How popular are populists in France, Germany?

Tuesday 27th, December 2016 / 20:06 Written by
How popular are populists in France, Germany?

In just six months, the British referendum to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump in the United States have been claimed by Le Pen as a vindication of her anti-establishment brand of politics.

Jessica Camille Aguirre –
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party, can be spotted at public events by the jostling crowd of cameras around her.
At a horse expo north of Paris in early December, in the midst of a horde of reporters, she was gleaming. It was the day after unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande announced that he would not seek re-election.
Hollande’s announcement, made against the backdrop of a fractured left in France, was seen by Le Pen as the latest boost to her bid for the Elysee.
In just six months, the British referendum to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump in the United States have been claimed by Le Pen as a vindication of her anti-establishment brand of politics.
At the horse fair in Villepinte, Le Pen said: “I have absolutely no reason to change my strategy”, waving away questions about the impact of her rivals’ political gains and blunders.
“I don’t believe in the right-left fracture. There are, on the one side, the nationalists and patriots. On the other side, the globalists, the europeists, and thus, by definition, the immigrationists.”
“Incontestably, her ideas are gaining ground. Not just in France; we are winning the war of ideas globally,” Bernard Huet, one of Le Pen’s supporters at the horse show and a former party member, said.
But Le Pen is up against more than her political rivals. She must also contend with dark stains in the history of her own party, whose founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been repeatedly fined for making anti-Semitic and racist comments.
She also brushed against the law during her sustained campaign to make the National Front more appealing to mainstream voters. In 2015 she was taken to court for inciting religious hatred, and found not guilty, over her comments likening Muslims praying in the street to the occupation of Nazis.
These setbacks have been reflected at the polls. The party has only two members in the 577-seat lower house of parliament, and two in the upper house.
That is set to change next year, with Marine Le Pen polling strongly ahead of France’s 2017 presidential elections. The National Front is also well positioned for legislative elections next year and it is the only party to have seen an increase in membership since 2012.
In Sweden, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats emerged as the third-largest party in 2014 with 13 per cent of the vote; in Denmark the populist Danish People’s Party became the second-largest party in 2015 with 21 per cent of the vote.
Italy’s main far-right Northern League party has mounted an open challenge to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, buoyed in opinion polls to about 12 per cent by its shift from a secessionist to an anti-EU, anti-migrant message.
Elections in Italy are due by 2018, but political instability may force an earlier vote. The Five Star Movement (M5S), Italy’s biggest opposition force, defies left-right categorisations but it holds protectionist and eurosceptic views, and wants to hold a referendum on Italy’s exit from the euro zone.
In 2017, the most decisive elections will be those held in Germany and France. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has made big gains in a recent string of state elections after siphoning off votes from the major parties, polled at 16 per cent in a September opinion survey. Marine Le Pen has been put closer to 25 per cent in the first round of the French presidential elections and 30 per cent in the second round. As one of the longest-standing parties of Europe’s populist surge, supporters of the National Front see their ascension as a question of time. While the party may still be waiting for an electoral breakthrough, its supporters see foundations being laid for success in 2017.
National Front supporter Huet said the party’s time is inching closer, claiming the British referendum and Trump’s election as examples. —dpa

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