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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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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???
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.
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.
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.
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'?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
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.
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.
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