelling. The National Front is ready to reap the rewards: according to a recent IPSOS poll, Marine Le Pen’s party may come out on top in May’s European elections.

By Cyril VANIER

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2015-04-30 Syria

Syria: On the trail of looted antiquities

As the war in Syria enters its fifth year, the trafficking of looted antiquities is adding a new dimension to the tragic conflict. Many Syrian artefacts are smuggled across the...

Read more

2015-04-24 World War I

Saving French soldiers' WWI trench carvings

In 1914, a former underground quarry in Picardy in northern France is requisitioned by the French army. For almost four years, hundreds of soldiers were stationed there. Many...

Read more

2015-04-17 Armenia

Turkey’s hidden Armenians search for stolen identity

In 1915, during World War I, the Ottoman Empire ordered the extermination of the Armenian people. One and a half million were killed in the first genocide of the 20th century....

Read more

2015-04-10 Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso: Generation Sankara

Six months after the ouster of Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso is attempting to organise its first democratic elections, set for October. Fears of a coup still loom. But from...

Read more

2015-04-03 Islam

Inside the French Islamic Organisation

Ever since the January terror attacks in Paris, debate has focussed on how well integrated France's Muslim community is. One organisation that has come under the spotlight in...

Read more