Far-right win in European elections ‘will tarnish French image’
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Most opinion polls in France forecast an unprecedented victory for France’s far-right National Front party in Sunday's European elections, an outcome that observers warn will strip France of its influence on the continent.
Surveys indicate that the anti-euro National Front (FN) is poised to claim between 23 and 24 percent of all votes cast in EU parliamentary elections, which are less than a week away.
Buoyant from its best-ever performance in French municipal elections in March, in which it conquered 11 city councils, the far-right FN has campaigned under the slogan “No to Brussels, yes to France.”
If the predictions hold true, the party will go from having three seats at the European Parliament to no fewer than 20.
Party leader Marine Le Pen, who has been a European MP since 2004, has not hesitated to tout the FN on television and radio programmes as “France’s first party”.
Loss of credibility
French voters are also expected to abstain from the ballot in record-high numbers this year, reflecting the widely held view that the European election is relatively unimportant.
It’s an idea that a growing number of observers are trying to debunk ahead of what looks set to be another far-right tide across France.
"If the opinion polls are correct, France will undoubtedly lose some of its sway in Europe,” said Hélène Miard-Delacroix, a historian and expert on European affairs.
Dr. Claire Demesmay, head of the Franco-German Relations Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), a think tank, agrees.
“France risks being perceived as an unfriendly country that is turning inward,” Demesmay said. “It will no longer be seen as a country at the heart of the European project, or one capable of launching new ideas.”
The researcher says it’s not just France’s influence that is at stake, but its credibility. “It will certainly be more difficult to get other countries on board for different projects if France is seen as a fragile, inward-facing nation,” she insisted.
As far as the FN’s power in Brussels is concerned, the same experts say it will remain limited even if it pulls off significant gains in Sunday's elections.
With 20 seats in the European Parliament, France’s anti-immigration party will represent only two percent of the body. The historian Miard-Delacroix says that if the FN has any intent to make waves at the EU level it will have to forge alliances with other like-minded European MPs.
Far-right and eurosceptic groups are also expected to make important gains in Austria, Greece, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK, so the scenario is not inconceivable.
However, observers say coalition-building at the EU parliament has proven to be a difficult task for MPs with a nationalist fever.
“Experience over the past several decades shows that alliances between nationalist parties tend to fall apart,” DGAP’s Demesmay noted.
In the case of France’s FN, attempts to forge alliances have already stumbled.
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, whose eurosceptic camp is tipped to win most votes in Britain, has twice rejected offers from Le Pen to join a coalition in the European Parliament.
Instead, Farage has established informal ties with the much smaller French party Debout la Republique (Republic Stand Up), which is not certain to win any seats.
'A vote thrown away'
Experts also wonder just how much time and energy the FN will invest in the European Parliament if it makes its expected breakthrough.
Miard-Delacroix was quick to point out that Le Pen has only spent the minimum time required of a European MP at the legislative body in Strasbourg and has never participated in any of its commissions.
“FN candidates want to be picked to work in an institution they don’t believe in. They are only there to be more prominent at the national level,” Delacroix said. “Voting for the FN is a vote thrown away.”