Marine Le Pen may be beaten - but her far-right movement is still growing

Far-right in France - What happens now, after Emmanuel Macron's election win?

Macron won with the lion's share of the vote on Monday

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The triumph of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen was seen as a major triumph against populism and the rise of the far-right movements. But, despite the triumph over centrism over the far right, extremism remains worryingly entrenched.

France is famous for its liberal values, but it harbours the same sort of concerns that fuelled the rise of Brexit and Donald Trump. Immigration control, working class struggles, Islamist terrorism: it's a familiar cocktail of populist worries and it's resulted in the far-right consolidating its position across the Channel.

In fact, France was one of the first European countries to develop a far-right media presence. Guilhem Fouetillou, who works for the Linkfluence consultancy in Paris, told the BBC that this stems from the fact that the far-right supporters had felt excluded from traditional media. The development of the internet allowed them to build their own platform for their message.

Le Pen, previously the president of the Front National, successfully harnessed this platform, becoming its figurehead. Her vote share of 35% in the presidential vote (double the amount gained by her father Jean-Marie in the election of 2002) shows just how much momentum populism has gathered in France, and represents an unprecedented high for a far-right candidate in the country.

In the wake of the defeat, far-right supporters will likely reorganise, consolidate, and prepare to fight the battle once again at the end of Macron’s term. They may have been swept under the carpet for a while, but they haven't gone away.

Le Pen remains part of FN and has vowed she will initiate a “deep transformation” of the movement and renew the party to make it more electable. She certainly has a strong support base - and, crucially, much of it comes from young people.

Indeed several commentators have highlighted a trend toward increasing French nationalism in the generation under the age of 30. These people want an identity for being French (as opposed to a global identity) and, like the Brexiteers, they rail against the pooled sovereignty of Brussels.

Le Pen has expertly played to this sentiment, allowing it to be expressed. This was reflected in her election results: Le Pen polled 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds in the Presidential run-off, compared to just 20% of over-65s - a neat inversion of the demographics of Brexit. She has a huge pool of support to draw on as she seeks to transform the party.

Le Pen's niece, Marion Marechal Le Pen, was tipped as a rising star and a future successor as leader, but she has decided to quit politics, in what must be a blow to the party and its first family. Yet Marine herself is not yet 50 years old, young in political terms. Her capacity to connect with young people won't be dulled for years yet, provided she stays relevant and rides the populist wave.

France's problems aren't going away, so Le Pen and her acolytes will feel confident of recruiting even more support next time out.