I grew up in France. I lived there until I was 16 years old. And while I was growing up there, I frequently heard about the ways in which France had changed over the past couple of decades due to the increased Arab population.
It was something that was frequently talked about at dinner tables, at school, during every political debate and in every news source. The issue of immigration and the decline of French culture were on everyone’s minds. A sense of “us” versus “them” dominated the the nation.
In my region, Provence-Alpes-Côte D’Azur, in the southeast of France, it was particularly heightened. Living in the South of France meant you were only a step away from North Africa and therefore the influx of immigrants was usually high.
It goes without saying that the large amount of immigrants from the Maghreb have not assimilated well in France, which I would argue is the fault of the French government and society as well as younger generations of Arabs lashing out against France in the wrong ways.
Notorious incidents, such as the burning of cars in Paris or the burning of HLM quarters (rent controlled housing in urban areas, largely populated by Arabs) gave Arab immigrants a bad reputation throughout the country in the early 2000s, and heightened the French people’s lack of desire to put up with North Africans and their desire to get rid of these troublemakers.
Many older French generations speak of how their towns and cities have deteriorated because of the crime these immigrants brought with them. Most white French people, especially women, are afraid of walking in certain areas at night and feel in danger around most Arabs in France.
All of this has happened gradually over the last couple of decades and is becoming worse with the current refugee crisis and threat of terrorism throughout the world.
Marine Le Pen, the daughter of former leader Jean Marie Le Pen, a notorious racist and isolationist, leads the National Front, the third largest political party in France. One of the main strengths of Le Pen, like with most political extremists, is that she is well-spoken and charismatic and knows exactly how to appeal to French people of various regions throughout the nation.
She knows exactly what to say and how to say it for you to suddenly find yourself agreeing with her ideas, even if it’s just for a second. I would say that the majority of French people have found something appealing about the National Front at one point in their lives.
However, one of the only reasons the National Front has become a somewhat viable candidate for the next French presidential election is due to the topic of immigration and the economy.
Nobody thinks to themselves, “oh yeah, the National Front, its policies on retirement and education are where it’s at!” No, in most ways their policies outside of immigration and the country’s economy are fairly similar to other political parties within France.
It is when it comes to immigration, naturalization, voting rights and the economy that the National Front has its most unique, extreme and popular policies.
Let’s elaborate on that.
With respect to immigration, the National Front is pretty clear. It plans on reducing the influx of immigrants from 200,000 a year to 10,000, expelling all illegal immigrants, banning the regularization of illegal immigration, making French enterprises hire French nationals over foreigners, banning dual-citizenship for countries outside of Europe, removing the right of soil, encouraging foreigners without work for a period of one year to return to their “home”, etc.
In terms of economics, it is most popular for its plans regarding France’s status in the European Union and how to handle the euro. Put simply, the National Front calls for an end to austerity measures that are sucking the French economy dry, but more controversially, it plans on reinstating the Franc (previous French monetary system), which will coexist with the euro.
When you closely examine these policies, the National Front seems to be quite extremist, and in many ways, I agree that they should be condemned.
However, the National Front also has incredible policies in terms of health care, agriculture, education, retirement and employment. These policies could arguably be very beneficial to France.
It bothers me when U.S news sources gloss over crucial aspects of the National Front, only to demonize it as a fascist party that spells our inevitable doom.
Do I believe the National Front should come to power? No.
But I do believe that to form a proper opinion of what it is and what it stands for, people need to look into what it calls for outside of immigration policies.
The National Front is a complex and fascinating party that cannot be fully understood just by its immigration policies.
Unfortunately, even in France, that is what it is reduced to.
However, unlike in the U.S., in France when people focus solely on the immigration policies, they become more interested rather than turned away. After all, based on the electoral results in the Dec. 6 municipal election, the National Front is gaining momentum among the French populace.
Another significant reason as to why the National Front did so well in these municipal elections is that the other political parties in France have not had a convincing presence.
France is more or less disillusioned with the socialist party due to Francois Hollande’s failures to improve the country’s economy; Les Républicains are a complete mess internally, with too many candidates trying to run; and remaining parties are usually irrelevant, such as the Green Party or the Communist Party, which never gain enough votes to make a difference.
Marine Le Pen can easily win over people when nobody else is really making a strong impression on the French population.
In fact, Francois Hollande only rose to the presidency because the French population refused to re-elect Nicolas Sarkozy. It wasn’t that they were voting for Hollande, but rather voting against Sarkozy.
Could this election be another case of voting for one candidate out of spite for the incumbent and their party? I don’t truly believe it can.
But I do believe that if anyone else really plans to win this election, he or she is going to have to merge some of the National Front’s policies on immigration into his or her own.
The fact is that France population has reached a point where those policies appeal to them, but it hasn’t all quite reached the point where they could envision voting the National Front into presidency.
It would behoove parties such as the les Républicains to take advantage of that and take the win, and that might be the one way to kill the National Front’s chances at winning our next election.