French Election Campaign Echoes Trump-Like Policies

The far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, propelled her election campaign through anti-immigration, anti-globalization and “France First” policies during the weekend. Donald Trump’s US election win and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union stirred similar discontentment throughout France.

Le Pen has undoubtedly depicted herself as the anti-establishment, anti-elite and “people’s” candidate which is eerily similar to Trump’s campaign. On Saturday 4 February, Le Pen published a list of 144 “commitments” that centre on this idea of putting France first. She quickly outlined her aspirations for a state with its own borders to guard, its own currency to spend, its own defence and its identity unchanged by immigrants, refugees or globalization. A few highlights of Le Pen’s commitments include six months to renegotiate the EU or else initiate a “Frexit”, reject international trade treaties, boost security defence, close mosques suspected of having radical Islamic links, and expel foreigners for radical Islamic links. During her National Front gathering in Lyon, Le Pen drew outstanding support when she proclaimed that Islam is “not compatible with French values”, before concluding that France was threatened by economic globalization and Islamic fundamentalism. The message Le Pen is portraying is that France is being destroyed by immigration and globalization, but more importantly that she is the person to fix it.

The sense of déjà vu to Trump’s controversial election campaign is unsettling. These candidates and worldviews merely stir the embedded fear of terrorism and security based on generic or stereotypical assumptions while promoting forms of isolationism. While this view may provide a temporary sense of security, inevitably this will only create more tensions and conflicts between ethnicities and nations long term. Pope Francis, in reaction to Donald Trump’s campaign, stated that “building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.” An approach that desires to reach a point of reconciliation, understanding, and co-operation would foresee resilient peace and security long term.

Le Pen has gained momentum with her policies following two notable terror attacks in France. On 13 November 2015, there were a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. Three suicide bombers struck the Stade de France in Saint-Denis during a football match. Gunmen then carried out a mass shooting and took hostages at a concert in the Bataclan theatre. The attackers killed 130 people with another 368 people injured. This is in conjunction with an attack on the Louvre museum last Friday. Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy, a 29-year-old Egyptian, attempted to attack soldiers at the museum with a machete while shouting “Allahu Akbar”. Another factor aiding Le Pen’s early success is the plummeting support for a popular rival. Francois Fillon, a conservative candidate, was considered the most likely to beat Le Pen two weeks ago. However, his support dwindled as French prosecutors investigated fictitious parliamentary aide jobs once held by his wife and two children. This scandal left Le Pen as the prominent and favourable to the far-right candidate in the election. This is Le Pen’s second bid for the presidency after placing third in 2012. Also running for the French presidency are leftists Jean-Luc Melenchon and Benoit Hamon, centrist Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon.

Le Pen’s policies could have significant implications for the future for France, the European Union and the global community. Globally, threats have been elevated especially in terms of domestic security ranging from countering international terrorism, radicalization and violent extremism, and economic meltdown. National leaders dispute the balance between addressing security while respecting human rights as if they are mutually exclusive. The reality is that the two are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Nevertheless, the French election campaign will be an interesting one to follow in the coming months.

Sarah Hesson