There is rising frustration with the EU, but the French remain believers—so farby Lucy Wadham / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Ever since the results of the last European Parliament elections in 2014, when Marine Le Pen began referring to her far-right party as “the first party of France,” the political establishment has been working its way through the seven stages of grief. The morning after the elections, prominent French author Jean-Marie Rouart expressed his shock in Paris Match and his disbelief in the fact that over 4.7m French people had cast their votes in favour of the Front National: “We’re suddenly seized by the sense of irreversibility, of the irreparable, some would say…” Today, most mainstream politicians and commentators seem arrested in the Denial phase, with Anger, Bargaining, Guilt and Depression still barring their way to Acceptance and Hope.
The fact is, whether they like it or not, Le Pen’s agenda—immigration, law and order and national identity—now dominates political debate and this includes France’s position within the European Union, one of the nation’s sacred cows. Like its military and civilian nuclear policy, France’s pro-European consensus runs deep and stems directly from its experience of the Second World War. Framed under Charles de Gaulle in the aftermath of the Nazi Occupation and Philippe Pétain’s ignominious “National Revolution,” the European project served as an antidote to collective humiliation. Piloted by Jean Monnet, a pillar of Free France, it began life as a never-again stance against nationalism and has always been sold to the French as a cultural and political ideal, rather than a commercial proposition, as it has always been to the British.