The terror threat currently presiding over France will undoubtedly unite liberals in defense of their core values and provide a fillip to President Holland’s tarnished reputation, especially if repeat attacks are forthcoming. The mood swing will invariably rally many round the flag and its present parliamentary bearer, but it will also play into the hands of the far-right National Front (FN) which has historically played out a role on the fringes of French politics, railing against the diminution of French culture while providing an unwelcome measure of extreme public opinion with some decent performances in presidential elections from Jean-Marie Le Pen, its founder and former leader.
Le Pen’s daughter and successor, Marine, has successfully steered the party in a more voter-friendly, patriotic direction, talking down the caustic xenophobia her father still harbors, and is on course to send another shockwave across Europe should she win the presidency in 2017 which would create new, unprecedented risks.
The latest opinion polls put Le Pen on a similar level of support to that of former president Nicolas Sarkozy and once prime minister Alain Juppé, both of whom are vying for the Union for a Popular Movement’s (UMP) leadership with François Fillon, amid corruption scandals and infighting tarnishing the center-right brand.
Both the FN and UMP will continue to impart a major influence on the domestic political scene in the coming months. Shunned by the mainstream, Le Pen’s strategy is to ignore “corrupt Paris” as a center of power and instead concentrate on edging out the tired establishment in other towns and cities as well as traditional farming communities across the vast rural provinces. Broadening the party’s appeal to “economic patriotism”, Le Pen is aiming to cull more working class, left-wing voters suffering from the effects of austerity and immigration, a tactic which might prove successful as its right-wing ideology strikes a stronger bond with those fearful of the Islamic minority.
It will be interesting to see how far the FN can go after the successes in last year’s European elections when it won almost 25% of the vote to come first. The party has reported a massive rise in hits on its website since the terror attacks and there is every chance it will come out on top again when the departmental local elections take place in March, to be followed by elections for the new slimmed-down regions later in the year, causing more ripples to asset prices, including downward pressure on the shares market and bond prices.