French Far Right wins election, closer to power

July 01, 2024 21:46

France moved closer to its most far right government since 1945 after the Rassemblement National (RN) and its allies won one third of the votes in the first round of parliamentary elections on Sunday. The second and final round will be held on July 7.

In a high turnout, the RN won 33.2 per cent, ahead of the left wing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP, New Popular Front) with 28 per cent. The Ensemble alliance and its allies, the party of President Emmanuel Macron, came a poor third with 22.4 per cent.

These results show that the RN and its allies will win the most seats in the 577-seat National Assembly and perhaps a majority of 289 seats. That would make its leader Jordan Bardella, 28, Prime Minister and lead him to share power with Macron as president.

It would be a historic change. It would be the first time since 1945 that a far right party controlled the French government. From 1940 to 1945, the Vichy government, which collaborated with the occupation Nazi party, was in office.

The RN has a radical agenda. Its manifesto calls for a reduction in legal immigration to France from the current 200,000 a year to 10,000: a ban on automatic immigration rights to join a spouse or family member residing legally in France: and an end to the European Schengen Area, which gives free cross-border movement, and reinstatement of border checks: priority to be given to French citizens over foreigners for jobs and for social housing.

It also wants the justice department to be given a 25 per cent increase in funding: the creation of 40,000 new prison places: a referendum to give the French public the choice between reinstating full-life terms or the death penalty: police to have “legitimate defence” when using their firearms or using force against suspects: doubling the number of police officers in anti-crime squads: and giving police greater power to tap phones and Internet communications.

The prospect of a RN government has alarmed the French establishment and those who fear becoming its victims, especially the five million Muslims, the largest Muslim community in any European country.

“The RN is not fit to govern,” said Gabriel Attal, the outgoing Prime Minister. He said that its economic programme would melt “like snow in the sun” because it promised benefits that were unfunded, including an end to VAT on essential products and an end to income tax on those less than 30.

“A majority of French people do not want zero immigration, with no students and no workers in many key sectors. This is neither feasible nor desirable,” he said.

Michel Barnier, the Frenchman who was the negotiator of the European Union during the Brexit negotiations, compared this election to Britain’s decision to hold a referendum to leave EU. This has had disastrous consequences for the British economy.

“The Brexiteers betrayed the British people and their national interest,” he wrote in an article in Le Figaro on June 25. “It was nothing other than an illusion, a lie. In the same way, the French far right and far left are ready for all the lies.”

Most alarmed are Muslims. More than any other European country, France has suffered from jihadist violence. Since 2012, 40 attacks have caused more than 260 victims. This has fuelled popular anger against the entire Muslim community, which the RN has exploited. It has proposed excluding those holding two nationalities from certain state jobs.

France has 3.3 to five million people who hold U.S., Algerian, Portuguese, Moroccan and other foreign passports as well as French ones. Thousands of them work in the state administration. The government says that strict vetting procedures were already in place and such an exclusion policy was wrong.

Muslim lawyer Amir Ben Majed said that they numbered millions in France. “They cannot put us all outside. As a candidate for certain positions, it is more difficult to be called Mohamed than Francois when you apply. How sad that all this energy and time goes into criticising Islam in the public debate. France is in decline and its influence is falling every year. Instead of bringing all the brains and talents to change that, they prefer to divide us.”

In an open letter to the Le Monde newspaper last week, former Socialist Education Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who has dual French and Moroccan nationality, wrote: “I’m addressing all the French people who will never be French enough for the RN: those who have obtained French nationality, those who are dual nationals … those born and living in France for decades, children of immigrants, French from overseas [territories], who never have the right first name, the right religion, the right skin colour for the far right. Today, we more than ever have a target on our backs.
“In power, the RN, which has never hidden its hatred towards those it calls ‘French on paper’, will rush to ban us access to jobs that it judges too good for us: in state administration, in public companies and state missions.”

But RN control of the government is not yet a done deal. Sunday’s voting left about 300 constituencies with three candidates still standing. Intense negotiations are now under way between left wing and centrist parties; one of the two can drop out in an attempt to stop the RN from winning. Parties must finalise their candidate lists in 48 hours.

Next Sunday the French electorate hold the country’s future in their hands.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.