Why Did France Swing To The Right?

Jun 30, 2014

In France, the far right Front National party, under its leader Marine Le Pen, finished on top in the recent European elections. The French prime minister called it a political earthquake, with the ruling Socialist Party pushed into third place. So why did it happen?

The BBC’s Christian Fraser traveled into the French countryside to find out why voters have turned against their main parties.

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Reporter

  • Christian Fraser, Paris correspondent for the BBC. He tweets @ForeignCorresp.
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. And in France, the far right national party is trying to capitalize on its recent win in the European elections. Something the French prime minister called a political earthquake. Well, the BBC's Christian Frazer visited the countryside to find out why voters turned against the main political parties in France.

CHRISTIAN FRAZER: We've come to rural France, the Haute Marne in the east, to a village called Braschez. There's a single lane here which takes you past the line of well-kept stone cottages to the stream and this pretty central square. Well, there's no cafes, no bars, no real sense of community here anymore. Braschez is pretty unremarkable, really, with one dubious exception. There are 70 people who live in this village, and not one of them cast a vote in the recent European elections for the two main parties. They cast 28 votes, 22 of them went to the far-right Comp Nationale, three others went to the far left, the anti-EU front de gauche.

FRAZER: In the hills of Braschez, we found the Mayor. He's a dairy farmer, Gerard Merchant (ph). Twice Marie Le Pen has been here to support him. The young French people, he says, are drifting away from the village, but it's not the remoteness of Braschez he blames, it's Europe.

GERARD MERCHANT: (Through translator) We started Europe with five, six, seven countries. Today there are - what? - 28? And now we have Eastern Europeans coming for our jobs. In France, if you have leftovers at the table, you give it to the neighbors. But you have to look after your own first.

FRAZER: Not many miles from Braschez is Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, formally the home, and now the resting place of Charles de Gaulle. We're in the cemetery. It's a plain, humble tomb, this, belying the stature of the man. What would the great General have made of it all? This vote for the far right, a vote against Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DE GAULLE: ...Vive la Community. Vive la Republic. Vive la France.

FRAZER: Visiting the grave is Clemont (ph), a young Frenchman who yearns for a leader in the mold of De Gaulle.

CLEMONT: Great speech, great ideas and great visions. We don't have that since the day of...

FRAZER: Someone that inspires you.

CLEMONT: Yes, yes. With a great project of, you know, society, having France back on its feet. We don't really have that today to have a collective vision of our destiny.

FRAZER: Maybe Clemont is not an FN supporter, but he is typical of young, first time voters who feel ignored. The Socialist President, Francois Hollande, bears much of the responsibility. This was the slogan of his 2012 campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL CAMPAIGN)

FRAZER: Change now. But of course, it's not changed. It's only gotten worse. It's not the banks that are punished. It's ordinary French workers, struggling at record levels of taxation. Unemployment has jumped 15 percent since 2012. The Socialist MP, Karine Berger sits on the assembly's Finance Committee. She was once an advisor to the presidential campaign, and she in no way underestimates the growing threat of the FN.

KARINE BERGER: It's a party which is able to gather 25 percent of the votes. I really believe that the Front National, as many chance as the other two parties, to go to the election in 2017, and who knows when you are qualified for the second term, you can win the election.

YOUNG: That report, from the BBC's Christian Frazer, in France. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.