In France, as in virtually all the other EU countries, the European Parliament elections last weekend were marked by a mixture of voter apathy and extreme nationalism
It’s a paradox in the greater scheme of things in Europe that Europeans seem to be getting more and more united in their distaste of the European Union as it is today and what it stands for.
All across Europe, the far-right and the strongly nationalist have made grounds at the expense of the established political classes. While in Ireland, it was manifest in the way in which voters abandoned Labour in favour of Sinn Féin and independents, the result was in even more alarming in France: over 25% of the vote went to the Front National, making it the biggest political party in France insofar as the results of the 2014 European parliament elections are concerned.
Whilst in Ireland, the voters for the Europeans seem to have been leaning as left as they possibly could, there was to be no fair wind for the Front de Gauche (the Left Front) – a leftist party created in 2009 by former Socialist Deputy Jean-Luc Mélenchon. While he was elected to the Euro parliament himself, his party only got 6.33% of the vote – down from 6.48% upon its formation in 2009. Mélenchon described the results as “very disappointing”. He had been hoping that left-leaning voter backlash against the current government would result in his party surpassing the Socialist Party, but it was not to be. In fact, voters in his south-western constituency seemed to prefer more hard-hitting mavericks such as José Bové. Indeed, both Mélenchon and Bové have been sparring over the airwaves. Bové had the last word last week on BMTV, when he paraphrased the famous writer, film-maker and all-round intellectual Michel Audiard in saying that “The more I talk to dumb-asses, the more they learn!”
Perhaps all those that normally vote left in France were amongst those who couldn’t be bothered turning up at the polls. It’s a Europe-wide symptom of the remove between the parliament in Strasbourg and the lives of the citizens of the various countries and regions. Instead, the French public expressed their discontent with the established parties that don’t stand up for France and poured their poll-power into a party that takes a most uncompromising stance on the national question.
In the north-west constituency, Front National leader Marine Le Pen romped home with 33.61% of the vote – more than triple her showing in the last Euro elections in 2009 when she scored 10.18% of the vote. Her father also polled well in the south-east constituency, with 28.18% of the vote, while in the north-east constituency, Front National vice-president Florian Philippot brought home the far-right bacon with 28.96% of the vote.
Most interesting of all, perhaps, has been the reaction of the French president. In an televised address to the nation on Monday night, he called for a less intrusive role for Europe in the affairs of France and of other countries. It was a somewhat brave thing to say and it was reflective of the mood that seems to be expressed at the polls around Europe. Against the backdrop of the historic results for the FN and the worst electoral results for the PS (Socialist Party) since 1979, President Hollande noted that “It is in France – founder-member of the European Union and home of Human Rights – that the extreme right arrives well out in front.”
Hollande is a man who continues to fight on all fronts and looks like he’s fighting a losing rearguard action. Right now, he’s got the worries of territorial reform in France – next week, he says that he’ll announce just how he plans to re-draw the administrative boundaries of the departmental councils (the equivalent of county councils) in the country at a time where most local politicians are anxious not to change the status quo and have a more centralised government, as well as wondering just which ones are for the chop.
The French press are currently portraying Hollande as a lonely political figure who is currently in search of friends in the European context who share with him his call for less interference from Brussels, or as he puts it “a re-orientation of the EU.” Curiously, no other leader seems to be echoing this sentiment thus far, even though one might think that they should. Angela Merkel responded by dismissing any notion of re-orientation but instead of pressing ahead with budgetary reforms and forging ahead with programmes for future growth. It doesn’t sound like that’s what the patient is complaining about, but perhaps sometimes the doctor knows best. Only time will tell.