Commentary Magazine


Topic: Marine Le Pen

The Fallout from Europe’s Failing Economy

The economic situation in Europe is bleak. The continent that represents almost one-fifth of the world’s total economic output is now looking squarely at the prospect of its third recession in just six years. But the consequences, including the political instability that could result, would be felt far beyond the European continent itself.

Read More

The economic situation in Europe is bleak. The continent that represents almost one-fifth of the world’s total economic output is now looking squarely at the prospect of its third recession in just six years. But the consequences, including the political instability that could result, would be felt far beyond the European continent itself.

To see just how stark the problems are, one only has to look at the predicament of the eurozone’s two largest economies: France and Germany. Having grown by 0.7 percent in the first months of 2014, the German economy then shrank by 0.2 percent between April and June. German industrial output is down by 4 percent, exports are down 5.8 percent. And France too is in trouble. Since 2008 France’s economy has grown by just 0.3 percent and no great increase is predicted for the coming year. This is a poor performance from both economies when one looks across the channel to Britain where—free from the Euro and the constraints set by Brussels—economic growth is expected to stand at 3.2 percent by the end of the year. And while the eurozone struggles to shake off its stubborn unemployment rate of 11.5 percent, unemployment in the UK is currently at 6 percent.

The situation in France and Germany may be bad, but the eurozone harbors other horror stories. Most infamous of course is Greece. There the economy is burdened by a debt equivalent to 175 percent of GDP. Then there are countries such as Spain and Italy where youth unemployment languishes at 40 percent. In Portugal the situation is only a little better, although there at least the imposition of greater fiscal responsibility has seen a slight reduction in unemployment and some forecasts for better growth next year. There has been no such fiscal responsibility in France, however. In that country, where the state already accounts for 56 percent of GDP, high government spending is going to see France yet again flout EU regulations on the budget deficit.

The violent riots that rocked Athens in 2011 were only the most immediately visible consequence of the ongoing economic hardships afflicting many European societies. While Europe’s political class appears to have pursued a business-as-usual attitude, beneath the surface there have been the stirrings of extremist forces that will not tolerate the status quo for a great deal longer.

Concrete evidence of the kind of radical movements that are afoot came with the elections to Europe’s parliament last May. Parties vocally hostile to the entire European project topped the polls in several countries, but more alarming was the fact that a number of these parties espouse the kind of extreme views that once would have banished them from the realms of acceptability for most voters. In France Marine le Penn’s Front Nationale came in first place; this is a party that many believe is still be mired in its racist and neo-fascist past. Similarly, Austria’s right-wing Freedom party saw a doubling in the number of seats it won, whereas Spain and Portugal saw gains for the far left. And in Greece there was a rush to both ends of the political extremes, with the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) winning first place and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn coming third, taking 10 percent of the vote and 3 of the 21 seats allotted to Greece in the European parliament.

The kind of sinister resentments with which these parties are associated were most overtly evidenced by the anti-Jewish riots witnessed in Paris over the summer. Not that the resurgence of European anti-Semitism can be explained away as a primarily economic phenomenon–the culture of hostility toward Israel has been brewing for some decades now. Yet it also seems quite conceivable that the conspiratorial messages pushed by those such as the anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonne will have an added resonance with a population that is experiencing the kind of deep frustrations that are now common among many young people in France.

Finally, if Europe’s economic situation does continue to worsen, and does so over a sustained period, this will inevitably begin to impact Europe’s influence on the world stage. Long unwilling to employ military intervention, European diplomats seem to believe that economic sanctions are their secret weapon. Sanctions were what Europe instinctively reached for during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And there have of course been increasing murmurings of Brussels setting Israel red lines which if crossed would incur sanctions. Yet European business has already been kicking back against the sanctions disrupting their trade with Iran as it is.

Should the eurozone economies continue to founder, then the constant recourse to sanctions may become an increasingly unpalatable option for Europe’s politicians. Besides, with stirrings of unrest and extremism at home, European statesmen may soon find they have their own more pressing concerns. Still, the temptation to find distractions and scapegoats will likely only increase if the European economies continue to stagnate.

Read Less

Europe Tilts Right on Immigration

Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

Read More

Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

In with this evident rise of nationalistic and anti-immigration parties some choose to include the improving fortunes of the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain. Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Peter Martino draws a direct comparison between Le Pen’s FN and Nigel Farage’s UKIP, noting that in both cases these parties have been able to exploit growing public dissatisfaction with the liberal ruling elite and the lackluster politics of the governing class. While UKIP is certainly an expression of a populist conservative backlash, it would be wrong to group it in with the far-right parties on the march in mainland Europe.

As with the first time that Europe was convulsed by the rallying of far-right and fascist movements, the impetus has been primarily economic. No doubt today’s far-right parties feed on general dissatisfaction with the multiculturalist policies promoted by Europe’s metropolitan politicians, but much of the anti-immigrant animus is undoubtedly being driven by dizzying levels of unemployment. In France unemployment exceeds three million where just 40 percent of the population has work. Socialist France has not run a surplus since 1974; it is unsurprising, then, that President Hollande, with his 75 percent top tax rate, is disliked by a record three-quarters of voters.

The New Yorker’s Alexander Stille has implied that the weekend’s election results stem from a failure of Hollande’s party to reform its socialist ways. Yet in casting their votes for the National Front, those who did so were hardly going for a more free-market option. Just like the populist right-wing parties of the past, Le Pen claims that her party is neither left nor right. When it comes to economic matters the FN is both undeniably protectionist and essentially anti-capitalist. Le Pen has actually called for still higher state investment and backs government control over everything from energy to financial services. And like other far-right European parties, such as Austria’s Freedom Party, the French National Front is vocally hostile to globalization.

Peter Martino does give recognition to the differing stance that FN and UKIP take on economic matters, but this difference is far more fundamental than might be initially apparent. UKIP has increasingly been stressing itself as the party of liberty, perhaps seeking to imitate at least some of the sentiments popular in the Tea Party. Its primary quarrel with the EU appears to be a democracy-oriented one; that Brussels’s bureaucracy is draining sovereignty from the British parliament and its electorate. More so than even the Conservative party, UKIP is presenting itself as the party of private enterprise and small business. Many in both the UKIP leadership and the rank and file have taken to describing themselves as libertarian–although one gets the impression that they don’t quite understand the term in the same way that Americans do. In many respects UKIP is the most socially conservative political grouping in Britain, the only major party to take a stand against the recent implementation of gay marriage. 

While UKIP has voiced opposition to multicultualism, as well as to the political correctness that surrounds it, the party’s calls for reducing immigration levels seem not to be motivated by the xenophobia that its detractors allege. UKIP has won voters by condemning the mass flow of immigrants brought by the EU’s open border policy, but party spokespeople have emphasized that this isn’t a matter of race, claiming that they would much prefer to see highly skilled immigrants coming to Britain from other parts of the world than unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe. Indeed, Farage has advocated leaving the EU on the grounds that Britain could then become more engaged with the global economy, a far cry from Le Pen’s protectionist anti-globalization.

Of course, both UKIP and the National Front expect significant wins in the upcoming EU elections, and both hope to expand their representation to their respective national parliaments at the first opportunity. Yet whereas anti-immigrant racism and anti-Semitism was very much the FN’s raison d’etre under Jean Marie Le Pen, it is not clear that this was ever the case for UKIP. As Martino also noted, UKIP refuses to ally with the FN so long as it has anti-Semites in its midst. Furthermore, in those instances where its own candidates have been exposed as racist they have been rapidly and unceremoniously ejected from the party. Across Europe the far-right may be benefiting from the economic difficulties currently marring the continent, but it would be wrong to throw Britain’s more liberty-oriented UKIP in with those parading neo-fascist tendencies.   

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.