PARIS – France reeled when the National Front victory in the European elections was announced on Sunday evening.
“Shock” and “earthquake” were some of the words used to describe the win, first by Prime Minister Manuel Valls in addressing the country from his Matignon office, and then by President François Hollande, as quoted by colleagues. For both men, the leaders of the Socialist Party, it was a further huge disappointment following their disastrous municipal election performance two months ago.
Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Minister Ségolène Royal, another member of the Socialist leadership, expressed similar sentiments.
“France is facing historic chaos,” said Julien Dray, a Socialist deputy in the National Assembly from an Algerian-Jewish family.
On Monday, the newspapers all reported concern across Europe about what is happening to the political landscape of France, since with its 25 percent result for the National Front the country will send the largest number of extreme-right deputies, 24, to the European Parliament.
Do the French no longer fear the National Front? In 2002, the father of Marine, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, came in second place in the first round of the presidential election, beating then-prime minister Lionel Jospin, before losing in the runoff to Jacques Chirac because everybody united against the far-right candidate.
When, at her office in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre this week, Marine Le Pen, reviewing her party’s performance in this European election, declared: “It is a historic result in a political election, even more historic than the presidential one,” she knew what she was talking about.
This is the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that the extreme Right has come in first in an election, and now all eyes are on the presidential elections in 2017.
The daily Le Parisien noted: “The arrival of the FN at the top of the European election announces deep changes in French political life: The Socialist Party is abandoned, the moderate-right UMP is getting a cold shower.” European institutions have come to be viewed as too complicated and technocratic, too far from the people. For this and in reaction to massive immigration and the open borders policy of the EU, the people have voted for the National Front. However, even if Le Pen’s result allows her to form a parliamentary group with other far-right and populist parties (this requires MEPs from seven countries), Brussels will be difficult for her to change.
The main point is that the French voted for the National Front to vent their anger against the government and to humiliate the president, whose “black spring” continues.
Hollande spent a bad Sunday evening in his Elysée Palace, after returning from his hometown of Tulle in central France where he voted. Since his election in May 2012, he has never been so weak at the national level, but now his position is also weakened with his European partners.
But this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in France, and there still might be a Republican awakening as in 2002.
Françoise Scatigna contributed to this report.