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France's local elections: A message with multiple receivers

An interview with Kostas Vergopoulos, Professor of Economics, University of Paris for the website

by Katrin Alamanou

Was the percentage of the National Front in French local elections the expected one? Many media are speaking about "historic" results.

It was expected. However, it was not as big as announced. In the area of Paris, the most populated electoral area of the country, with about 12 million people, Marine Le Pen's National Front, despite its rise, did not exceed 6%.

In South and North France, however, a rise was recorded. In North France a mayor was elected with 50%. In four or five cities of South its percentage was 40-45%. This is a success for the National Front, but in national level it was not so successful. In France, the National Front's total percentage was 4.7% while the percentage of the Right was 47% and the percentage of the Left was 37%. The Left lost in total 8 percentage units, while the Right gained 3.5% and the far-Right 7.5%. What should concern us is not only the rise of the far-Right, but also the fall of the Left, especially that of Socialists, but also the stagnation of the so-called Left of the Left, especially under Mélenchon.

How do you interpret the rise of the far-Right?

First of all we should examine from where the National Front took voters because on the other hand, the percentage of the Right was increased. François Hollande thus Socialists, far-Left with less than 0.5%, as well as Mélenchon's party with 6% while in past years received 11-12%, are the ones who lost. Communist party performance could not be seen because it was hidden inside Hollande's Socialist party coalition. This coalition, however, did not gain what was expected.

Given that the percentages of Hollande's Socialists as well as Mélenchon's Leftists fell, we could say that we have a turn to the Right expressed by the percentages of Le Pen's far-Right National Front, as well as of the Right party.

Are the causes of the rise of National Front different from that of the rise of far-Right parties in Europe generally?

They are part of the same phenomenon, which is observed in the whole Europe. The way that the far-Right treats Socialists is characteristic because it's viewing them as representatives of the establishment, not as Left. Or rather denounce the Left as representative of the establishment, adopting the stance of the far-Left against Socialists, but appears to be more capable to persuade the electoral body.

But Mélenchon's Left doesn't also identify Socialists as representatives of the establishment?

This is true, but Mélenchon is not gaining votes. Le Pen also identify the Right and the Socialists as establishment (mostly Socialists) and manages to persuade voters on this.

So, why only Le Pen gains votes?

The Left - but also the Right - never understood the reason of the existence of the National Front. They are only accusing it as fascist, nazist, racist and nationalist "exorcising" it through this way. However, they didn't try to examine deeply the views of this party in order to understand why it attracts voters.

The basic characteristic - and this is common for the whole Europe - is the slogan according to which the country should get out from the Europe of monopolies. If someone doesn't know who is speaking, listening these views, would think that the Left is speaking. Additionally, Le Pen speaks about the regaining of national sovereignty. Her political career is based on these things.

Why Mélenchon's Left doesn't attract votes from French citizens who see that Europe is the problem?

Because Left does not clarify its position for Europe and this results to Le Pen's success who uses demagogy in the absence of a different point of view. In essence, she monopolizes the part of the popular disaffection against the negative course of the European matters and she does not participate in the discussion to change Europe, but instead, she tries to ruin it by putting in front a nostalgia of return to some national sovereignty of the past that never existed in essence.

I don't support that the country should leave the European Union. However, many of those that Le Pen says, and are definitely serious but particulary contradictory, should be answered and reconsidered. For example, she declares the reduce of taxation. Her voters agree, but they don't understand that through the tax reduction, social benefits for the poorest will be reduced as well. These things were not explained by the Left to give an answer against the rhetoric of the far Right.

I would say that in the whole Europe, far-Right parties exploit the sense of loss of national sovereignty. And this because economy has been paralyzed, gradually or rapidly, unemployment rise everywhere and the state is absent. The state does not intervene since it has no income according to the terms that the EU imposes, which are the so-called "golden rule of zero public deficits and continuous cuts of public spending".

They are closing schools, hospitals, transportation, what happens in Greece it happens in France and the rest of Europe. But, if we follow the National Front recipe, we will end to a similar result because what is asking is the restriction of public spending and state income from taxation. No one bothers to explain this. Everyone is satisfied to demonize far-Right phenomenon and stigmatize it, using cliches from the past that today have little meaning for the young people.

Also, the fact that the National Front is treated as a "waste" by the political system probably works to its benefit because allows it to claim, misleadingly of course, that it is the only anti-systemic political power. In any case, the far-Right entity needs to be treated politically, not just to be demonized with "incantations" from the past which mean nothing to the young people.

Besides that, as long as Europe is being supported, not by political and logical arguments, but by taboos, the demagogic and populist reaction against it naturally increases, but without political and logical arguments of course. However, since the defenders of Europe are the first who do not explain its necessity through political, economic arguments, but project it as a religious dogma, speedy reaction and expansion of the opposite demagogy at this level, comes naturally.

Demagogy and populism in favor of Europe is the ultimate and basic cause for the fast development of the exactly opposite anti-European demagogy and anti-European populism. It's for the interest of the Left not to be involved in any demagogy against Europe or in favor of it.

In Greece we have to deal with the worst case of a far-Right rise, since we are talking about a neo-nazi party ...

And in our case we need to deal this politically, not by demonizing it, or, by a solution through law, prohibition. The term "neo-nazi" does not prevent, as we have seen, voters to choose them. This is a term which refers to facts four generations in the past and not everyone understands its meaning. Of course, modern citizens should know what nazism is, but I doubt whether everyone knows it. They would understand much better demagogy and the exploitation of current reality.

Do you expect a rise of the percentage of National Front in euro elections?

Of course, because euro elections are taking place in one round and with the simple analogy. In local elections, the result of the first round is "drown" in the second round. However, the results of the first round should concern us mostly politically. As long as they do not concern us, but only through slogans and laws, the "black stain" will be expanded.

Was the high percentage of abstention a way to disapprove Hollande?

It was an important factor because it reached 38%, and it seems that those who didn't go to vote, were mainly Socialists and Leftists. This resulted in a more massive "presence" of the Right voters. Those who were voted for Hollande in the past have been discouraged by his government. But Mélenchon's Left didn't go better and this is a problem which must put us in thoughts.

On the contrary, in Greece we saw a rise in the percentage of SYRIZA

From the whole Europe, only in Greece can be seen a significant rise of the Left, being so close to power. The Greek experience probably will be proven useful for the rest of the European Left. That doesn't mean that SYRIZA treats the far-Right phenomenon without mistakes, but also national matters which may be proven crucial, like for example the Cyprus problem. Experiences from other countries should inspire us to think and search, to lead us in useful lessons, not in sterile or catastrophic triumph-talks without future.


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