France faces most right-wing government since 1945

June 23, 2024 21:52

“This is a crisis. The far right may come to power for the first time since 1945. I cannot stand idly by and must prevent this happening. I must do my part.”

These were the words of Francois Hollande, French president from 2012 to 2017, in announcing that he was coming out of retirement to stand as a left-wing candidate for his local constituency, Correze, in the election for the national parliament to be held on June 30 and July 7.

It reflects the alarm felt by the French establishment that the Rassemblement National (RN) will finish top of the polls and form the new government. In the opinion polls, RN is leading with 35 per cent, followed by the left wing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP, New Popular Front) with 26 per cent.

The Renaissance Party of President Emmanuel Macron trails in third position, with only 22 per cent.
That would give the RN 235-280 seats for the RN and its allies, up from 88 in the previous Parliament. That would be just short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority in the 577-seat Parliament, but make it much the largest bloc. The number held by Macron’s party and its allies would fall from 250 seats to below 100. This result would make Jordan Bardella, 28, the RN party leader, the new Prime Minister.

The situation is unprecedented since the end of World War Two. From 1940 to 1945, France was ruled by the right-wing Vichy government subject to the orders of Nazi Germany. Since then, the country has been ruled by Conservative or Socialist governments, with a consensus on many policies.

“What is at stake in these elections is not just politics but the Republic itself,” outgoing Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said during a campaign speech.

In its manifesto, the RN 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.

While it supports European aid to Ukraine, it would not allow French arms to be used to strike Russian territory.

On the economy, it would cut VAT on energy and fuel from 20 to five per cent. It would cut the retirement age from 64 to 62, and to 60 for those who had worked for 40 years. It would reduce the French contribution to the EU budget.

Its programme would cost tens of billions of euros, but its plans to finance these measures are unclear. Éric Heyer, director of the independent economic body OFCE, said lowering the pension age would cost 12-13 billion euros and that the RN’s funding plans were too vague: “When they say that they are going to fight against fraud to finance their programme, it shows that they don’t have any idea how to finance it,” he said.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said this week: "These VAT rate cuts represent 24 billion euros in additional expenditure. This is exactly the equivalent of what we need to save in 2024 and what I have planned to save to balance our budget," He warned against the RN programme for the economy and said it could turn into a financial disaster. "They don't give a damn about public money," he said.

Much of its programme would put France in direct conflict with the European Commission in Brussels, such as withdrawing from Schengen Area, which is a European policy.

In an angry editorial on Thursday, Le Monde (The World), France’s leading newspaper, condemned the RN. “With ten days to go before the first round, it is impossible to find the plans of the RN, because it is tying itself in knots to come out of its isolation from Europe, without saying so too openly. It wants a preference for the nation and a rejection of the other. There will be a conflict with the Constitutional Court and a risk of conflicts in society also.

“It is the opposite of the peaceful alternative which the leaders of the RN pretend today. It is a complete deception,” it said.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.