The French extreme-right leader, Jean-Marie le Pen, is a self-made man who has managed to climb the political ladder. His party, Le Front National, currently scores over 30 % of the votes and is thus in the forefront to win EU’s parliamentarian elections. However, is he really interested in governing or is he just interested in his own dynasty?
Jean-Marie le Pen
A lonely child:
Jean-Marie le Pen, 85 years old, grew up in poverty, in a small fishing village. His father died during the War, so his mother had to sew to feed the two of them. Her son proved soon to be a leader, hating to take orders, aggressive and violent. Several times he got himself into trouble especially when leading youth revolts but thanks to his numerous contacts he never got jailed.
Loving to debate, he proved an excellent orator. “I’m a born leader”, Jean-Marie le Pen boosted. However he had to wait until 1972 before his turn came and he started leading a new party called ”Le Front National”. It’s doesn’t really have a definite program except that it’s against immigration and for nationalism. Despite the party’s lack of voters and consisting mostly of politicians nobody else wanted, he never gave up.
His luck turned, oddly enough, both thanks to socialists and to unexpected allowances.
In 1981, the socialist, François Mitterand, became president and introduced ”la proportionnelle” – i.e. a voting system based on proportions rather than on majority – thus permitting le Pen to get a foot into the French parliament.
Through that platform, he started pulling in the masses. When he got a substantial fortune and a large house in a fashionable area from another extreme-right lobbyist – Lambert – he could spend all his time and energy engaged in politics, without having to worry about a paid job.
In 1984, a childless millionaire, Mme Léonais, donated a huge sum of money to his party. She continued to do that regularly during the rest of her life but le Pen put the money in his own pocket and never bothered to forward it to the party. According to his former wife, Pierrette, he currently has around 30 million Euros in different hidden accounts. Le Pen is well-known for his lack of generosity – maybe a consequence of his poor childhood?
He got three daughters with Pierrette. After her departure he became closer to them and could thus also use them. He had made a fool of himself by going too far in his anti-Semitic statements saying that: “the gas-chambers were but a detail during WWII”! To add to his “misfortune” he knocked down another candidate during an election campaign. As a consequence the party lost voters.
Marine le Pen
A new face then emerged: Marine le Pen, one of Jean-Marie’s daughters. Mainly due to her appealing looks, she draws adherents. The blond, well-spoken, smart and charming woman wins an increasing number of French hearts. Le Pen first made her vice-president. In 2011, she became head of the party. ”Our name is linked to the party,” according to Jean-Marie le Pen. Comparing the party to a family business, he alienated all other politicians from his own party. Lately, he’s even involved his grandchild, Marion. The strategy seems to work: according to the latest polls in February 2014: Le FN scores 34 %.
Le Pen stands for the nostalgia of France’s lost empire. The charismatic, vivid 85-year old resembles a tribal chief – or a Viking chief. The old chief is still governing behind the scenes. The program has been somewhat polished but just on the surface, behind lurks still the same nationalistic and populist ideology that 1/3 of the Frenchmen adhere to. The clan le Pen tries to conquer by dividing and takes votes from both the right as from the left.
Europe’s extremist tendencies:
”We are for France and against the EU. We want to close the borders and to stop immigration,” says the EU parliamentarian Jean-Marie le Pen…
A chilling extremist wind is blowing over Europe with Switzerland who just passed a vote against immigration and with several European countries currently governed by extreme-right wing parties. This poses a serious risk for the European cooperation.
However the increase of the extremists can be short-lived. Because what’s going to happen to the hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen working in Switzerland? Or the 300 000 German doctors that the Swiss hospital can hardly do without? The tiny country, in the centre of Europe badly needs both the foreigners working there and its cooperation with the rest of Europe.
The country is divided in two: the less inhabited regions, mostly inhabited by natives who voted against immigration and the rest of the country.
France hasn’t increased its immigration quota since 1972 and contrary to what the extremists pretend: 72 % consist of native Frenchmen. France is one of the least welcoming countries for immigrants. Less welcoming than Germany, England, Spain and Sweden…. Despite the fact that these immigrants accept the jobs no Frenchmen want. However it isn’t in the larger cities like Paris with the greatest mixture where le Front National has the most votes, but as in Switzerland, it’s in the areas where people aren’t used to foreigners.
Maybe the Swiss vote will instead make the Frenchmen more positively inclined towards foreigners? They are lately starting to discover the positive sides of being able to move to different countries, depending on job opportunities and state of the market.
The extremists’ simple language and way of dividing the world in two – black and white or we against them – isn’t sustainable. To lead a democratic country demands dialogue and openness.
The parliamentary elections will be a hunch of how the next national elections shall go. Still the French have a little time to reflect, with the hope that everybody goes to the ballot box because one of the problems might be just that: the lack of active voters.
Anne Edelstam, Paris.