France isn’t racist (or it might be)

This result created a strong reaction in France and is also being debated in Muslim majority countries, including Turkey, because one of the FN’s main propaganda fields is precisely the presence of Muslims in France. Let’s try to see clearly together by organizing some data.

I will first minimize this victory, and then I will maximize it. If you want to think that these results are not so important, read the first half, if you want to think that it is a historical catastrophe, please only read the second half:

These results mustn’t be exaggerated

1. These are “regional elections.” Not general, not municipal, not presidential. It is true that since 1981, France entered into a decentralization process and “regions” are more powerful than they were in the 1970s. For example, “regions” are in charge of intercity transportation, economic development plans, public education buildings (only buildings, not the education itself). But still, these elections are not as important as the presidential or municipal ones. On the other hand, with a recent reform, France was divided into 13 “great regions” unifying old smaller regions. In this country, where regional identities are still very strong, the electors haven’t yet understood it.

2. Traditionally, intermediary elections in France are the occasion to send a “warning” to the ruling party. In other words, traditionally, if a leftist party rules the country, the electors vote for a right-wing party and vice versa. Here too, it was a strong warning to the Socialist Party (SP) and President Francois Hollande. The SP obtained only 23 percent as the third party.

3. Again, usually, these regional elections don’t mobilize the electorate of France. In the 2010 regional elections only 47 percent of electors voted. In 2015, the figure was only slightly better at 49 percent. In other words, the 28 percent of the vote received by the FN is 28 percent of 49 percent of the electorate. Which means, mathematically, only 13 percent of the French electorate voted for the FN.

4. This is a two-round election. Generally, during this kind of election, voters protest in the first round and in the second their parties are eliminated. The traditional parties have several possibilities. The third-place party may withdraw in favor of the second, or, several parties have the possibility to form a new mixed list. Even if the FN came first in six regions on Dec. 6, next Sunday they will only have the opportunity to win two (or maybe three) regions.

5. And finally, France has solid, rooted institutions and an internalized separation of powers. The victory of one party in regional elections cannot change the system through which human rights are protected.

These results constitute breaking point

1. This is the first time that the FN has become the top political party in France. In some regions, it obtained around 40 percent. It means that in France, as in other parts of Europe (Hungary, Turkey…) populism and identity politics have started to work. This is potentially dangerous.

2. It’s a mistake to examine only the role of the Paris terrorist attacks in this victory. This argument risks obscuring some of French politics’ structural problems, which have existed since the 1980s. For 30 years the FN has been in constant progression. The socialist party is socialist only in name, and the liberal right became, especially since former President Jacques Chirac and even more since former President Nicolas Sarkozy, a copy of the FN. Copies strengthen the success of the original. Always.

3. Since the 2000s, the leftist parties have become more capitalist than capitalists and the right-wing parties have become more nationalist than nationalists. They are trying to use similar discourse to the FN in order to acquire its voice and in doing so they have left their main values.

4. Since 1984, support for the FN has been constantly increasing; the Paris attacks alone cannot explain it. By the way, in Paris, support for the FN during the last election was only 18 percent, way below national results.

5. Since the retirement of the founder of the FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen, very well known for his anti-Semitism and nationalism, his daughter, Marine Le Pen, has created a more modern image and re-centered her party. It is no longer possible to demonize the FN, which is now well established among lower classes and even middle classes. These voters are suffering economically, and are against Europe and against immigration policies. The FN is no longer a tool for opposition; it is becoming a “hope.”

Let’s conclude. As you can understand, I do not consider the result of this first round to be the end of the French model. But I do believe that if traditional political parties do not reintegrate their historical values (socialism for the Socialist Party and Gaullism for the Gaullist Party!), the FN will, sooner or later, govern the country and have the opportunity to bury such values.