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Le Pen's National Rally goes green in bid for European election votes

Vincent Kessler, Reuters | Marine Le Pen presents the National Rally's European election manifesto in Strasbourg, April 15, 2019.

In its European election manifesto unveiled on Monday, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (formerly the National Front) adopted an environmentalist approach in an attempt to woo French voters beyond its base.

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The far-right National Rally (RN) launched its policy platform for May’s European elections on Monday. It was met with broad indifference, until the fire at Notre-Dame swept it out of the news cycle completely. Yet Le Pen’s party set out a surprising new approach: environmentalism tied to “localism”.

With this manifesto – branded as “not just a programme” but a “vision of humanity” – Le Pen said she is “putting everything back on the table” to make a “Europe of nations” the world’s “first ecological civilisation”.

Indeed, it seems that ecology is no longer the preserve of “bobos” (a popular French term for bourgeois bohemians) – as Marine’s father and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen once dismissively said. The party’s new paradigm owes much of its intellectual basis to the essayist Hervé Juvin – an apostle of a “localism” that combines environmentalism with identitarianism who helped write the manifesto.

‘Borders are the environment’s greatest ally’

The RN’s ecological vision bears little relation to that of France’s left-wing parties, such as the Socialists and the Greens. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” Jordan Bardella, head of the RN’s European election candidates list, told right-wing French daily Le Figaro on Monday. He proposes to reduce emissions by ending imports all over the place.

For her part, Le Pen has sought to anchor her new vision in the idea that the individual is “not simply a consumer or producer” but “someone rooted, someone who wants to live on their land and to pass it on to their children”. Extrapolating from this axiom, she argued that someone “who is rooted in their home is an ecologist”, whereas those who are “nomadic […] do not care about the environment; they have no homeland”.

“Environmentalism and localism have become part of the RN’s political agenda, but it’s a specifically far-right form of environmentalism – very identitarian,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist on the extreme right at the Fondation Jean-Jaurès think-tank in Paris.

“Many right-wing voters see society as like a biological organism that should be kept in its original state,” Camus continued. “According to this line of thinking, when a foreign body is introduced, it causes disorder – hence the anti-immigration stance. Logically the same goes for nature: We must respect the natural order established by the seasons of the year etc.”

No more Frexit, no more return to the franc

As well as pivoting in an ecological direction, Le Pen’s party has watered down its Europhobic stance. Although they were key planks of her platform in the 2017 presidential elections, a French withdrawal from the EU and the euro (with a consequent return to the franc) are no longer on the cards. “After that election, Le Pen swept the idea of Frexit off the carpet because she realised that it provokes anxiety,” Camus pointed out. “Brexit is another factor: Its advocates promised so much, but it is very difficult to put into practice. Meanwhile, the notion of leaving the euro isn’t exactly reassuring for young people who never knew the franc.”

Instead, Le Pen now wants to “renegotiate EU treaties” and replace the European Commission with a simple administrative secretariat. “For the first time [in its history], the European Parliament can become the place where change is carried out, if an alliance of national and popular parties prevails,” the manifesto reads.

“In other words, the NR wants to overhaul the EU from the inside,” Camus said, summing it up. However, in order for this agenda to be put in place, it would need unanimity in the European Council, composed of heads of state or government – and, as things stand, this seems a distinctly unlikely prospect.

That’s while Le Pen’s agenda risks collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. It is hard to envisage how one could defend national sovereignty in the European Parliament at the same time as submitting to the decisions of European institutions, approved by majorities of the EU’s nation-states. At the same time, Le Pen’s newfound acceptance of the euro sits uncomfortably with her railing against its guarantor, the European Central Bank.

But, no stranger to ideological cross-dressing, the far-right party has a rich history of embracing paradoxical positions.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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