She's the darling leader of the French far-right & Vox has deemed her as the "French Trump". But her recent personality shift has many of President Macron's closest allies worried. Here's what you need to know about Le Pen & her infamously controversial politics.
Anti-globalisation, anti-Islam, & anti-immigration - these are the three ideologies that resonate with Marine Le Pen & her constantly expanding base of supporters. Le Pen is the leader of the National Rally, a French far-right party whose inception was rooted in antisemitism & racism. To an extent, it still is. Le Pen was one of the many candidates seeking the French Presidency in 2017. She was one of the two finalists but lost closely in the first round & overwhelmingly in the final round to the incumbent President, Emmanuel Macron. Macron garnered 66.1% of the votes in the second/final round but won by a margin of only 2.7% during the first round. Since then, Macron's approval ratings have tanked but the same can't be said for Le Pen. She remains largely popular & evidently interested in taking over Macron's job in the 2022 elections & the softening of her image isn't aiding Macron's chances of re-election. If she wins, France will undergo massive changes.
Born on the 5th of August, 1968, Marine Le Pen has been the president of the party created by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, since 2011. Mr Le Pen was notoriously disreputable for his belittlement of the Holocaust & this resulted in frequent comparisons with Hitler. She tried to move the party away from antisemitism but a 2017 comment regarding France's involvement in the Holocaust raised many eyebrows. The Vel d'Hiver roundup of Jews living in France was a stain on the country's history. Former President Jacques Chirac had issued an apology on behalf of the French State in the late 20th Century yet Le Pen's misbelief about French guilt persists. Her comments were met with foreseeable backlash. But Judaism isn't Le Pen's biggest target, it's Islam & the "loss of French identity" due to globalisation.
Europe saw its biggest migration crisis since the Holocaust in the summer of 2015. Hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East & Northern Africa fled the wars & economic hardships that plagued their damaged countries to Europe in hopes for a better & more stable life. The situation at the borders of Europe was getting direr by the second but if it weren't for the swift decisions made by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, it would've been much worse. Although France took in significantly fewer refugees than Germany, the backlash was far greater. Some leaders claimed that opening up their borders was slowly erasing European identity. Le Pen was one of them. This paranoia of a changing Europe & the attacks unleashed on Paris & Nice by a few immigrants worked hand-in-hand in indirectly furthering Le Pen's cause & increasing anti-immigration/xenophobic sentiment all across the continent. Le Pen's rhetoric towards immigration & Islam have raised many questions but the most important one is "what does it mean to be French?" Naturally, being French means different things to different people. We don't choose where we're born so for some, it's nothing more than just a country that has given them a roof over their head & food in their bellies. To some, it's an integral part of their identity. The French have a vibrant culture, language & cuisine. Some reckon that this way-of-life of is slowly disappearing & immigration & Islam are to blame. Le Pen claims that her party, the reformed National Rally, is for everyone who believes in preserving French identity & culture regardless of age & race.
As I mentioned previously, her base has expanded significantly in recent years. So much, in fact, that it has caused President Macron & other politicians to skew slightly towards the right due to fears of losing even more supporters. France's six million Muslims have always faced discrimination but nothing compares to the challenges they'll deal with after the anti-separatism act passed by the French Senate goes into effect. This bill will give the government the power to shut down places of worship that preach ideologies that don't sit right with the government or receive fundings from foreign institutions. French legislators have also proposed a new bill that would ban minors from wearing the hijab or other religious clothing. The bills don't specifically mention Muslims but the regulations imply which religion they had in mind. The backlash has been immediate & online activists have called for boycotts of French products.
Le Pen's view on the EU, however, hasn't been as consistent - if you will - as her views on Islam. She's a former member of the European Parliament & one of its biggest critics. She had deemed herself as the anti-Merkel & hinted that if she were to be elected President in 2017, she would pull France out of the EU & NATO. Le Pen's views on Frexit - or as I like to call it, EU Revoir - have gotten gentler since her loss but she hasn't given up her role of being the critic. She calls the EU a prison that members can opt out of. Instead of leaving, Le Pen now wants to reform into an alliance of European countries. However, it already is an alliance of European countries so her message is rather unclear.
So, who'll win the 2022 French Elections? Will it be the formerly refreshing but now heavily criticised President Macron? Or will France go down the American path & elect a populist, conservative blonde? No one can tell. But what I can say with certainty is that unless Macron manages to improve his performance, deal with COVID better, & a miracle occurs, the race will be much closer than the elections of 2017. Le Pen is not here to leave & her thoughts on globalisation will linger in her supporters' mind for a very long time even if she loses in 2022. The upcoming elections in both France & Germany, another country with a rising far-right following (inspired heavily by that German alt-right party), will show the world what the citizens of two of the most powerful European countries want: far-right change or the status quo.
-Status Quo: existing state of affairs.
-By Rayansh Singh