Last week Marine Le Pen was received at the Elysee Palace. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, met with her, as he did with the rest of the leaders of the main parties, to define the course to follow after the last legislative elections and avoid a parliamentary blockade. A few days earlier, Le Pen had already received a call from the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, and has spent the last few weeks negotiating with the other group presidents the distribution of key positions in the new National Assembly. His party, the National Association (AN), has secured two of the six vice-presidencies, although he has not managed to win the position to which he aspired, the presidency of the Finance Commission, a strategic position that will be occupied by Éric Cocquerel, deputy of France Insumisa and member of the Nupes leftist alliance.
What does the result of the French legislative entail and how is Macron going to govern
These are the first steps of the new political course after the last electoral cycle that has been closed with the second round of the legislative elections, on June 19, where AN won 89 seats in the culmination of the party’s normalization process, a path begun by Marine Le Pen in 2011 when she took over from her father. Since then, the progression has been constant: in the second round of the presidential elections of 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen obtained 17.79% of the votes; this year, his daughter has achieved 41.45%, almost eight million more voters.
But the true confirmation has come with the result of the legislative elections. The direct election of the deputies in a double round traditionally penalized the candidates of the extreme right, but this time the electorate of AN has not demobilized after the presidential elections and the party has expanded its geographical extension beyond its traditional bastions in the southeast and the north of the country, conquering new territories in Alsace, in Aquitaine and in the overseas departments. The result has been a jump from eight to 89 deputies.
The erosion of the “republican front”
One of the causes of this progression is political: this strategy of normalization of the party (in French, diabolisation) has been accompanied by the erosion of the cordon sanitaire launched by the rest of the political formations against the extreme right, known as front republic, the “republican front”. Throughout the legislative campaign, the coalition of parties around Macron tried to stop the rise of the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (Nupes), which was designated as the main opponent. Meanwhile, AN and Marine Le Pen carried out a low-profile campaign leaving President Macron and Mélenchon at a loss.
Thus, many candidates of the presidential coalition eliminated in the first round refused to ask for the vote for the members of Francia Insumisa, putting the formation of Mélenchon and the extreme right of AN on the same level. According to an estimate from the Ipsos institutethis translated into a large abstention of the voters of the presidential coalition (72%) in the duels between the Nupes and the AN.
Also on the left, the idea has taken hold that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are an equivalent danger, and several members of France Insoumise, before the presidential election, affirmed that the second round was a choice “between the plague and cholera”. . According to calculations made by the daily Le Monde, of the 108 constituencies in which a candidate from the presidential coalition Ensemble! faced an AN candidate in the second round, only in 14 Nupes asked for the vote for the representative of the presidential majority, despite the fact that the main representatives of the left-wing coalition did say more clearly that no vote would have to go to the extreme right.
The consolidation of the bases
But, beyond the political strategies, the results of AN reveal the consolidation of a vote and a program. Since her arrival at the party’s leadership, Marine Le Pen has distanced herself from what had been the National Front with her father, expelled from the party in 2015 after declaring that the Holocaust and the gas chambers were a “detail of the history”.
“Uncontrolled” immigration and “national priority” have remained the centerpieces of the party’s (which changed its name in 2018) discourse, as have security issues. However, the references to the collaborationist Vichy regime and Marshal Pétain are over. Under its new leader, the party has placed more emphasis on economic and social issues, particularly purchasing power, and advocates a form of state interventionism. The 2017 presidential election was intended to be presented as the opposition between the globalist forces embodied by Emmanuel Macron and the sovereignists, whose interests AN defends.
“With this strategy and this discourse, he manages to attract people who feel forgotten or threatened by a globalized society,” explains Olivier Guyottot, professor and researcher in Strategy and Political Science at the Institute of Higher Economic and Commercial Studies (INSEEC) in Bordeaux. . “Voters who feel like losers and victims of the measures put in place to fight global warming or to counter price variations caused by the globalization of trade or to help immigrants,” he says.
Degradation of public services
On the electoral map, this translates into an accelerated progression outside the main urban areas, where it has almost doubled in twenty years. An explosion of votes in peripheral France which, according to the opinion director of Ifop Jérôme Fourquet, refers both to the acceleration of metropolization (concentration of wealth and knowledge in cities), as well as peri-urbanization (process of extension of urban agglomerations towards their periphery, leading to a transformation of rural areas). “A peri-urban lifestyle marked by the weakening of social relations and the emphasis on the individual sphere, but also by the extreme dependence on the car”, Fourquet underlines in a note recently published in the Jean-Jaurès Foundation.
In this context, the rise in the price of diesel, the most widely used fuel in these territories, is related to the Lepenist progression in areas where it most affects purchasing power (as also happened with the yellow vest revolt). Political scientist Nicolas Lebourg explains in liberation that in the 20 constituencies in which Marine Le Pen obtained the best results in the presidential elections, the proportion of houses that are heated by fuel oil is much higher, as is the percentage of people who depend on their car to get to work and of the inhabitants who do not have a doctor in their municipality.
Precisely, the degradation of public services in part of French territory is another key factor in the rise of the extreme right. In 20 years, the number of maternity wards has been reduced, especially in medium-sized towns, which are also the most affected by the closure of bank branches, courts and state post offices.
The consolidation of a parliamentary group in the National Assembly will provide an unprecedented showcase for Le Pen’s party and its program. The new deputies speak of proposals to “ban the burkini” in public spaces, new legislation on immigration or to “fight against Islamism”. However, aware of the importance of the image, the slogan disseminated from the management to the new deputies is to maintain greater discretion in the ways to project an image of competition and institutional normality that contrasts with that of the deputies of France Insumisa much more demanding. For Marine Le Pen and her party, after normalization comes institutionalization.