Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in:  Talking Point: Debates: European
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 6 May, 2002, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Le Pen: Is Europe next?
Europe's politicians have been queuing up to condemn the politics of far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen after his success in the first round of the French presidential elections.

However, there's also been criticism of the failure of the left in France to meet this challenge.

The question marks raised about Lionel Jospin's campaign have also extended to the rest of the European centre-left.

Can it come up with new answers particularly on immigration, law and order?

Or, as some Italian Communists believe, is the centre-left finished as a European force? Tell us what you think.

For this Europewide Debate, Europe Today's Mark Reid brought together three analysts - the Frenchman Frederick Michel who works for the Policy Network think tank in London, the Policy Network; the German radio journalist Marianne Landzettel and the Danish journalist and writer on the French far right, Lally Hoffmann in Copenhagen.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Numbers do not discriminate, they only reflect what is happening

Victor D, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Since the Greens failed us there is little else to vote for to indicate unhappiness about the way the government runs things and avoids certain issues that people feel strong about. For example, crime, unemployment and general city degradation - the statistics speak for themselves. Numbers do not discriminate, they only reflect what is happening.
Victor D, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Here in France many of us are in shock and many are also actively working towards a massive defeat of Le Pen on May 5th. Of course, this is the first pressing and real emergency. But I'm also a little worried about the lack of speculation as to the kind of future government Chirac will form if he wins.
Hélène Wilkinson, France/UK

In response to the message from GT from Switzerland I would like to ask him if he realises that if Le Pen wins all immigrants, including his friend's uncle, will be forced to leave France.
Katarina, UK

This man voted for Le Pen

GT, Switzerland/France
My friend's uncle is a public bus driver in Marseille. For the past few years he has had to cope with insults, youngsters spitting at him, refusing to pay fares, degradation on the buses he drives, even physical abuses (he was punched numerous times by kids who could not have been more than 16 or 17). Twice he was even threatened with knives. In the suburbs where he lives, cars are burnt at night; he and his wife rarely go out anymore. Looting is common and street gangs are now part of daily life. Like many others he has striked on various occasions to alert the government to the degrading situations of the suburbs and the danger he has to face daily, just doing his job. Nothing has changed, worse still, things have gone even more out of hand. This man is not a racist, nor are his wife or kids (they are of foreign origin themselves), but this man voted for Le Pen last Sunday....and he used to vote for the Socialists in the past.
GT, Switzerland/France

We have many Arabs in our town and there seems to be no problem with their integration. I haven't met anyone who admits to voting for Le Pen, but he gained around 16% here in the Ardeche region. Is it a case of complacency by the left or does this represent a worrying shift to the right in political life in France and Europe?
Marc, France

For so long, far-right groups have been seen as politically innocuous entities. In recent times, however, they have learned that a higher profile stems from choosing targets carefully. Le Pen has exploited Jospin's indecision, Italy has suffered from ongoing scandal, and here in the UK the BNP is now canvassing in areas of high racial tension. All nations should learn from the experience of France and address the issues upon which nationalist groups are focusing and obtaining their support. If a situation high in the public mind is not addressed by the major players, then votes will be cast for extreme single-issue groups.
Paul, UK

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance

Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
Of course it could. As mainstream parties become harder and harder to tell apart and the moderate electorate, as a consequence, take less and less interest in voting, the fringes become increasingly significant. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance".
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

The protests are completely out of order. You cannot ransack the streets and clash with police because your political leaders failed to perform at the elections. Is this democracy???
Michael, Dublin, Ireland

I think one of the reasons behind the recent surge in far-right politics is to do with the European Union. There have been a lot of very far-reaching changes within the EU over recent years, culminating in the final phase of the launch of the euro this year. Many of these measures, while having laudable aims, have been pushed through by politicians regardless of public uncertainty and unease, and without letting people get used to each measure before moving on to the next. I think we are now seeing signs of a right-wing backlash against this forcing of the pace which EU leaders have indulged in. Maybe the whole of the EU now needs a few years without any further changes, so that people can start to get used to the level of integration we already have. I'm sure our politicians can find ways of ensuring their places in the history books without having to risk a really serious right-wing resurgence.
David Hazel, UK

People of goodwill, of all political stripes, will vote en masse for Chirac

Dominic Owen-Williams, Canada
While there is, justifiably, much wailing and gnashing of teeth at Le Pen's electoral triumph, it is almost certain that he will be trounced by Chirac in the run-off between them. I should think that people of goodwill, of all political stripes, will vote en masse for Chirac. The more insidious legacy of this election will be the adoption of significant portions of the Le Pen ideology by the more mainstream parties, as they obviously enjoy considerable support in the French body politic.
Dominic Owen-Williams, Canada

I believe that this demonstration of xenophobia combined with and voter apathy are the direct result of globalisation and a corporate culture that sees human beings as demographics to be exploited. What's worse, it's self-perpetuating: consumer culture demands that we care only about ourselves and the things we can buy that we don't need. Then we resort to mindless entertainment to shield us from the issues we should be taking an interest in. Meanwhile, greed and selfishness persuade us that 'foreigners' are out to take our stuff and while we're hiding ourselves and our stuff away, we start to lose control of the very process that is meant to protect us, the democratic system.
Lisa, Cambridge, UK

Le Pen was the only one who pointed out the real problem today - insecurity

Emilie, France
Some people make a mistake in thinking French voters have simply been gullible by voting for Le Pen. Voters were aware of the situation and voted for Le Pen because he was the only one who pointed out the real problem today - insecurity - by suggesting concrete measures - jails, justice, more money for police stations, less social assistance and best living conditions for the French who contribute to the nation's wealth, that is to say for those who work. The French vote is legitimate: they are fed up with the burden of immigrants they have to help, assist and cure.
Emilie, France

I think that the 'success' of Le Pen is due largely to the fact that no mainstream French party realises how important national identity and self-determination is to the people of their country. I don't honestly believe that many of the people who voted for Le Pen are racist or that they hold other unacceptable views. All they wanted to do was vent their anger at an establishment which has abolished their currency and with it their own self-determination. When a country's political elite decide to take mass support for granted and don't take the interests of their people into account they are bound to be punished at the ballot box eventually. Chirac and Jospin are both losers in this election - the travesty is that protest votes have given Le Pen a legitimacy which someone with such grotesque views does not deserve.
Richard A. Clough, England

No country can take democracy for granted

Erling Nylund, Norway
It means that no country can take democracy for granted. Every now and then an opportunist like Le Pen turns up and threatens the fabric of a democratic society by setting up groups of people against one another.
Erling Nylund, Norway

It is very sad that a man like Le Pen received the support that he did. He is a very deluded and dangerous man. However, such support is somewhat inevitable given the way politics in Europe has progressed (or regressed) over recent years. When will the politicians of Europe realise that the grand European project to create a politically-correct superstate will inevitable result in a back-lash by people whose opposition to such an idea is constantly ignored and shunned in the name of a 'greater good'?
Andrew Carter, UK

So a large proportion of the population decide that they don't need to vote, or can't be bothered. When a large number of people who do vote and choose someone the non-voters don't like, the non-voters take to the streets and in some cases riot. These people, and the complacent, corrupt parties they support, are the ones who really threaten democracy. Not Le Pen.
Jim Turner, UK

The French people fundamentally distrust and feel left out of their political system

Robert Murphy, France
The French vote is a shock, and it is a rude reminder to the electorate that tactical voting and abstention can horribly backfire. Left wing voters will be kicking themselves for the effects of their little snub on Lionel Jospin and the consequent splattering of left wing votes. It is also a reminder that the French people fundamentally distrust and feel left out of their political system.
Robert Murphy, France

Why is it that the intellectual elite/social do-gooders don't believe in democracy whenever the common masses vote in a way does not fit their opinion? This goes not only for France, but for countries all over the world. The Left have to realise that their time has gone. Not that the far-right is necessarily the answer, but if that is what the majority of the French people desire in a democratic election, then so be it. That is what democracy is all about. If M. Le Pen does not work out then the people can have their say in five years' time.
John Dear, Australia

In a perverse way this may actually be good for French politics - at least it will galvanise the leaders of the main parties to act rather than wax lyrical. Similar action may be required in the UK as we plod towards another election where neither main party offers an acceptable alternative.
Mr Holmes, UK

The thought of someone with warped ideas like M Le Pen coming to power is certainly very worrying and frightening. However, of all the people out protesting on the streets, how many actually went out and used their vote on Sunday? You can't complain if you don't do your duty.
Emma-Louise, UK

Corruption breeds apathy and people don't vote

Steve Biggs, UK
I'm sure someone famous said that the price of democracy is constant vigilance. Racists aren't necessarily stupid and they will jump on populist issues such as crime and the assumption that people really do care one way or the other about the euro in order to legitimise themselves. And unless people do actually think about what they want to vote for they will end up being fooled by these populist facades.

I think what the message really is from the election is that so many people feel disenfranchised by the political system. Corruption breeds apathy and people don't vote. They have expressed their opinion by all the protests against Le Pen - the French establishment should be asking themselves why people wouldn't express their opinion in the ballot box
Steve Biggs, UK

This result will I hope have one positive result: to lead the French people to discuss openly the issues surrounding immigration and racism, which are often considered politically incorrect. I study French and spent last year living the country. I encountered, along with many who valued the ethnic minorities there, others who showed great ignorance and made racist and stereotypical comments without even being aware of how very insulting they were being.

We are not free of this ourselves in Britain. I was born and raised in England and consider myself to be English, and am proud of that fact, although my parents emigrated to this country. I am sick and tired of hearing myself and my identity being attacked by ignorant people who claim that everything that is wrong in Europe is caused by immigration. Fact: immigration will NOT mean the end of European culture. Immigrants and their children have many valuable things to contribute to this culture. In fact many come from countries (such as India) which could boast the existence of great civilisations in many cases thousands of years before Europe. Fact: the ethic of the immigrant is and always has been to stand for hard work and family values (the latter something for which M Le Pen rather ironically claims to be the champion). We work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to the prosperity of this country.
Anonymous, England

The people of France have spoken. Perhaps in this Eurocentric era, the Nationals of France feel they may be losing their identity. The anti-Nationalist protests that resulted in street battles with police and the smashing of shop windows will only work in the favour of the Nationalists, as law and order is a strong point on their mandate.
Raymond Wilson, England

For this to have happened at all is a disgrace

Nathalie Cornish, Scotland (French citizen)
I am embarrassed today to be French. Le Pen is a racist and a fascist and, although I am sure that he will be defeated on 5 May, for this to have happened at all is a disgrace. I feel very sad that so many people in France could have voted for such a figure.
Nathalie Cornish, Scotland (French citizen)

I think it's great, its put the cat amongst the pigeons, about time someone took on the PC parties and addressed real issues affecting everyone - illegal immigration and crime. We should all be more concerned with the major problems we have at home instead of other countries, and the drain on resources that immigrants cause. Especially the ones from the Balkans - where the wars are over - and Afghanistan where the Taleban have now gone. They should go home and help rebuild their countries.
Robert Howlieson, Scotland

The French constitution must be put into question. It's too easy for the voters not to take the first round of the presidential election seriously and misuse it as a way to show childish revolt tendencies. Further than that, the wide power the president has tends to promote a political system based on personalities and not on parties. It's time for the 6th republic.
Christophe Kotowski, Germany

This whole thing describes the foolishness of people, especially when it comes to politics. The big lie is that democracy is the best form of government and the freedom that comes with it. This means a freedom to do what people want, which more often than not is not what they need. Democracy means that the majority gets what they want, but the majority very often is wrong! A far better form of government is where one leader makes decisions for the good of the people, which is where Le Pen would come in. Of course being a corrupt human being as he is this would not work either. The best thing to do is not vote for anybody and get on with your life ignoring politics altogether - it is stupidity.
Richard, Panama

Maybe this will shake France up and force the centrist parties to make some serious changes

Peter Nelson, US
This should be no surprise to anyone. Le Pen is a man on a mission and an arousing public speaker. Jospin and Chirac are bland bureaucrats and not leaders so much as administrators. And they are not very good ones at that, with the French economy stagnating and crime rate soaring. Maybe this will shake France up and force the centrist parties to make some serious changes.
Peter Nelson, USA

I was not stunned by his success because it is a lucid example of what some European countries are going through in the post-cold war era. Conservatism, xenophobia and and a rising tide of nationalism are now challenges facing the their society.
William Asaba, Sweden

Throughout Europe, politicians are driving through greater integration without regard to the opinions of those that elected them. It is sad that greater numbers of people in many countries are supporting extreme nationalistic parties but not unexpected. The warning of a protest vote of this size requires attention. Mainstream politics needs to address this with acceptable policies that reflect public opinion, without pandering to the politics of hate.
Alex Keenleyside, England

If this is how the people of France wish to vote (those that turned up anyway), then we have to respect that. They are a democratic country, where each person is given a vote. Apathy is no excuse. The people have spoken, and it is for the rest of Europe to take note. It is highly unlikely that Le Pen will get any further, but if he does, then once again, it will be done through the people of France voting for him. We must respect this decision...disagree with it possibly, but respect it, definitely.
Johnathon Brock, UK

What voting alternative did have?

Raoul E, UK/ France
What voting alternative did I have? Mainstream parties suffer from a lack of renewal of their leadership, let alone ideas. I decided to give up my vote because no real choice of serious candidates was given to me. My only regret here is that not more people didn't turn up.
Raoul E. UK (French)

There are actual communists in parliament in Sweden and other EU nations and they often command a similar percentage of the vote. They were just as bad as Hitler in their day. Why isn't the rest of Europe making as big a stink about that?!
Dave, Wales

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke, US

Jospin has certainly things to be blamed for, but at least he proved his loyalty by resigning. Many politicians, from left to right, should follow this path and let the French get the new political generation they deserve. Now that Chirac is here to stay, and though I won't be happy to vote for him, I urge him to engage changes in our institutions. Now France definitely needs Europe's support and pressure for a quick democratic relief.
Jean-Christian, France

Reading some of M Le Pen's ideas for how to 'improve' France, I cannot believe that 17% of those who voted can go along with him. However, it is not these people that I have a problem with. It is a fundamental right to have a say in how your country is run, and nobody should be stopped from doing so. It is the apathetic people (I cannot even call them citizens, for they are not acting like citizens) who have caused these monstrous ideas to become a threat. All that has to be hoped now is that the people of France who did not turn up to vote wake up, smell the danger, and secure the future of their country before anything too drastic happens.
Emma, Scotland

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more European stories