On May 7, the day of the French election, millions of moderates and leftists around the world found themselves breathing a sigh of relief as Emmanuel Macron emerged victorious; however, this “victory” is not as great as it seems.
Macron, a centrist with socially liberal views and a member of the En Marche! Party, faced Marine Le Pen, a far-right populist candidate and leader of the National Front Party.
Le Pen, through skillful campaigning and her natural ability to deceive, managed to transform her father’s fascist group into a credible and quickly growing party. Following in the footsteps of President Donald Trump and many other recent right-wing candidates across Europe, Le Pen focused on French borders, an anti-immigration stance and sovereignty, particularly France’s membership in the European Union.
Our numbskull of a president, Donald Trump, endorsed Le Pen in his typically arrogant fashion, calling her the “strongest” candidate in the race. Trump’s unexpected victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which Le Pen said she was “comforted” by, as well as Great Britain’s exit from the EU, sent shockwaves throughout the world, causing political leaders around the world, especially in France, to fear the rise of the far-right in their countries.
While she did not win the presidency, it was a win for the National Front party, who made it to the second and final round of the election, beating both of France’s traditional establishment parties and getting approximately double the number of votes the party received the last time it was in the second round of the election. What we saw in France was a sneak-peek at the quickly spreading disease that is sweeping through much of Europe: the populist radical right.
From Great Britain voting to leave the EU to a close election in Austria, which pitted center-left independent Alexander Van der Bellen against the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer, the radical right has the highest support it has ever seen in Europe and has established itself as a legitimate political power with hardcore supporters. A 10 percent unemployment rate and the Syrian refugee crisis as well as a failed socialist presidency by Francois Hollande were also substantial factors in the National Front’s success.
Despite Macron being a centrist candidate, he and Le Pen were polar opposites, disagreeing on practically every policy, showing just how extreme the right-wing party is.
According to a poll conducted by CEVIPOF, a French political research center, in January 2016, over 50 percent of French police and military now belong to the National Front Party, an increase of 70 percent in just three years.
One out of four French voters did not vote in the second round of the French election, the lowest turnout since 1969, when Charles De Gaulle left politics. Of the people who did show up to vote, nearly 12 percent of the ballots turned in were null votes, the highest level ever recorded in France, according to the French Ministry of the Interior. This means that only two-thirds of citizens in France voted for one candidate or the other, posing a challenge for Macron in the future.
Despite Macron’s win by nearly 10 million votes, the National Front as well as other European extreme right-wings are rapidly spreading throughout the continent, with no sign of slowing down, and this frightening movement cannot be ignored.