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European perspectives
by Tausch, Arno
23 April 2002 05:51 UTC
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French alarm rings bells for Europe's body politic 

Democratic politicians must share the blame for Le Pen's triumph 

Hugo Young
Tuesday April 23, 2002
The Guardian 

If the first British republic were modelled on the fifth French republic,
the electoral picture might look like this. The voting system would
encourage the same fragmentation of politics. As well as Lab, Con and LD,
we'd list the Greens, the BNP, the SWP, doubtless Real Labour, very possibly
the old CP and, for sure, several regional parties. Five hundred official
signatures would be enough to get a party on the ballot, and less than 20%
of the vote would probably suffice to guarantee a place in the run-off. The
political structure that has kept extremism at bay would be smashed. So the
French election is a caution to both republicans and electoral reformers.
Two lost causes anyway, but now blown over the horizon by a result that, as
Liberation wrote yesterday, reduces France to a fight between the Superliar
and the Superfascist. 
The system does offer the beginnings of an alibi for what happened. Taken
together the votes of the left can be made to add up to 44%. In a two-man
contest the socialist, Lionel Jospin, might even have won. You can put the
fiasco down to the congenital inability of the left to unify in dangerous
circumstances. On this analysis, there's no great political crisis, just the
political system of the fifth republic that needs to be fixed. Moreover,
isn't Jacques Chirac now certain to win anyway? Won't the forces of
democracy bury their mutual hatreds to dig a deeper grave for the
super-enemy of democracy, Jean-Marie Le Pen? So all is surely well? 

This would be a grand illusion, and hardly any French democrat now believes
it. Le Pen is the first man of the far right to get within spitting distance
of power in a major EU country. Two can play at adding up the votes, and Le
Pen's along with those of his fellow fascist Bruno Mégreatly exceeded what
Chirac got. Though Jospin's defeat produces a crisis for the left, Le Pen's
victory registers an even bigger crisis for democratic politics in the
round. A deep pattern of alienation from democracy is visible, of which
France now offers the most shattering example, but from which not even calm,
secure, Blairite Britain is exempt. 

Certainly there's a crisis on the left. Towards the end of the 1990s, most
EU countries were run by social democrats, and now most of them are not.
Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark and Portugal have swung to the right. It
remains to be seen what happens to Gerhard Schröder in the autumn.
Meanwhile, continental socialists confront the sometimes painful irony that
the British Labour government, only now reverting to a recognisably social
democratic programme, stands almost alone as a leftist party of
unchallengeable power. 

What matters about this rightward shift, however, is not its direction but
its dependence in several cases on the far right. Centrist rightism is not
much different from centrist leftism, as we see from the kinship between
Blair and the Aznar government in Madrid. But the fascist tendency is eating
its way into corners of real power, and the French experience suggests two
main reasons for this frightening development, one particular and one

The particular is perceived defects in "security", which is alternately a
euphemism for crime and immigration, and often both. This was what Le Pen
relentlessly played to, with the aid of Chirac who made it a main line of
attack on Jospin, which Jospin in the end had to try to match. In this
degeneration, it was the man with the simplest answers who scored the best,
in a shameful display for which the democrats were almost as much to blame
as the anti-democrat. But one cannot deny the potency of the attack on
foreigners, and the quest thereby for some protection of "identity",
especially given the presence of the second, more general factor: wholesale
disaffection from the political system. 

In France this can be measured. As many as 40% of those who voted, about 60%
of the electorate, rejected the only two parties that could form a
government, Chirac's and Jospin's. This was double the figure at the 1988
and 1995 elections, a pretty staggering decline, but perhaps little more so
than the fall in turnout at last year's British election from 71 to 59%.
Protest was delivered in one case by impossibilist extremism, in the other
by withdrawal, but each was a way of registering disgust at what mainline
politics now apparently offers. 

The roots of this lie deeper than a government's performance. Jospin had a
decent record as prime minister, running a not unsuccessful economy,
bringing in the 35-hour week, presiding, Brown-like, over more quiet
anti-socialist reform than he liked to admit. But governments these days
face anomie, impatience, generalised discontent, which are less amenable
than they once were to the recompense of doctrinal zeal, for the simple
reason that it does not exist. Governments, easily charged with failure,
lack any vision to make up for it. Most elections, like this one, are full
of languor and anxious imitation, where any semblance of vision is replaced
by meretricious showboating, of the kind for which Jospin had no talent. 

It's easier to see the wrong answer to this than the right one. Le Pen's
answer is intolerable, and should not be graced for even a second with the
knowing, if regretful, observation that he strikes a chord. He offers the
pretence that there's an easy answer to the security problem, and a
commanding alternative to the complexities in which ordinary leaders seem to
be trapped. On both counts his programme is as vicious as it is misleading.
There are no simple solutions to anything in these globalised days. The lure
of the quasi-fascist answer, whether in France or Italy, deserves to be met
with only one response: the re-energising of democratic politics, especially
on the only wing that can be relied on to reject quasi-fascist solutions,
which is to say the left. 

The body politic laid bare by Le Pen's success is Europe-wide. European, not
just French, values are put in question; Europe as well as France faces the
challenge of reaffirming progressive democratic answers to the problems of
the age, including migration and social integration. Europe's credibility in
the eyes of the world is on the line. Europe as well as France stands in
desperate need of reconnecting political vigour with economic power, which I
happen to believe can only be done properly on a Europe-wide scale - but
that's another column. 

Britain, meanwhile, is protected from some of these manifestations by her
electoral system. There will be no first republic, nor any PR at the heart
of power. Even in Oldham and Bradford the forces of evil do not match those
that brought Le Pen to the gates of the Elysée. But the problem of
disengagement exists here as well as elsewhere in Europe. Extremism is kept
at bay by the system, but the seeds of alienation are buried deep. The
wake-up call for the French left is an alarm bell that rings round the
continent and its archipelago.

Sunkissed Provence is far-right heartland 

Le Pen gained best support in south and east 

Martin Kettle
Tuesday April 23, 2002
The Guardian 

A summer in Provence will not have quite so much allure after Sunday's
French presidential elections. For the sunkissed region whose rural charms
are beguilingly depicted in Peter Mayle's bestselling books confirmed this
weekend that it is the electoral engine room of Jean-Marie Le Pen's
audacious challenge to overturn Jacques Chirac and the status quo. 
The department of Vaucluse, where the popular travel books are set, lies at
the heart of the National Front leader's powerbase. Nearly one in four of
its inhabitants voted for Mr Le Pen on Sunday. The nearby town of Orange -
where 33% of the votes went to Mr Le Pen - emerged with the dubious
distinction of being France's most pro-NF electorate. 

The electoral map of France showed that Mr Le Pen's success was not confined
to the south. His shock second place behind Mr Chirac was built across the
whole of eastern and southern France, with significant support in the north
as well. Only in the west and Paris did the NF leader score poorly. 

Mr Le Pen's strongest showing came along the Mediterranean coast, where he
carried six out of the seven coastal departments, forcing Mr Chirac into
second place in every one. Mr Le Pen's best performance was in
Alpes-Maritimes, centred on Nice and Cannes, where he took 26% 

In Marseille, France's largest Mediterranean city, Mr Le Pen captured 23.3%.
Other towns where he polled heavily included Perpignan, Toulon and Nimes. 

The strong performance in the south was almost matched in the east. Mr Le
Pen finished first in 15 of the 17 departments on France's eastern border,
beaten by Mr Chirac in only two. His vote ranged from 26% in the south to
19% in the Nord department, centred on Lille and Dunkirk, with particularly
strong support in Alsace and Lorraine. In Strasbourg, chief city of Alsace
and home of the European parliament, Mr Le Pen topped the poll with 18%. He
also came first in Calais, with 19%. 

President Chirac, by contrast, scored best in the west and in the area
around Paris, the city of which he was mayor for so long. 

The defending president trounced his challenger in Mr Chirac's home area of
Correze, where Mr Le Pen registered just 8.9%, his worst score in any of
France's 95 departments. The NF leader's low score there was reflected in
many parts of the Massif Central, Gascony and Brittany, and notably in
Nantes, where his 9.8% was his worst in any city outside Paris, where Mr Le
Pen scored just 9.4%. 

The Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin won just seven of the 95
departments on Sunday. 

Mr Jospin took the traditional Parisian "red belt" area of Seine-St Denis
along with six departments in the extreme south-west near the Pyrenees. But
that was little consolation for the worst first round showing by a Socialist
candidate since Gaston Deferre in 1969. 

The NF's policies


Give preference to French and European nationals in housing, jobs and social
assistance, expel immigrants without proper papers, ban right of immigrants
to bring families to France 

Law and order 

Hold referendum on restoring death penalty 


Pull out of treaties of Maastricht, Schengen and Amsterdam,get rid of
European commission, restore commercial borders to protect French products 

The family 

Restrict family allowances to French nationals 

France abroad 

Reject so-called new world order imposed by US within UN 

Right on the rise across continent 

An anti-immigrant current is sweeping EU 

Andrew Osborn in Brussels
Monday April 22, 2002
The Guardian 

Jean-Marie Le Pen's success in the first round of the French presidential
elections is far from being an isolated phenomenon. The right is on the rise
across Europe and has already won power in capitals from Copenhagen to
Although there are specific factors in individual countries, the broader
picture is that its success has been fuelled by disenchantment with the
performance of leftwing governments, which have been perceived as failing to
deliver on their promises. There is also growing unease about immigration
and a feeling that national sovereignty is being eroded by an ever-closer
European union. 

In Denmark, a centre-right coalition underpinned by the ultra-right Danish
People's party swept to power last November. It has drafted tough new asylum
policies and cut aid to the developing world. 

In Portugal, a rightwing coalition which includes the fiercely
anti-immigration Popular party, led by a crusading rightwing journalist and
social conservative, Paulo Portas, won power last month. 

In Spain, Jose Maria Aznar won a second term in March 2000, crushing the
socialist opposition and obtaining the first conservative majority since
Spain became a democracy after the death of General Franco in 1975. 

In the Netherlands, a flamboyant anti-immigration gay politician called Pim
Fortuyn is forecast to win up to 20% of the vote in next month's general
election after becoming the biggest political force in Rotterdam in local

In Norway, an administration propped up by the far-right Progress party took
office last October. The Progress party wants to cap immigration at 1,000
people a year. 

In Italy, the rightwing media magnate Silvio Berlusconi defied international
criticism last June to win power. Umberto Bossi, leader of the xenophobic
Northern League, and Gianfranco Fini, leader of the post-fascist National
Alliance, hold key cabinet posts. 

In Belgium, the far-right Vlaams Blok party became the biggest political
force in Antwerp in October 2000. It wants to repatriate all non-European

Europe braces for continental drift to right 

Politicians plan to fight voter apathy and xenophobia 

Ian Black, European editor
Tuesday April 23, 2002
The Guardian 

Powerful aftershocks from France's electoral earthquake rippled across the
continent as politicians agonised about the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen,
who vowed yesterday to take his country out of the "Europe of Maastricht". 
Anguished voices on the left and centre-right took little comfort in knowing
that the Eurosceptic National Front leader is unlikely to beat Jacques
Chirac in the second round of the presidential race next month. 

Everywhere in Europe there was a strong sense that mainstream politicians
would now have to address issues of polarisation, voter apathy and a swing
to the right as radical parties exploit fears about crime and immigration. 

"I hope that all democratic powers will unite against rightwing extremism
and xenophobia," said Sweden's Social Democrat prime minister, Goran
Persson. Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said that democrats
thoughout Europe must strive to ensure that Le Pen did not gain any degree
of power in France. "It's most regrettable that the far right has become so
strong. That must be prevented." 

Other EU governments broke with their customary reticence about commenting
on elections in other countries, with Tony Blair's official spokesman
calling Sunday's startling outcome "very sad". 

Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader and vice-president of the European
Commission, said he was "astounded and horrified" by the defeat of Lionel
Jospin, the Socialist candidate. 

In Brussels, a spokesman for the commission said that it hoped France would
remain faithful to the "fundamental values we all share and on which the
union is based". 

Later, a triumphant Mr Le Pen, who opposed the 1992 Maastricht treaty on
monetary union, turned his fire on the EU. "I am a partisan of a Europe of
nations... of homelands," he insisted, "but I am a determined adversary of a
supranational, federal, federalising Europe." 

British anti-euro campaigners warned of the dangers of forcing the pace of
European integration at the expense of national democracy. 

"I am extremely worried by certain stances which might involve a racist or
xenophobic element, but also by stances which run completely counter to the
construction of Europe," said Josep Pique, foreign minister of Spain and
holder of the EU presidency. 

Pat Cox, the Irish president of the European parliament, said: "A result
where 30% of the electors abstained and 30% of those who took part voted for
candidates of the extreme right or extreme left is likely to hold lessons
not just for France but for the entire European political class." 

Reactions to the upset echoed and amplified what happened two years ago,
when the far-right anti-immigrant Austrian politician Jörg Haider joined a
conservative-led coalition and triggered sanctions by the rest of the EU. 

In Austria, the mass circulation newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung, reminded
readers that France was among the EU countries that imposed sanctions on
Austria in 2000 after Haider's Freedom party joined a government coalition. 

"Austrians remember the times when the mass media of Paris fell all over
themselves calling Austria a hopeless Nazi-land," columnist Ernst Trost

But France, beacon of human rights and a founder member of the European
union, represents a bigger problem and a far louder wake-up call, especially
as the National Front breakthrough follows successes by other far-right
parties in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark in recent months. 

Local circumstances differ widely, but most have included concerns about
immigration, crime and unemployment against a background of resentment about
globalisation, the loss of national identity and deeper European

The French left was widely blamed. "Le Pen collected protest votes but he is
not an alternative," said Maurizio Gasparri, communications minister and
member of Italy's post-fascist National Alliance. "I think the cause of this
result is the collapse of the left which is heading for a eurodisaster -
because wherever it rules it cannot find a synthesis: it's a ghost." 

Leszek Miller, Poland's Social Democrat prime minister, warned that Le Pen's
strong showing posed a threat to the eastern enlargement of the EU. The
Greek daily Ta Nea commented: "Europe freezes as fascism rises - the
resurrection of the vampire." 

Mr Le Pen, who has infamously described the Nazi Holocaust as a "detail of
history", was congratulated by the Russian ultranationalist Vladimir
Zhirinovsky and by Filip Dewinter, leader of Belgium's far-right Vlaams
Blok, which captured a third of the vote in Antwerp in 2000. 

"It's not surprising that French voters are moving to a far-right party," Mr
Dewinter said. "They have the same problems of insecurity, of immigration
and political corruption. It's the normal situation in Europe after Italy,
Austria, Holland." 

The British National Party said: "France and Europe in general are under
threat from very large numbers of non-Europeans. We're very pleased that
throughout Europe there appears to be a movement to restore sanity." 

But in the Netherlands, where the anti-immigrant party of Pim Fortuyn is
expected to take up to 20% of the votes in next month's general election, a
spokesman rejected "insulting" comparisons with Le Pen. 

Newspapers everywhere gave extensive coverage to the story: "France in
mourning," thundered the Belgian tabloid La Derniere Heure. 

Many commentators saw clear lessons for themselves. "We have to be careful
in Germany that we don't get a development in which unpleasant rightist
forces suddenly get too strong - if we, for example, allow too much
unregulated immigration, which is why we want it limited, and if we don't
fight crime, especially crime by foreigners," said Michael Glos, an ally of
Edmund Stoiber, conservative challenger in Germany's September election. 

Schröder's party is defeated in local polls
By Haig Simonian in Berlin
Published: April 22 2002 20:20 | Last Updated: April 22 2002 20:22 Financial

The shock of the results of France's presidential polls on Sunday was the
coup de grace to a bad day for Germany's chancellor Gerhard Schröder, as his
governing Social Democratic party suffered humiliation in regional polls in
the eastern state of Saxony Anhalt. 

Although the defeat of Lionel Jospin, France's socialist prime minister,
will not immediately affect Franco-German relations, the blow to the French
left will affect the mood as Mr Schröder steps up his campaign for
re-election in September. 

Rudolf von Thadden, the German government's co-ordinator for Franco-German
relations, said: "The result won't be an encumbrance on day-to-day politics.
But people will see the right is gaining ground and the left is shrinking,
and that has consequences for Gerhard Schröder." 

There was little hiding the scale of the SPD's defeat. In the biggest swing
in any German election, support for Mr Schröder's party slumped by nearly 16
percentage points to 20 per cent, while the opposition Christian Democrats'
share climbed by 15 percentage points to 37.3 per cent. 

The CDU and the liberal Free Democrats, who surged back into the state
parliament with a 13.3 per cent vote, will probably form the next
government, replacing the SPD after eight years. 

Opposition leaders seized the result - the most important test of public
opinion before September's general elections - as pointing to a national
change of power. 

"This was a clear vote against the policies of Gerhard Schröder," said
Edmund Stoiber, the conservative challenger for the chancellorship. "It is a
signal that change is also possible federally," noted Angela Merkel, the
CDU's leader. 

Top SPD officials tried to play down the defeat, noting the exceptionally
low turnout and domination of local issues. "This is no prejudgement on what
will be decided on September 22," said Franz Muntefering, the SPD's general

But behind the scenes on Monday, the SPD was hinting at strategy

One such change was concentrating even more on Mr Schröder, the party's most
popular politician. Although trailing the opposition, as a party, by up to 5
percentage points in the opinion polls, SPD officials have long stressed
their leader's significantly higher personal popularity than Mr Stoiber. So
a campaign already expected to be focused on the two candidates is now
likely to become more personalised. 

In addition, the message from the SPD will be to drive home its
achievements. With the economy dominating the campaign, party leaders
yesterday gave a foretaste of what was to come. Seizing on leaks that
Germany's six leading economic institutes would today raise growth forecasts
for this year to 0.9 per cent, Mr Muntefering claimed the economy was
visibly recovering. 

The revised strategy is full of risks. With little control over the pace of
recovery, the SPD will be vulnerable to any disruptions in the tentative
upswing. External risks, such as oil prices, or internal shocks, such as the
threat of industrial action by the powerful I G Metall engineering union,
would upset the party's plans. 

Focusing more on the chancellor also has its perils. A CDU-FDP coalition in
Saxony Anhalt would give the opposition a majority in the Bundesrat, the
upper parliamentary chamber, where Germany's federal states are represented.

Five years ago, the SPD used a similar advantage to embarrass Chancellor
Helmut Kohl's CDU-led government by constantly blocking its legislation. 

The disruptive power, this time, is more limited, as Mr Schröder has pushed
through most of his reforms. But the opposition could maximise its hold over
the Bundesrat to deflate the image of competence - one of the chancellor's
biggest electoral assets. 


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