We have already commented a lot on the process of ‘de-diabolization’ that he undertook Marine LePen even before taking over from his father in 2011, Jean-Marie LePenin the presidency of National Front (FN) that he founded. He changed his name from In front of Grouping (Rassemblement, RN), adopted a less aggressive tone in his speeches and rejected anti-Semitism. The objective was to provoke less rejection among the electorate, to dissociate itself from radicalism and the stale past that was associated with the extreme right. No historical revisionism like when his father said that “the gas chambers are a detail of the history of World War II.” Achieve votes beyond the ultra-nationalist right, reach more women, the popular classes, the dissatisfied in general. The goal was power.
“It is not so much changing the party as changing the perception of the party that the French have”, declares Gilles Ivaldi, a specialist in the extreme right, in one of the “true or false” of France Info, the public radio.
In the 1990s, the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen applied the strategy of breaking taboos and create their own language so as not to use Marxist terminology and thus try to impose a vision of the world through language (say “the peoples” and not “the masses”, the “socio-professional categories” and not the “classes” ).For Marine Le Penthe battle of ideas has already been achieved talking about immigration, insecurity or national identitynow it is a question of taking over the language of the adversary, “republican” (constitutionalist) or leftist, and changing its meaning”, as stated in the essay “Marine le Pen prise aux mots” by Stéphane Wahnich and Céline Alduy.
Eleven years after taking control of the party, and in her third attempt to be elected president of the French Republic, several French media have analyzed whether this change in language responds to a true programmatic change. In addition to FranceInfo, this week the newspaper Le Monde has published a comparative analysis of the last electoral program of Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2007 with the three of his daughter, in 2012, 2017 and 2022.
The short answer is no’. The programmatic changes, the policies that he proposes are very similar to those of his father’s National Front. Especially in matters that are a trademark of the house: immigration, security and institutional changes. The section where it has introduced changes is in the economic and social with a certain opportunistic air, according to the social climate. Here are some of the key points:
Le Pen is Le Pen
In immigration: The RN intends, like the FN, to remove public aid to immigrants and change the right to land -a French person is born in France and has lived in the country for at least five years- for the blood -He is French who is born of French parents-. He also wants to end family reunification.
In justice and security: The RN, like the FN, proposes the immediate removal for criminal aliens and the presumption of legitimate defense for law enforcement.
In European and international politics: He seeks a rapprochement with Russia, leaving the military structure of NATO and opposition to free trade agreements. Refering to European Union and the euroMarine le Pen has recently given up dating, but insists on reform the eu from within to turn it into “the Europe of the nations”, a linguistic trick because, in fact, it means ending the Union. For example, For Le Pen, foreigners are also non-French European citizens in terms of rights such as work and residence is concerned. If they tried to apply it, they would go against the famous package of the four internal freedoms of the EU since January 1, 1993: freedom of movement for people, capital, goods and services, as Emmanuel reminded him Macron in the televised debate. In other words, in the European framework, this and some other RN proposals are unconstitutional because they violate a Treaty.
If Marine Le Pen wins and becomes president, she will replace the historic France-Germany axis, parent company and engine of the EU, with a axis more similar to a France-Hungary of Orban. A lobby of nationalist governments that want to dispossess the institutions of power so that they once again belong to the states.
Institutions: Marine Le Pen upholds her father’s will to apply changes to the Constitution skipping parliament, by direct means of a referendum whose call, as proposed, is in itself unconstitutional. And he also maintains the will to return to seven-year terms. Another constitutional change. The five-year term was introduced in 2000 under the presidency of Jacques Chirac.
Marine is not Jean-Marie
Where there are changes between father and daughter is in economic and social approaches. Marine has abandoned ultraliberalism and has embraced protectionist approaches, some similar to those of the left. Because Marine Le Pen does want to govern, she wants to be president and to achieve this she has to win 50% + 1 of the votes. And that, in France, with liberal policies, with few subsidies and public coverage, is not achieved.
“We are closely linked to the state. We are a bit schizophrenic, no matter what you vote for. We criticize the state, the queues, the officials, but we love going to the State. When a company closes in France we keep asking the minister to do something to prevent it. Even the right-wing parties take it into account. It has been seen with COVID, I think the French state has been the most active among democratic countries. Companies, theaters, artists have been helped. A lot of money has been given. In other countries, if you can’t survive, you close. In France we keep the state at the center of the economy,” argued Pierre Mathiot, director of Political Science at the University of Lille, on the RTVE program En Portada in an interview about this presidential election.
Social and moral issues. This is the other area where Marine Le Pen’s RN has distanced herself from her father’s FN. For the same reason: pragmatism, perhaps the favorite adjective of this “new” extreme right. “We are not on the right, nor on the left, we are pragmatists”, an argument, by the way, which expressed in another way is also the mark of Emmanuel Macron and is already part of French political jargon, “in meme temps”. “I apply this measure and, at the same time, in another case, this other one that seems contradictory.”
“Jean-Marie Le Pen was extremely conservative, reactionary. Marine Le Pen is not, or less so. He doesn’t talk much about abortion or same-sex marriage, but he’s not against it”, explains Pierre Mathiot. This social and religious liberalism is one of the reasons why more competition has come from the right, headed by his niece Marion Maréchal Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, who directly appeals to the most conservative Catholic vote. A vote that Marine Le Pen has defined as “integral”.
Does the strategy work?
If we compare the votes received by the Le Pen in the last twenty years and the rejection that their party produces among the French, we must conclude that the strategy works or that the French electorate has gone too far to the right in two decades. Or both.
In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen only got 18% of the votes, Jacques Chirac, despite having pending corruption cases, got 82%. “Votez escroc, pas facho!” (Votad chorizo, no facha), was a motto of the second round. There were voters who went to vote with gloves, with clothespins in their noses or disinfected their hands when leaving the polling station. In Paris, the day before, I covered one of the most massive demonstrations of my life.
In 2017, Marine Le Pen doubled the father’s result and there was no similar reaction. Macron took 32 points from him, half of the 64 that Chirac took from Jean-Marie Le Pen. If the polls are correct, Marine Le Pen this Sunday can reduce that difference to half or less, between 10 and 15 points.
But before rushing in, let’s see what the Ipsos Institute study says: “The RN continues to be perceived as a nationalist, racist, authoritarian party without competent personalities.” This was summed up on Thursday by the research director Mathieu Gallard in a tweet in which he attached the following graph:
“������️ Surtout, Le Pen, aveuglée por la “normalisation” de son image pendant la campagne, n’a pas réussi à faire reculer les moteurs traditionnels du “front républicain” : le RN reste perçu comme un parti nationaliste , racist, authoritarian and manquant of competent personnalités. pic.twitter.com/4E9RV8MGHj“
— mathieu gallard (@mathieugallard) April 21, 2022
Bittersweet defeat. historic victory
In France, presidential polls are rarely far wrong. If they keep guessing right, Marine Le Pen will lose. His defeat, therefore, will not be the news, or it will not be the only news. We will have to look at how much the difference in votes with the winner has been reduced. How much he has managed to stop frightening the French. Because they see their party as one more, because there are more French people in agreement with their postulates, because the rejection of the alternative is imposed or because they are tired of spending twenty years voting against the Le Pen saga.