Neither Left Nor Right in France

How the National Front Has Changed Politics

France's National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, January 29, 2016. Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters

No one was fooled by the defeat of France’s far-right party, the National Front, in the country’s December regional elections. The party, led by Marine Le Pen, had won the most votes in the first round of the election on December 6. Although it ran a fairly tight race in the runoff a week later, it failed to win in any of the country’s 13 regions. The margins were close, and as Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls exclaimed after the election results came in, “Tonight, no sigh of relief, no sign of triumphalism… The danger of the far right is still around.”

For her part, Le Pen knows that to make a serious bid for power at next year’s presidential and legislative elections, she must appeal to France’s more moderate middle-class voters. Since the December regional election, the party has introduced a new slogan—La France apaisée, or “an appeased France”—in order to distance itself from its controversial and confrontational past, and present a more polished and reassuring image. Since then, several senior National Front party officials have also been looking into the possibility of a political entente with some elements of Nicholas Sarkozy’s center-right party, the Republicans. “We have never made alliances and we don’t believe in political jerry-rigging,” Nicolas Bay, the National Front’s electoral strategist, said in an interview with Politico last month, continuing, “but it’s true that we are reaching out.” If it works, the party and Le Pen might stand a chance of winning the next round of presidential and legislative elections.

Mainstream parties have generally responded to the National Front’s rising popularity—three times greater than it was five years ago—with a mixture of denial and accommodation. For the first four decades since its creation in 1972, the party was consistently dismissed as a marginal and anomalous phenomenon, unfortunate but unthreatening. During his time as Socialist Party leader and president, François Mitterrand even privately welcomed

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