With Brexit and the American election of Donald Trump in hindsight, the world now looks to other nations to see where the global wave of anti-immigrant sentiment might hit next. Some expect France to fall into line with this pattern when it begins the process of electing its next president in late April.
At one point it appeared the race would be between former President Nicholas Sarkozy and current President François Hollande. Today, the two men are nowhere to be seen. It appears that the race is between the Front National’s leader, Marine Le Pen, and, well, everyone else.
On the right, we have François Fillon of the Republican Party, once seen as the clear front-runner, standing in stark contrast to the deeply unpopular Socialist president, Hollande. But Fillon has fallen quickly, since becoming embroiled in political controversy last month.
We also have Emmanuel Macron, whose schtick is to appear anti-establishment by running independent of a political party and coining the “En Marche” (“Forward”) movement (even though he’s a former Goldman Sachs employee. Oops.). Finally, there are Benoît Hamon of the Socialist Party and Jean-Luc Mélechon of the Left Party, neither of whom have been projected to win.
It’s come down to who will take on the poll-crushing, media-attention-grabbing, national-identity-pedaling Marine Le Pen. Her political stances were once considered outrageous in an ever-globalizing and progressive world, but Brexit and Trump’s election have re-opened the door to exclusionary borders and national identities. Le Pen and her supporters are no longer outliers in the global scheme of things.
The world was shocked when Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. We were stunned when America elected Donald Trump president. But if those votes are any indication of what is to come in France, the election of Marine Le Pen, as extreme as it may seem, would come as no surprise. The fact is, Le Pen, Trump and Brexit supporters use the same tactics to bolster support: they capitalize on fear of foreigners and growing anti-establishment sentiment. To progressives, they represent exclusion, intolerance and racism. To their supporters, they represent the preservation of national identity and French “way of life,” which has recently been a leading topic of debate in France.
The ever-worsening European migrant crisis puts immigration at the center of the French election. Like her conservative neighbors, Le Pen appeals to those who are concerned that immigration compromises French national identity and puts strain on social services. The role of immigrants and their actual effect on the system is still very much contented, however, most studies show that immigrants actually contribute more to the French economy than they cost. Even so, immigrants inevitably diversify the demographic makeup of the country which nationalistic and traditional French people are quite simply not okay with.
France, known for its history of revolution and a contented French identity, is once again coming to a crossroads in its political trajectory. Like the votes in Great Britain and the United States, this one carries heavy symbolic weight. The election of Le Pen would likely shift France’s role in today’s immigration crisis and the European Union and add to the momentum of contemporary nationalism and anti-immigration.
The election of Marine Le Pen in France would also suggest that although today’s conservatives advocate for closed borders, this upsurge of nationalistic sentiment knows no bounds. Countries everywhere are to decide whether they will follow this nationalistic movement or open themselves up to a dynamic and inclusive national identity. Given the precedent of the past six months, the election of Marine Le Pen would be not only unsurprising, but is entirely likely.