French presidential election | A breach named Marine Le Pen

June 2022. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is in its fourth month. Despite the decried abuses and war crimes, the world’s attention has shifted somewhat away from the conflict. In France, the new president, Marine Le Pen, announces that her country intends to ease the sanctions against Russia.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

In a press conference, the far-right politician does not come to the defense of Vladimir Putin, with whom she had long sympathized before distancing herself from him, but rather affirms that the sanctions in place are hurting the French and their purchasing power. This is very much in line with what she presented to voters during her campaign.

His decision is a first major breach in Western solidarity with regard to Russian aggression in Ukraine. A crack among NATO members. A new ravine within the European Union.

In his Kremlin fortress, the Russian president opens a bottle of soviet champanskoye (Soviet champagne) to celebrate the new era. He knows he now has a new tacit ally at the Élysée. An ally who has influence in Brussels and on the United Nations Security Council, where France holds one of the five permanent seats.

Far-fetched, this scenario? Not if we look at the results of the first round of the French presidential election. Emmanuel Macron came in first with 27.6% of the vote (nearly 98% of the ballots counted at the time of publication), but the candidate of the National Rally (RN, formerly the National Front) came just behind with 23, 4% of votes.

This is by far the best score of Mme Le Pen in a first round. In 2017, she reached the second round with 21.3% of the vote. In fact, on Sunday it obtained the best harvest in the history of the Rassemblement/National Front during a presidential election.


PHOTO SAMUEL BOLLENDORFF, NEW YORK TIMES ARCHIVES

Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine, at the headquarters of what was then the National Front, in Nanterre, in May 2010

In 2002, Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, reached the second round with 16.9% of the vote, leaving France speechless. In the second round, against Jacques Chirac, he had rallied only 17.8% support.

The situation is quite different today. On Sunday, the first polls indicated that the RN candidate rallied 46% of voting intentions, against 54% for Emmanuel Macron.

It would be downright dangerous to rule out the possibility of her being elected on April 24.

The French electorate continues to make the ideological split. It was the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of La France insoumise, who came third with 22.0% of the vote. He opposes the candidacy of Mr.me Le Pen, but does not call for a vote for Emmanuel Macron.

By the outgoing president’s own admission, “everything remains to be played” during this decisive second round.

For Canada, it is in terms of foreign policy, particularly with regard to Russia, but also free trade agreements, that the election of Mr.me Le Pen would have the greatest consequences. For France and Europe, however, the impacts would be much more marked.

And not just because M.me Le Pen said as recently as last Monday that she wanted to ban the wearing of the hijab (the Islamic veil) in all French public spaces, considering that it is a banner of Islamist ideology, a terrible shortcut. “All those who are carriers [de l’islamisme] and are foreigners in our country would benefit from returning home,” said Mr.me Le Pen to a journalist from BFMTV.

And too bad for the hundreds of thousands, even the millions of Muslims who were born in France!

“The biggest challenge is that it calls into question the institutions of France: judicial independence, France’s place in the European Union, fundamental rights in general”, notes Frédéric Mérand, expert from European policy and scientific director of the Center for International Studies and Research at the University of Montreal.

And she wants to propose a government that would give priority to native French citizens.

Frederic Merand

According to Mr. Mérand, the drift under a Le Pen presidency would be gradual. “At first, it would be more moderate than we think, but would gradually eat away at democratic institutions,” he said.

We have already seen these grim scenarios in Hungary, under Viktor Orbán, and in the United States, during the presidency of Donald Trump, or in Turkey, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The pillars of democracy were slowly but surely taken over.

Flanked on the right by the incendiary Éric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen succeeded in the first round to restore her image by focusing her speech on social inequalities. Now let’s hope that the second part of the campaign will remind French voters of the origin of the party she leads: a xenophobic, reactionary party. A party that plans to open breach after breach within the French state.

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