Rise of the Right After Paris Attacks

During the terrorist attacks in Paris on the night of 13 November, France witnessed the most bloodshed on French soil since World War II.[1]  The attackers, who have been linked to Islamic State, were not targeting specific individuals during the attacks, but rather innocent civilians.  The massacre at the Bataclan concert hall, Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, the Stade de France and two other restaurants, demonstrated the increasing threat and impact of the Islamic State in the West.  President François Hollande called these attacks ‘an act of war’, calling for a state of emergency as well as a movement in French domestic politics of increased security and air strikes in Syria.  These measures for increased security have raised Hollande’s unpopularity in France ‘giving him an approval rating of between 27% to 33%.’[2] However, with regional elections set for December, members of the right including Nicolas Sarkozy and the far-right Marine Le Pen are showing increasing popularity.  After a year of attacks in France from the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket shootings in January to the most recent Paris attacks, will France choose to support the burgeoning right–wing with a looming threat of violence from the Islamic State?

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Stockton © 2015, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Stockton © 2015, some rights reserved.

Hollande called for national unity and solidarity within France after the attacks, among the French public but particularly among politicians.  Opinion polls have demonstrated disapproval of Hollande throughout his presidency and with regional elections on the horizon, party leaders, particularly those from the right, have seen this state of emergency as an opportunity for reform.  Two days after the attacks Hollande invited all party leaders to the Élysée Palace to discuss the attacks and possible responses.  Possibly the most notable opposition to Hollande is Nicolas Sarkozy of the Républicain party and Marine Le Pen of Le Front National.  Although Sarkozy and Les Républicains are more moderate than Le Pen and Le Front National, his run in the elections is significant because of the fact that he is predecessor to Hollande and is clearly after another term as president.  After his meeting with Hollande, Sarkozy stated that there was ‘unity in mourning but not political unity.’[3]  Sarkozy also stated ‘drastic changes’ were necessary concerning the President’s security plan including ‘tighten[ing] laws on consuming Jihadist propaganda online and travelling abroad to join militant groups.’[4]  This kind of criticism, only days after the attack, not only contrasts with Hollande’s call for unity, therefore undermining his power, but it also contrasts with the unity seen after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January.  Hollande’s approval rating rose[5] after those attacks, but with France facing economic instability, a European migrant crisis, and regional elections, politicians after the upcoming presidency see the recent attacks as a political opportunity for a change within French domestic policy and a potential rise in power for their political party.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right party Le Front National, has traditionally been an outspoken critic of immigration and a supporter of the ‘restoration of frontier controls.’[6]  Opinion polls are suggesting that Marine Le Pen and her niece, Marion Maréchal Le-Pen (also a part of Le Front National) will win the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and the Provence region respectively.[7]  Marine Le Pen’s policies and criticisms of the current Socialist government are particularly effective when France is facing both a security and refugee crisis.  After the attacks, Le Pen called for France to withdraw from the Schengen Agreement.  The Schengen Agreement consists of member countries (a majority of continental Europe) that do not have border controls between each other.  Meaning that people traveling from between countries who are both part of the Schengen Agreement would not have to go through border controls to enter their destination, allowing people to travel freely.[8]  From the perspective of Marine Le Pen and many from the right, the Schengen Agreement poses more of a threat to national security, demonstrating an increasing preference of national agenda over an EU or regional agenda.

Le Pen has also called for ‘urgent action’ from domestic security meaning to ‘ban Islamist organizations, close radical mosques, and expel foreigners involved in Islamist extremist activities, as well as “illegal migrants who have nothing to do here”.’[9]  Le Pen then reinforced her agenda by demanding that the government close its borders and ‘halt the acceptance of all migrants in France.’[10]  Even though Le Front National advocates a far-right and even extremist agenda, the party has become a part of the political mainstream in France ‘after coming first in the European election in May 2014 and consistently attracting an approval rating of 25% or more in opinion polls.’[11] The consistent and rising popularity of Le Pen and Le Front National not only demonstrates a growing support for the right in France but potential ‘political polarization’[12] within the state.  If the far-right is advocating these extreme measures, it is likely that Sarkozy and Les Républicains will follow suit, critiquing Hollande’s security measures and undermining his legitimacy as the head of state.

Hollande and his cabinet have responded to the attacks, and to the criticism of the right, by tightening security measures often resembling the United States’ Patriot Act following the attacks of 11 September 2001.  Because France was currently holding its highest level of security when these attacks happened, many ‘have generally accepted the crackdown as necessary.’[13]  Hollande has called for ‘enshrining the state of emergency law’ in the Constitution, allowing the call for a state of emergency for longer periods of time.[14]  Hollande has also called for measures that ‘make it easier to expel foreigners deemed to be a security threat […] and to close radical mosques.’[15]  All of these measures from Hollande and his cabinet underline the legitimacy of the threat of the Islamic State in France and in the West in general presenting the need for increased domestic security.  Ultimately, what these measures display is a country in a state of vulnerability, and in order to regain its strength, many feel the answer is increased security.  However increased security poses a reoccurring question in international relations; at what cost are we ceding our civil liberties for domestic security?

The attacks of 13 November in Paris have left the nation vulnerable and shaken.  With so many lives lost and carnage witnessed in a city famous for its joie de vivre, it comes as no surprise that President Hollande is increasing security measures in France.  But with regional elections in December, many party leaders of the opposition, particularly Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen, have taken this tragedy as a political opportunity to spread their agenda to the French public.  Both have critiqued the current president for his lack of security measures; for both party leaders Hollande’s actions have not been enough.   With Marine Le Pen advocating for such extreme measures as ‘halting the acceptance of all migrants’ in combination with her rising approval rating, shows that the French public is becoming more supportive of the far-right.  And with Sarkozy seeking the presidency in 2017, he is also advocating a similar right-wing agenda, (although not as extreme), with the Républicain party.  The rise of the right in the polls demonstrates a growing polarity among the French public in favour of increased security.  The regional elections in December will show which way the French public is leaning and if a right-wing president will be France’s future.

[1]  http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/french-police-report-shootout-explosion-paris-35186168

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/22/unpopular-francois-hollande-modest-poll-boost-paris-attacks

[3] http://www.lemonde.fr/attaques-a-paris/article/2015/11/15/divergences-chez-les-republicains-apres-les-attentats_4810515_4809495.html (translated quote)

[4] http://maplecroft.com/portfolio/new-analysis/2015/11/16/paris-terrorist-attacks-deepen-domestic-political-divisions/

[5] http://www.wsj.com/articles/rivals-round-on-french-president-francois-hollande-1447628876

[6] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7b201298-8ab1-11e5-a549-b89a1dfede9b.html#axzz3sJXfhD1j

[7] Ibid.

[8] www.axa-schenegen.com

[9] http://maplecroft.com/portfolio/new-analysis/2015/11/16/paris-terrorist-attacks-deepen-domestic-political-divisions/

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/20/world/europe/as-france-and-belgium-strengthen-security-a-classic-debate-arises.html?_r=0

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

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