France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen refused Tuesday to go into a meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti on Tuesday after his aides asked her to wear a headscarf. Le Pen, who is on a three-day visit to Lebanon this week and has met senior officials, was scheduled to meet with Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim religious authority. Shortly after she arrived at his office Tuesday morning, one of his aides handed her out a white headscarf to put on. Following a discussion that lasted a few minutes, she refused and walked toward her car and left. Le Pen has tried to raise her international profile and press her pro-Christian stance with her visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate. On Monday, she met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad was “the most reassuring solution for France”. On Tuesday, after walking away from the meeting with Derian, she said that before it, she had told the cleric’s office that she was not planning to don a veil during the encounter and was not told not to come. “They didn’t cancel the meeting so I thought they would accept the fact that I wouldn’t wear one”, she said. “They tried to impose it upon me, make it a matter of fact. You can’t put me before a matter of fact”
France finally heaves a sigh of relief. Indeed, the second ballot of the administrative elections has knocked Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) out, the same that won the first round. French far-right fails to win a single region, while seven go to Republicans and five to Socialists. But there’s another side of the coin: in the first round FN gets 6 million votes; in second ballot the number reaches the peak of 6.7 million, almost 11.6% more. These figures show that something is changing in French electorate and Republicans and Socialists now have a real adversary to beat. As French far-right leader Marine Le Pen already mentioned, this defeat will not stop their run and the dream of 2017 presidential elections is still alive.
So, what is FN standing for and why is France so afraid?
French people and France come first. In such a multi-ethnic and multicultural society as the French one, far-right party wants to protect first the interests of France and French citizens. This inevitably clashes with immigration issues, about which France has usually adopted a less strict approach, compared to other European countries. Mrs Le Pen proposes changes. Reviewing Schengen and increasing controls, reducing illegal immigration, but also limiting legal immigration and free assistance to “sans papiers”.
On one hand, a greater closure toward outside; on the other, improving nation’s position in the world. Avowedly Eurosceptic, Marine Le Pen highlights weaknesses and limits of institutions such as the European Union, whose technocracy clips nations’ wings. A centrifugal force that would like to push France outside the EU, but also outside NATO, thus freeing from all their ties and obligations and restoring nation’s diplomatic and military independence.
Immune to accusation of fascism or xenophobic and anti-European populism, Mrs Le Pen has enough energy and determination to stand as a thorny adversary. In addition, she has those 6 million and more votes. Those French people that chose a far-right party, which talks less about community and assistance and more about what is actually and practically needed to restore security and stability, dragged off by latest months’ terrorist attacks.
Strict positions, then, which scared French political class but also other European countries, where extremist and Eurosceptic parties have widely broaden in recent years. We’re talking about the British UKIP, which supports Brexit, or the Italian Lega Nord, which advocates the exit from Eurozone but also a review of EU structure. In Poland itself, traditionally involved in communitarian policies, Euro sceptics won, thus taking away one of the strongest EU supporters.
It is clear that French voice is not a single on in the European arena. And recent events didn’t help to change their minds. By contrast, what happened has just strengthened the believes of those disappointed by the Union, an Union that exists on paper but lacks of efficiency and rationality. A Union that is strongly driven by German decisions (and interests). A Union that failed in providing security to its members and whose strict economic policies have basically sharpened the economic crisis, thus turning EU in a less attractive institution.
Thus, that’s why politicians fear Mrs Le Pen. Because she has passion and willing to take a leading role and foster a knock-on effect across anti-European forces, creating a single front that could push for a substantial modification of EU structure. First steps have already been taken. Matteo Salvini, Lega Nord’s leader, announced a common plan with Marine Le Pen to review EU treaties, from Maastricht to Schengen. Waiting for Milan Summit in January, where all Eurosceptic parties will meet up and discuss an alternative solution to present Europe.
It seems that scepticism toward EU keeps on increasing, although it misses unity of action. Mrs Le Pen’s France might get the leadership and lead anti-European parties to play a stronger role both at national and international levels. Geopolitical context is evolving: threats and fear grow, along with disappointment and willing to do something more. The European Union has to give an answer to those changes and adapt to the new environment and members’ needs. Ad hoc alliances are not the solution. As Clausewitz teaches, “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.