The odds of France leaving the Eurozone, or Frexit, have just gone from a tail risk to plausible thanks to the boost the Hedbo shootings have given to the leader of France’s far right party, the National Front, and its leader, Marine Le Pen. Opinion polls indicate that that she would win the first round of a presidential ballot were elections held now.
As political scientists have found, a depression or prolonged recession tends to move political sympathies to the right. The murders in Paris playing straight into National Front themes: anti-immigration, anti-minorities, pro-law and order. But Marine Le Pen’s campaign has also gotten support from the far left for her anti-globalization, anti-fat-cat, anti-Eurozone stance, since the only way to get out of the austerity hairshirt appears to be to abandon the Eurozone entirely. If the French professional left, like our homegrown Vichy Left, took those issues seriously, they would not be seeing defections to Le Pen’s style of rancid populism.
In the wake of the Paris killings, Marine Le Pen has called for a referendum to reinstate capital punishment, which was eliminated in 1981. This alone would put France on a collision course with the European Union, which forbids it. As Aljazeera noted, “A referendum on capital punishment, however, would amount to a stealth fast-track mechanism for achieving the party’s EU-phobic goal. That’s not a proposal Hollande is likely to entertain any time soon.”
Slate give a good overview of Le Pen’s strategy:
Mainstream French parties have tried to fend off the National Front’s advance ever since it unexpectedly made it to the final round of presidential elections in 2002. Last May, its nationalist, xenophobic message helped the party capture 25 percent of the vote in the European Union parliament elections. After Wednesday’s tragic attack, the party’s relevance can no longer be doubted.
Marine Le Pen’s challenge has been to dissociate her party from its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, a polarizing figure known for frequent racist and anti-Semitic commentary. Shortly after taking control of the party in 2011, she gave more important roles to younger party members and started reining in the impolitic language of party functionaries. She sent her deputy to Israel to meet with officials there and met personally with the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Last June, Marine confiscated her father’s video-blog on the party’s website after he said that a Jewish rock star and National Front critic should be included in the “next batch going into the oven.” She understands that the French far right will never succeed at the ballot box until its embraced by the mainstream—and that means dragging it out of the gutter.
The Charlie Hebdo attack will further weaken the taboo of voting Le Pen. Although it may have been the most deadly, Wednesday’s shooting is actually the third such terrorist assault in the past two years…
Le Pen’s attractive force, however, does not rely on the logic of the political world as it is. It lies in the brand her father built as a political pariah speaking “truth to power” in a system dominated by Gaullists and Socialists who all attended the same elite schools. She wears mainstream media contempt as a badge of honor and enjoys kibitzing from outside national political institutions. Although the National Front has run candidates at every level for more than 40 years, the party has never governed anything larger than a small municipality. Its lack of a parliamentary or executive record works in its favor at a time of disillusionment with the ruling political class. Le Pen doesn’t need to prove she can do it better. For now, pointing out others’ failures will be enough to keep her center stage while she waits to run for president in 2017.
A row over efforts to defuse Muslim-related hostilities is playing into Marine Le Pen’s hand. A march in solidarity for the victims is set for this Sunday in Paris. All major French political parties will participate, and major Muslim groups have are also encouraging their members to join. But the National Front was not invited, giving Le Pen the opportunity to attack the event falling as well short of a “uniting of the nation.” Hollande is giving her a boost in stature by deigning to meet with her on Friday.
A Telegraph story (hat tip Scott) takes stock of Le Pen’s rising fortunes and what it means for the Eurozone:
The regional elections in March will give us an early clue to any shift in opinion. What is certain is that unless the mainstream political establishment finds a way of regaining the initiative on law and order as well as the economy, it is no longer inconceivable – though still unlikely – that she could one day win an election. This would be catastrophic, not just for the business community and for investors, but also for everybody else in France, in Europe and around the world.
A National Front victory would signal the final demise of the EU and euro: she has pledged to exit both, with the unravelling guaranteed to happen in the worst, most irrational way possible. It ought of course to be possible for clever politicians to negotiate the dismantling of the disastrous single currency in a sensible way and to replace the dirigiste, increasingly centralised EU by a pure trading block – but Le Pen’s brand of aggressive, protectionist, anti-market poujadisme would merely precipitate a monumental and entirely destructive crisis in international relations.
Her vision is the very opposite of the free-trading, decentralised Europe that British Eurorealists have long advocated. Under Le Pen’s world view, free trade and economic integration would come to an abrupt halt; the shock would be similar to the return of trade barriers that followed the Great Depression and helped to prolong and worsen it. The National Front would undoubtedly repeat the errors of the US Smoot-Hawley tariffs of 1930. A Le Pen victory would thus be bound to trigger a collapse in economic output across Europe, a banking crisis and a meltdown in the financial markets.
The Telegraph stresses that the leading parties will take up security measures and messaging to try to take the air out of the massacre-induced Marine Le Pen bubble. The faster and more forcefully they act, the more likely they are to succeed.
But the sad irony is, as Patrick Cockburn points out in Counterpunch, is that these political efforts at self-preservation do nothing to address root causes and even make matters worse by telling terrorists their actions are effective:
One of the characteristics of the modern jihadi movement has been to commit highly public atrocities both as a method of intimidation and as a demonstration of the religious commitment of those carrying them out.
This was a feature of 9/11, suicide bombings in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and the ritualised murder of journalists and aid workers on camera. An added benefit from the jihadis’ point of view comes if they can tempt the government into an overreaction that helps spread their cause…
Can anything be done to reverse the trend towards the spread of Islamic fanaticism? Catching and punishing those responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre is not going to deter people who have martyrdom as a central feature of their faith. But bringing to an end, or even just de-escalating the war in Syria, would begin to drain the waters in which violent jihadism flourishes.
Such a de-escalation means the US, Britain, France and their allies accepting that they are not going to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and Assad accepting that he is not going to win back all of Syria. There should be ceasefires between government and non-jihadi rebels. Power would be divided within Syria and, for the first time, governments in Damascus, Baghdad and Paris could unite against violent Sunni jihadism.
Whether Hollande has the wisdom to do that and defuse the Marine Le Pen threat remains to be seen. And given Obama’s new found love of warmongering, even if Hollande aspires to taking the high road, he can’t go there without the US. I’d love to be proven wrong, but the neocons appear to be firmly in charge. That means more carnage in the Middle East, with blowback used as justification for more unproductive violence.