European elections: Macron and Le Pen — more like a duet than a duel!

June 7, 2024
Election poster for France Insoumise candidate and Palestine solidarity march
The radical left’s France Insoumise is hoping the war in Gaza will mobilise French voters to participate in the June 9 European elections. Photos: John Mullen (left) and @TSDKcollectif/X (right)

The June 9 European elections are shedding a sharp light on the political crisis in France.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN, formerly the National Front) is leading in the polls, President Emmanuel Macron is claiming his candidates are the only alternative, and the radical left’s France Insoumise (France in Revolt, FI) is hoping the Palestine issue will mobilise voters who usually stay at home.

Because most people feel — not unjustifiably — that the European parliament has little power, European elections tend to be more based on general national politics than on specifically EU issues.

The elections work by proportional representation, but any party with less than 5% of the vote gets no seats.

These are the first significant elections since Macron won a second term as president but lost his absolute majority in the parliament, in 2022. They are also the first elections since the historic explosion of creative class struggle in 2023, in opposition to the raising of the retirement age — a movement which, despite its dynamism and huge popularity, was defeated as national union leaders refused to organise a general strike.

At the previous European elections in 2019, 47 million people were registered to vote, however 24 million stayed home. Five million voted for the fascists, 5 million for Macron and his allies, 2 million for other right wingers, 3 million for the ecologists, 1.5 million for FI, 1.5 million for the Socialist Party (SP) and its allies and a million ballot papers were spoiled.

Polls now suggest that the far right could get well over 7 million votes this time, if abstention rates do not change.

RN is running at more than 30% in the polls and Macron’s list is about 16%. The alliance around the SP is about 13% and FI is about 9%, but hoping for a last-minute spurt by motivating those who generally stay home.

The traditional right-wing Republicans are estimated at 7%. The Communist Party is about 3%, the ecologists 6%. Another fascist group, Reconquest, led by Eric Zemmour, and openly to the right of Le Pen, is on 5%.

The left campaign

On the left, the SP is slowly trying to rebuild from its historic collapse due to its time in government organising neoliberal attacks on workers. In 2022 it was down to less than 2% of votes in the presidential election. Present polling predicts the SP’s joint list with smaller social liberal groups will reach 13% on June 9.

The lesson is that “Blairite” politics can always bounce back, particularly if mass social movements do not bring clear victories. Its vision of society is strongly supported by the mainstream media, and voters are tempted to be satisfied with a slower, less harsh version of the dictatorship of the market, rather than any real alternative.

By far the most valuable left campaign is that led by the FI’s Manon Aubry.

A dynamic campaign of door to door canvassing around the country — not a habitual part of French electoral politics — has involved many new activists. Successful mass meetings have often spilled into overflow halls, as was the case in the multiethnic working-class suburb, Garges les Gonesse, last week.

Candidates are touring the universities, while regular education weekends are training a new generation of political leaders. The FI campaign slogan is “the strength to change everything” and key proposals are a rise in the minimum wage, a return to retirement at 60, a price freeze on basic foodstuffs and other necessities, and a ban on arms sales to Israel.

Most importantly, the FI leadership — with whom Marxists like myself have plenty of disagreements — has held firm on key questions in the last year or so, and is on a sharply radical path.

When young people rioted in dozens of towns after a racist police murder last year, FI leader Jean Luc Mélenchon declared: “We have been told to appeal for calm. We appeal for justice!”.

Secondly, despite tremendous pressure, with meetings banned and leading members sued, the organisation has held to a clear position of support for Palestine, and has refused to dismiss attacks on Israel organised by Hamas as “terrorism”. Two FI MPs waved Palestinian flags in the parliament in the last couple of weeks and were suspended for it, while Rima Hassan, an FI candidate for the EU elections, born in a Palestinian refugee camp, is being investigated for “supporting terrorism” and attacked in the media for “anti-Semitism” for daring to denounce genocide.

Finally, the FI has maintained a principled anti-colonialist position on the present crisis in Kanaky New Caledonia.

Le Pen

Le Pen’s far-right RN is hoping to build around a racist idea of defending French values against the supposed danger of immigrants and Muslims. Only recently Le Pen said that the Muslim headscarf should be banned in all public places.

Nevertheless in the past few years RN — now presided over by young well-dressed fascist Jordan Bardella — has been very successful in persuading most people that it is just a political party like any other.

To project this image, Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, was thrown out of the party and its 82 MPs are, in general, tremendously careful to avoid controversy — while attending every car boot sale in town, shaking hands and trying to look normal.

Recently the RN, pretending to be shocked, broke most of its links with Germany’s far-right Alternativ fur Deutschland party, after one of its leaders made positive comments about the Nazi-era Schutzstaffel (SS).

The RN is claiming to defend the ordinary people of France, despite having voted against raising the national minimum wage in 2022, and against a rent freeze in 2023. Its MPs have supported most of Macron’s neoliberal reforms.

It promises to slash inheritance taxes for the rich and reserve social housing for people of French nationality. It aims at increasing prison sentences and making it even harder to prosecute killer cops.

Its MPs voted against easier access to abortion in 2015 and against increasing resources to help victims of domestic violence in 2016.

RN MPs have opposed many green regulations, and voted in 2021 against reinforcing business responsibility to avoid environmental damage. The RN also campaigns in favour of nuclear energy and against wind power.

A duet

The rise and rise of the RN has been helped by Macron repeatedly supporting its vision by passing Islamophobic laws, banning Muslim legal defence organisations and supporting vicious police repression. Macron’s ministers scream about universities being “controlled by Islamoleftists”, while Macron’s trigger-happy cops kill young Arab men. This is just what the fascists need to build their influence further.

These days, endless government training courses for civil servants on “defending secularism” aim at making mistrusting all Muslims a national sport, and they mostly help the far right.

Macron pushed Le Pen further onto centre stage last week by agreeing to a one-on-one TV debate between his Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal and RN leader Bardella, thus pushing the idea that the left don’t matter, it’s just Macron’s band against the extremists.

In the debate, Attal carefully avoided mentioning racism or fascism.

All this could result in 7 million votes for the RN on June 9, perhaps as many as 32% of voters, more than any other slate.

RN is still having great difficulty building a party machine, and throughout the European elections campaign has had only eight public meetings, far fewer than other parties. But the urgency of a large scale national antifascist campaign is ever more evident. The march of 800 open fascists through the streets of Paris three weeks ago served as a vital reminder.

[John Mullen is a revolutionary socialist in the Paris area and a supporter of the France Insoumise.]

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