domingo, 20 de dezembro de 2015
What Le Pen really wants
What Le Pen really wants
The National Front leader considers which way to turn the far-right party.
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 12/21/15, 5:30 AM CET
PARIS — When Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of France’s National Front, reached the second round of a presidential race in 2002, he suddenly realized that he might end up having to run the country. The thought terrified him.
“When you’re in a scenario where you might end up being President of the Republic … don’t you think that’s a source of anguish?” he asked an interviewer from Society magazine this year. “If you don’t, you’re a wanker.”
Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie’s daughter, shares none of her father’s squeamishness about power. But if Le Pen has carried her party a long way, winning about 30 percent of votes in the first round of local elections on December 6, she now faces the real test of her appetite for power: whether she will be able to bridge the enormous gap — more than 10 million votes — that still separates her party from the simple majority it would need to prevail in the runoff of France’s presidential election in 2017.
It’s a challenge so daunting that many French politicians, and even some National Front officials, believe that Le Pen will not earnestly try to take it on over the next 18 months.
However, after her party hit a “glass ceiling” in the final round of the local elections on December 13, failing to win a single region despite impressive leads in six of them, officials have been forced at least to address the National Front’s shortcomings, and start to offer suggestions as to how it could widen its appeal.
“We have never made alliances, we don’t believe in political jerry-rigging, but it’s true that we are reaching out,” Nicolas Bay, the National Front electoral strategist, told POLITICO. “We need to be respectful of other political groups and not rush things, because the idea is not to stitch together ad hoc partnerships but to build a wide base on a common ideological platform.”
Bay pointed out a number of ways the National Front could try to nibble a few points of support away from rival right-wing currents: forging alliances with like-minded parties, recruiting high-profile politicians, and “educating” the public more efficiently about some of the Front’s more polarizing policy positions, notably its proposal to exit the eurozone — which remains a scarecrow for wealthy and elderly voters.
FN Vice President Florian Philippot, Marine Le Pen’s right-hand man and architect of the party’s anti-EU, anti-immigration program, has made timid overtures to like-minded politicians. In between rounds of voting in the local elections, he singled out Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, head of the right-wing, sovereignist Debout La France party, as a potential ally for the National Front.
“the National Front must demonstrate flexibility and willingness to accommodate larger-than-life egos.”
“There are patriots outside of the National Front … we are reaching out to them,” Philippot told RTL radio. “There are still some who vote for the UMP [Les Républicains] or for the Left, and there are also some behind Mr. Dupont-Aignan, so why not work with Dupont-Aignan’s movement?”
But, within days, the extended hand had been slapped away.
“I never sold myself to [former president Nicolas Sarkozy], I am not going to sell myself to Le Pen,” Dupont-Aignan, whose party gathered a bit less than 4 percent of the vote on December 6, told France 2 on Thursday. “Mr. Philippot wants to absorb us, he wants the monopoly.”
Dupont-Aignan is not the only potential match for the Front. Officials have also mentioned Philippe de Villiers, head of the right-wing Movement for France party; Robert Ménard, an independent right-winger notorious for his provocative management of Béziers, a town in the south of the country; or even Éric Zemmour, a commentator and author of the bestselling “The French Suicide,” a lengthy polemic about the supposed decline of France.
But in order to rally such figures, the National Front must demonstrate flexibility and willingness to accommodate larger-than-life egos.
As the awkward Dupont-Aignan episode highlighted, outsiders with their own political cottage industry fear being absorbed into the National Front machine, with good reason: Despite its expanding bureaucracy, the party is still organized around a single, charismatic leader, and struggles to incorporate big personalities who want to influence its political line.
That’s why sympathetic personalities such as Gilbert Collard, who was a high-profile lawyer before entering politics, and Robert Ménard, choose to join the wider Rassemblement Bleu Marine entity, which is affiliated to the Front, instead of the party itself.
To get them on board, Le Pen will probably have to accept some dilution of her family brand — a prospect that could also be the party’s undoing. Ménard, who told POLITICO earlier this year that he shared “80 percent” of the National Front’s ideas, called this week for the party to change its name.
“Would it not be a good idea, symbolically, to change the National Front’s name during a big, unifying congress?” he told far-right magazine Valeurs Actuelles in an interview published Thursday.
Ménard added that in the spring of 2016 he would organize a congress in his town and invite a wide array of right-wing intellectuals and politicians, including de Villiers, but also members of Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party.
Le Pen has been wary of making any big moves that could deplete the political capital built up over decades by her father, who was ousted from the party in August over a series of racist and xenophobic comments he made earlier this year.
But she is now ready to discuss a possible name change, telling Europe 1 radio this week that the subject would come up for discussion during a party debate at the end of January, at which executives would also examine its economic line.
There are other issues to settle. Some of the big fish the National Front hopes to catch disagree openly with its plan to exit the eurozone and advocate a more liberal economic policy.
“The preparation of our presidential program will be a chance to clear up some misunderstandings about our economic program,” said Bay. “On the monetary question there is definitely a need for clarity: we are not in favor of an abrupt exit.”
While the National Front mulls concessions to bring in more outsiders, it’s also hoping for a grand reconfiguration of mainstream parties that would play into its hands.
Officials believe that a substantial portion of Sarkozy’s center-right Les Républicains is dissatisfied with the party’s line, seeking a more aggressive assertion of French prerogatives on the European and international stages.
“National Front officials argue there is no difference between France’s two mainstream parties.”
Dissenters, the reasoning goes, could be tempted by joining a broader right-wing Gaullist movement that would encompass the National Front. While Sarkozy has insisted his party would never form an alliance with the Front, individual members of his party have defied the ban.
Even Sarkozy’s former speechwriter and special adviser, Henri Guaino, has said that he “could work with” Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the National Front president’s 26-year-old niece.
Le Pen herself has displayed unerring confidence about the party’s ability to expand its reach. After Sunday’s vote she called for French people “of all origins” to join so-called “Bleu Marine” support committees — ad hoc political groupings designed to rally support ahead of 2017 — that will be convened in coming weeks across the country.
“Join them,” she said after the regional election. “Together, nothing will be able to stop us.”
The Front is also hopeful for the remote possibility that the center-right and center-left could band together against it by forming a grand governing coalition.
Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin hinted this week at the possibility of forming a “Republican Front” against unemployment, a proposal quickly endorsed by Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls — to the delight of National Front officials who argue there is no difference between France’s two mainstream parties.
“This creates a fracture within the Right,” said a Front official who asked not to be named to discuss technical issues. “We can already see the first signs that part of the classical Right is preparing to break away due to the impression that its leaders are willing to make any compromise with the Left to stay in power.”
However, between the Front’s hopeful scenarios and a rejigged political landscape, there is a lot of ground to cover.
As things stand, the prospect of Le Pen getting elected remains, for her allies, wishful thinking.