segunda-feira, 7 de dezembro de 2015
France needs a better way to unseat its ruling clique
The National Front has emerged as the big winner in France’s regional elections. By the time the second round is over on Sunday, it will probably have claimed victory in at least two regions. Whether it does or not, having secured almost 30 per cent of the vote, it has become the country’s largest political party.
For the first time since 1945, therefore, the extreme-right has become mainstream. This poses a challenge for everyone else in politics — Social Democrats, Conservatives and the liberal right.
The FN is very far from being a French version of the Dutch Freedom party or the UK Independence party. Its xenophobia is far more extreme. The party promotes an agenda of ethnic discrimination that, if implemented, would result in internal strife along ethnic and religious lines. Its dysfunctional economics would produce a recession. And it would give rise to tremendous difficulties between France and the rest of the world.
This is the reason why, putting all ideological divisions aside, the Socialist party has asked its candidates to withdraw from the second ballot in every region in which the FN stands a chance of winning.
The least the Republicans could have done was to reciprocate. By staying in the race, France’s main Conservative party has squandered the chance to ensure that the FN is defeated.
What do the FN’s gains tell us about the political situation of France? Undeniably, it reveals the existence of a large and growing constituency who want no more of the alternation between centre-right and centre-left. Instead, they want to unseat all the incumbents. The appeal of this party is that it speaks in words they can understand and promises to return the country to “the people”.
If that seems like a flimsy reason for entrusting the powers of the state to a party that has no experience whatsoever of running it, consider that the French political elite is an ageing one, whose leaders have been at the helm for three or even four decades. Because few people enter politics from the corporate world or from other walks of life, it is an incestuous scene.
There is a French tradition that high-ranking civil servants, most of them educated at a single elite school, the École nationale d’administration, are the dominant force in the main political parties. As much as an endorsement of a particular set of policies, a vote for the FN is a signal of discontentment with this political elite.
The FN is different. It gives career opportunities to candidates from all walks of life — blue-collar workers, young urban professionals, middle-class women. It is this openness — rather than the FN’s disastrous policies — that the parties of the centre should seek to emulate. As many as 80 per cent of French people say they do not trust parliament or the political parties. Restoring that trust is the only way we can avoid a total collapse of the democratic system.
Beyond that, the conservative right must refine its ideology and come up with a strategy that will lessen the appeal of the FN. The Republican party encompasses many ideological shades — everything from social conservatism to anti-EU nationalism to economic liberalism. This latter tradition, however, is losing ground.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president, tried to please both wings of his heterogenous party. But it did not work. Criticising the Schengen agreements, which have removed passport checks at many intra-EU borders, was not enough to win back voters from the FN. Neither were his rhetorical claims that France had lost its soul by giving up to foreign influences. Yet both alienated the centre-right and singing the praise of free-market economics did not undo the damage.
Defeating the extreme right will take more than fancy presentation. It requires a new political offer. This probably means the Republicans have to disappear altogether, so that a single but divided party can be replaced by two distinct families of the right.
One of them would be committed to more European integration, free-market economics and a multicultural society.
The other would stand for an illiberal democracy of the kind the FN favours, in which the majority imposes its will on smaller groups and keeps France out of globalisation.
Separating these two strands of conservative ideology would give the first, more outward-looking version a chance to flourish — and deprive the second, insular version of its chance to bring the decline of France to a point of no return.
Jean-Yves Camus is an associate researcher at
the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs