Support for France’s far-right party, the National Front, has been surging following the deadly attacks in Paris on November 13.
And the party appears set for its biggest victory yet at the French regional elections this weekend, when the country votes in the first round.
According to recent polls, the party led by the outspoken Marine Le Pen is set to capture victories in as many as three regions out of 13 “super regions” created by French President Francois Hollande.
The two “rounds” of elections, which end December 13, mark the final time France will vote before the 2017 presidential elections — which is Le Pen’s ultimate preferred destination.
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur regions have long been expected to swing to the National Front.
But a new poll in Les Échos indicates that the Alsace-Lorraine-Champagne-Ardenne region might also elect the National Front’s candidate, giving the party more gains than expected.
The party’s anti-immigration and anti-European Union stance is resonating with voters amid a climate of fear of terrorism and social instability, especially after last month’s attacks, for which the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility. More than ever since the attacks, the main concerns for the French electorate have become the migrant crisis and security issues, which benefit the National Front.
Those worries are especially present in northern France’s Calais, where the local population is faced with the “Jungle,” a makeshift camp now housing thousands of migrants and refugees hoping to pass through to the United Kingdom.
“The Front National vote was already high in this region, but the migrant crisis and the Calais issue, and now the November 13 attacks, are extremely favourable to that vote,” Pierre Mathiot, a politics professor at Lille’s Sciences Po university, recently told The Guardian.
But for Marine Le Pen, who is the National Front candidate in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, those are not the only factors pushing the vote in her favour. It is the poorest region in France, part of the country’s rust belt, and is plagued by higher-than-average unemployment rates.
Meanwhile, in the south of the country, 25-year-old Marion Maréchal Le Pen (Marine Le Pen’s niece), has been surging in polls and is likely to win the the vote in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region.
Politicians in France are only very slowly starting to recognise the potential success of the National, having so far failed to counter the far-right. Mathiot told the Guardian that in northern France, the left has been in power for so long that it had lost the habit of “being in political competition.”
Alain Juppé, France’s prime minister from 1995 to 1997, urged French voters to open their eyes to the reality of the party’s political platform.
“With so much demagogy, the Front National is fooling a number of disillusioned voters … into thinking there is a solution there. But one needs to think a bit before voting, and not get carried away by one’s anger,” Juppé told newspaper Le Monde.
Manuel Valls, the country’s current prime minister, has warned voters not to fall for the far-right party’s alleged “trickery,” according to the BBC.
The president of the Medef, the largest employer federation in France, recently told the French newspaper Le Parisien that the National Front’s platform was “not economically responsible.”
“Bringing the retirement age back to 60, raising all salaries and the minimum wage by $220 and bringing back the franc, raising the import tax. … It is exactly the opposite of what we need to kick-boost economic growth in this country. The economy needs pragmatism and lucidity,” he told Le Parisien.
And a local newspaper in the region in which Marine Le Pen is running recently ran a front page that warned its readers against voting for her, titling the cover, “Marine Le Pen and the FN are not who they claim to be.”
But despite the negative onslaught, Marine Le Pen’s rising popularity these days seems nearly impossible to stop.
Her competitor in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, Pierre de Saintignon, told RTL on Wednesday she would “not be presiding over the region” and that he would “take his responsibilities when the times comes” to ensure it.
His statement though makes it perhaps clearer than ever that her popularity is set to give Le Pen the biggest victory of her political career. It might also indicate that her party is primed to have another breakthrough performance in the 2017 presidential elections.
“The Islamic State fulfils its promises. It had announced attacks in France. There have been attacks in France,” she said recently at a rally in Nice to support Marion Marechal-Le Pen.
“Our politicians must open their eyes,” she added. “Yes, there is definitely a link between massive immigration … and radical Islam.”