Opinions - 30.05.2014 - 00:00 

Devil ante portas

Voter turnout was low, but the results confirm unrest in the French electorate, and echo the call for reform. A review of the European elections in France by Christoph Frei.

28 May 2014. Finally, it is history, this damned ballot. All along it was a burden for the established political parties, a matter of duty without any prospect of winning: opinions were already formed. For weeks, the augurs had promised both sides a bad, if not embarrassing, result – another resounding slap for the president and his Socialist Party, but a hammering also for the conservative opposition party UMP. And the projections were right.

“C’est qui déjà, ce Schulz?”

The first and obvious winner, a numerically significant but naturally silent one, is once again voter abstinence. In France, the European parliament is still nothing to write home about. Since 1994, turnout has never even reached 50 percent; on Sunday, it was 43 percent. It is not a historic low, but interest in the alleged “European” leading candidates was so low (“c’est qui déjà, ce Schulz?”) that the state-run TV station France Télévisions decided, politically incorrectly, to not even broadcast the debate. The future is Europe? France first!

Widespread abstention from voting is, of course, by no means new. Something else is new, though. It is the explosion in the number of voters who are not just indifferent towards the European project in its current form, but dismissive or even hostile. In their perception, this “ultra-liberal” Europe has not alleviated the most pressing problems in recent years, but instead has aggravated them: endangered jobs, decreased buying power, insecurity in the light of perceived excessive immigration.

Unerring instinct

“No to Brussels, yes to France”: the National Front has successfully mobilized under this broad umbrella. The second, naturally less-quiet winner from the 25th of May is Marine Le Pen. With unerring instinct, she managed to capture voting blocks one would traditionally associate with other parties. Thus the Socialist Party received a mere 8 percent of votes from the working class, while the National Front received 48 percent. Fifteen percent of younger and the youngest voters cast their votes for the Socialists, while 30 percent favored the National Front.

The triumphant final result of 25 percent of all votes gets Marine Le Pen closer to an important intermediate goal. She needs to become socially and politically acceptable in larger, wider circles if ever she wants to be electable nationwide one day. Nothing helps as much as winning elections; nothing draws Le Rassemblement Bleu Marine more powerfully into the shared political arena than the consecration of democratic legitimacy.

A turn that nobody laughs about

One can, of course, cry populism. Or we may prefer to put the results in proportion: it is just European elections, after all, interludes without consequences. Still, the fact is that various segments of the sovereign people, consciously or unconsciously, keep conferring what the established parties have tried to prevent for decades: political respectability for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter. Beginning with the local elections in March, but no later than the latest electoral victory on May 25th, the game has taken a turn that nobody laughs about.

Small wonder if, after the election, the political elites once again turn the wheel of diabolization, that the guardians of the Constitution raise dire warnings, that the president calls for a crisis meeting at the Elysée. They all do well to take the National Front seriously. But one also should not forget that for years, if not decades, those same elites have blamed the European Union for everything that does not work in France, instead of putting their own house in order. Over and over again, they have preferred the convenience of blaming the scapegoat to telling the people the truth. They have preferred to muddle along instead of pushing reforms even against resistance. Without reforms, however, things will not get better--and further hammerings are inevitable.

Photo: Vente. /

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