Putin and Le Pen versus the EU and Turkey

The final results will be determined in the second round this Sunday and will depend on the strategy of the two other parties: If they cooperate, they could still prevent an FN victory in many regions. If not, Le Pen and her colleagues will take over three or more regional governments and would, for the first time, be in a position to rule large parts of France outside of the big cities.

It is true, these are regional elections with a poor turnout of around 50 percent (so not representative for all French) and in a centralized country like France the powers of regional administrations are limited (and so will be the impact on national policies). And yes, the current political climate in France presents a perfect storm for the anti-migration, anti-Muslim and anti-European FN: widespread security fears after the suicide attacks in Paris, a part of the local Muslim community that is influenced by the jihadists of Daesh, a European Union unable to cope with large flows of Syrian refugees, and high unemployment in many rural areas.

At the moment, all these factors favor Le Pen, who constantly blames the two mainstream parties for not being able to come up with solutions, or, when they do, to copy some of the answers given before by FN. No wonder many disgruntled voters prefer the original voice of Le Pen who, in the last five years, has cleverly moved the FN away from the margins and made it into a more acceptable party that stresses the “authentic French” values of the 1950s and 1960s when France was still a strong, independent nation, not restrained by the EU and the forces of globalization and not bothered by the presence of so many Muslim migrants.

There is one aspect of Le Pen’s ideology that gets relatively little attention and that is her admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. On several occasions, Le Pen has defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for separatist rebels in Ukraine. Last year, FN acknowledged it had received a 9 million euro loan from a Russian bank linked to the Kremlin (allegedly the first installment of 40 million euros) that the party is using to finance its election campaigns.

Le Pen’s love affair with Putin is just one part of a much bigger overture between the radical right in Europe and the Russian dictator. A whole range of right-wing and ultra-nationalist politicians all over Europe share the FN leader’s affection for Putin’s religious nationalism, conservative values and especially his anti-American and anti-European foreign policy. Putin, for his part, seems determined to undermine European unity by supporting anti-EU forces, be they on the radical-left (such as Syriza in Greece) or on the radical-right (like FN and similar parties in Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria).

With right-wing parties gaining ground all over the place, exploiting popular dissent against the EU, immigration and Islam, it is high time European democrats wake up to this insidious cooperation between domestic extremists and their foreign backers. But also Turkish democrats, frustrated about what they perceive as the EU’s unethical refugee deal with Ankara and European silence on human right violations in Turkey, should think twice before joining the choir of anti-EU forces.

Another issue that Le Pen and Putin agree upon is their aversion to Turkey. The FN leader has always been against Turkey joining the EU based on her anti-Muslim prejudices. As we know, since two weeks ago Putin has his own reasons to lash out at Turkey and nobody expects him to calm down any time soon.

Their shared hostility to Turkey has only strengthened the ties between the populist radical right in Europe and the authoritarian Russian leadership. In the face of such opposition, one can only hope that European and Turkish democrats also manage to continue joining forces.