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The Inexorable Rise of Populism in France.

J.N. PAQUET photo
J.N. PAQUETLondon
The Inexorable Rise of Populism in France.
First stop in our exclusive series of articles "Brexit. The Tip of The Populist Iceberg?" reporting on the way populism has been spreading so far in Europe, in the US and in Latin America in recent years. Our journey starts in France.

How does France compare to Britain as regard to populism? How can we explain the recent rise of populism and extremism in France, and what connects them?

First, you must look at what has caused the rise of the populist vote in the world’s fifth largest economy: Heavy unemployment (Unemployment rate in France: 10.2%, Youth unemployment rate: 23.3% according to INSEE France), fears over immigration and terrorism, unsettled social issues and political scandals and corruption.

When the lid of the Populism-in-the-box pops open in France, three names pop out of the box: Jean-Luc Mélanchon, Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen.

Jean-Luc Mélanchon is a hard left-wing MEP and former Socialist Party minister who has been very loud and critical about President Sarkozy’s policies after 2008 when he left the Socialists and created his own party, the Front de Gauche – a rather odd mix of disappointed socialists, Trotskyists, communists, revolutionaries and anti-capitalists. After he managed to get a surprising 11% of the votes at the 2012 Presidential election that saw Nicolas Sarkozy losing to François Hollande, Mélanchon didn’t stop arguing. Whether the new president was issued from the left or not, he kept on criticising the new resident at the Elysée Palace and the new policies he disagreed with.

Mélanchon’s fight for his principles regardless who the president is certainly has something of honourable. However, some sharp differences started to appear in the way his party’s leaders wanted to lead the far-left party. Mélanchon’s enormous ego – rather than his great principles, got on the way. From a man on a mission when he left the Socialist Party, he slowly turned into a childish attention-seeker who simply craved for media attention, seeking to be interviewed everywhere and appearing everywhere a camera was broadcasting, even on entertainment TV programmes, or in the street with only a few protesters behind him.

Yet, in 2015, Mélanchon announced his candidacy for the 2017 Presidential election with a populist manifesto based on Euroscepticism, a new French Constitution, full wealth sharing and environmental planning, among other topics. In May 2016, his campaign website had received over 100,000 individual support signatures. However, for many of his party’s supporters and voters, his constant attention-seeking attitude now means that the man has failed to capture the people’s hope and materialise a real political change in the country. It ends up leaving today a wide gap in the electorate to two individuals: a former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and a woman on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Marine Le Pen.

Nicolas Sarkozy is a right-wing politician who was President of France between 2007-2012, before being defeated by François Hollande in 2012. After his defeat, he vowed to retire from public life. Not for very long, however. First, Sarkozy came back to politics in September 2014 in order to take back control of his political party, before launching a bid to become his party’s candidate for the 2017 Presidential elections.

As a president, Sarkozy’s style was quite controversial from the start. One of his first decisions after being elected was to give himself a substantial pay rise to match his European counterparts: From £100,000 per year to £171,000 per year. He also created a controversial “Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development”. Super-obsessed with his image, his look and his wife/top model/singer’s portraying in the media, Sarkozy was also a control-freak president who some French media nicknamed ‘Hyper-president’ after his election to describe his desire to control everything, including taking control over decisions and responsibilities that usually lie with the Prime Minister, not the President, such as domestic policies.

There is, however, something one would call the ‘Sarkozy paradox’. It is the way Nicolas Sarkozy, who has always appeared so much in control of everything, from government policies to media censorship/bias to his own image or his wife’s, can easily lose absolute control of himself on occasions and use such inappropriate language that one could think he either needs to take some anger management courses or should get a better team to advise him on his outbursts. He, for instance, called young criminals in Paris suburbs’ projects “voyous” (thugs) and “racaille” (scum) in 2005. When visiting the 2008 Paris International Agriculture Fair, a man refused to shake his hand. Sarkozy – president at the time – answered with a “Casse-toi alors, pauv’con, va!” (Get lost, then, you poor dumb-ass!)

Were these simple PR provocations or the proof of a real impulsive personality? Populist politicians are usually very talented at crossing the line when deemed necessary, i.e. When they know it will benefit them and raise their profile. For them, there is no such a thing as bad publicity. Indeed, Nicolas Sarkozy isn’t afraid to insult a member of the general public in front of the cameras because he knows his supporters and aids will find all sorts of reasons to justify the outburst. The same thing happened with Donald Trump insulting Muslims, Mexicans, women, or getting even personal at times during his campaign for the US Presidency.

Another ‘populist’ talent of Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be his ability to say one thing in the morning and its complete opposite by the end of the day. When he was a candidate at the 2007 Presidential election, Sarkozy happily signed the “Pacte écologique” (an environmental charter with objectives and propositions the new president would agree to apply as part of his governmental policies to prevent the destruction of our planet) of renown French environmentalist Nicolas Hulot. Quite naturally, a couple of months after his election, Nicolas Sarkozy indeed launched the “Grenelle de l’environnement”, a cross-party round table with the aim to define the key points of public policy on ecological and sustainable development issues by the end of the president’s mandate, in 2012. In a speech he gave to his supporters in 2009, he even claimed that, to him, ecology was “not an ideology, not some whim, not a thing, not a strategy, not a political positioning. It’s a conviction.” Seven years on, what is left of Sarkozy’s conviction? He totally turned his back to it. Speaking before businessmen in a private event on 14 September 2016, he was reported by French weekly Marianne to have said: “The climate has been changing for the last 4 billion years. The Sahara has not become a desert because of industries. Only the arrogant man can believe that we have changed the climate”. In less than 10 years, Sarkozy’s “conviction” as an ecology lover turned into the...

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© Directphoto | Dreamstime.com - Paris, France, French Presidential Posters Photo   

#Marine Le Pen, #Le Pen, #Nicolas Sarkozy, #Sarkozy, #Jean-Luc Mélanchon, #Mélanchon, #populism, #populist, #extremism, #politics, #France, #terrorism, #Muslim, #migrants, #scandals, #corruption, #vote

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Ann Sterzinger

2 years ago

"Marion Maréchal-Le Pen is the third generation of what should be seen as a dangerous far-right dynastic populism that is exponentially rising in France..."
Don't tell me what to think, you bloody dope.

J.N. PAQUET

2 years ago

Thanks for your kind comments.
1. MMLP is indeed the third generation of the Le Pen family in politics, after her grandfather, Jean-Marie, and her aunt, Marine. Fact.
2. That very fact makes it a dynasty. Fact.
3. She belongs to the Front National that is a far-right political party in France. Fact.
4. Their manifesto is based on unrealistic promises and a fearful anti-migrants, anti-islam rhetoric. Fact.
5. That very rhetoric is dangerous, as we have seen in the past that it led to extremists reaching power and causing mass-destruction on a whole continent and mass-extermination of a particular people. Fact.
6. The far-right language and ideas is spreading in France thanks to unemployment, terrorism and the migrant crisis, proven by the last elections results and recent polls as well. Fact.
There was, therefore, no intention in these lines to tell anyone what to think and if you read the article again, you will see it is all based on facts. (Although you may find this last remark a bit patronising, which was in no way my intention once again, just a kind suggestion!)

Ann Sterzinger

2 years ago

(Don't we get enough paternalism from the mainstream media? It would be nice to just get the facts once in a while.)