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Friday, 30 May 2014
WSJ EX MAY 23:National Front's Marine Le Pen of France Leads Anti-EU Drive
National Front's Marine Le Pen of France Leads Anti-EU Drive
In European Parliament Voting, French Far-Right Leader Seeks to Unite Nationalists Who Want to Abolish EU
Updated May 23, 2014 10:51 a.m. ET
Marine Le Pen supporting a National Front candidate for the European Parliament, where she aims to lead an anti-European Union coalition. Sipa Press
VILLERS-COTTERÊTS, France—Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front, doesn't typically draw votes from people like Marius Pigoni.
For decades, the 80-year-old sawmill owner voted for moderate politicians who espoused the European ideal of building an economic bloc free from the nationalist forces that drove the continent into two world wars.
But as people in the European Union's 28 member countries vote on a new European Parliament, Mr. Pigoni's focus is a worry that his sawmill business will be ruined by low-cost imports, including from Eastern Europe.
Ms. Le Pen is leading a campaign to abolish the EU. She is getting Mr. Pigoni's vote.
"As someone who saw the war, I can tell you the EU was a great idea," he said. "But now it's become a farce. We're broke and we're offering billions to Ukraine."
Like Mr. Pigoni, many Europeans have fallen out of love with mainstream political parties and their technocratic creation, the EU.
The EU, they say, has become a bureaucratic machine that excels at dispensing edicts on how cheese is labeled while ignoring everyday problems such as unemployment and illegal immigration. By some polling estimates, myriad anti-EU groups could nearly double their tally in May 22-25 voting from the last European Parliament election five years ago by taking as much as a quarter of the seats.
Casting the EU as public enemy No. 1, Ms. Le Pen and other nationalists are presenting themselves as credible alternatives to Europe's mainstream, pro-EU leaders, and no longer as mere loudspeakers for protest voters.
"The EU nowadays is like the U.S.S.R.: It can't be improved. We need to let it crumble and build after it a Europe of free and sovereign nations," Ms. Le Pen said in an interview at the National Front headquarters just outside Paris.
Having expanded her National Front's following in France, she is setting out to unite Europe's disparate nationalist parties into an anti-EU caucus at the European Parliament—one that could stall the decadeslong march toward a United States of Europe.
The formation of a potent anti-EU minority would also pose a risk to EU policies some economists consider important to restoring growth. One likely target: an ongoing effort to forge a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement.
That wouldn't bother Ms. Le Pen. She calls the effort "pure folly."
As the election approached, mainstream politicians were sounding the alarm. "The ideas promoted by the far right aren't the values of France and once were behind Europe's nightmare," said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, alluding to the world wars. In Italy, President Giorgio Napolitano warned of "populist impulses" that endanger the EU.
With many EU members' economies still limping, the bloc has yet to demonstrate an ability to halt the ravages of the sovereign-debt crisis, making this election a crucial test.
Although the elections are for the European Parliament, they are likely to have effects on national governments in some countries. In Italy, the expected rise of anti-EU movements could endanger the frail coalition supporting the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. In France, fallout may be more limited because President François Hollande reshuffled his government after his Socialist Party suffered a stinging defeat in local elections in March.
For Ms. Le Pen, uniting Europe's unruly protest parties under a single banner is likely to be a daunting task. The parties, ranging from Italy's Northern League to Austria's FPÖ to the Sweden Democrats, are often focused on issues local to their regions and share little beyond a desire to disband the EU. They began as fringe groups, and some still are.
The influence of the coalition Ms. Le Pen envisions will also depend in part on her ability to woo groups that oppose the EU but reject nationalist ideology. Among these is the 5-Star Movement of Italian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, which includes leftists traditionally opposed to Ms. Le Pen. It is forecast to garner more than 20% of the Italian vote in the parliamentary election.
Mr. Grillo recently wrote on his blog that "Marine Le Pen is a fine-looking, successful lady. I don't hate her. But her political stance is different" from his movement's.
One leading euroskeptic, Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party, has called Ms. Le Pen's National Front anti-Semitic, which she denies.
"Ms. Le Pen is best positioned to pull together the anti-Europeans," said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, head of a Paris think tank called the Robert Schuman Foundation. "But running such a rowdy coalition will be a big challenge."
So far, Ms. Le Pen, who has held a seat in the European Parliament for 10 years, has shown a knack for corralling disparate anti-EU forces. Since taking the reins of the National Front in 2011 from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, she has hopscotched the continent—joining singalongs with other nationalists in Stockholm, attending a ball with far-right leaders in Vienna and shuttling to meetings of Dutch firebrand Geert Wilders's Freedom Party.
European Parliament Elections 2014
At home, Ms. Le Pen, 45 years old, has built a network of young cadres who are refashioning the movement she inherited into a full-fledged political party.
In March, the National Front won about 10 cities in French municipal elections, a strong showing for a group that until recently had no roots in local administrations. Now, polls predict it will collect 23% of the French vote for the European Parliament, topping Mr. Hollande's Socialists and their UMP conservative opposition.
As the municipal-election results came in, Ms. Le Pen's cellphone buzzed with congratulations from allies such as Franz Obermayr from Austria's FPÖ and Gerolf Annemans from a Flemish nationalist group. Wrote Mr. Annemans: "This is a victory for Europe as much as it's a defeat for the European Union."
Part of the gains, nationalist allies say, stem from Ms. Le Pen's success in projecting a modern image and distancing herself from her father, who used to boast of taking part in France's colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria.
"Marine is of a generation that looks into the future, not into the past," said Andreas Mölzer, an Austrian nationalist who sits close to Ms. Le Pen in the European Parliament. "She likes pop songs more than military marches."
The makeover is sometimes disrupted by inflammatory remarks on religion and immigration by her father. On Tuesday, talking to aides about a population boom in the developing world, Mr. Le Pen said, "The problem could be taken care of in three months by Monseigneur Ebola." Mr. Le Pen said later he wasn't calling for an epidemic; his daughter's chief of staff said his words had been misinterpreted.
Ms. Le Pen's rise is also fueled by the declining popularity of the EU's single currency. Support for it across the euro zone fell to 52% last fall from 60% in 2008, according to a poll the EU Commission ordered.
She has tapped into a vast well of public discontent driven by high unemployment, branding the euro as the culprit for many of Europe's economic problems. That message enables the National Front to connect with some voters who aren't animated by its other issues, such as crime and immigration.
Although the EU has had some success in restoring calm on Europe's sovereign-debt markets, its main prescription of austerity for overindebted countries has left large parts of the continent fighting long-running recessions. Greece is burdened by debt nearly twice the size of its economy, Spain by 25% unemployment and Portugal by budget woes that have forced the layoff of a fifth of the civil service. Protesters from 20 countries clashed with police in Brussels last month, waving banners that said "Stop austerity."
Ms. Le Pen maintains that without the euro there would be no need for austerity. The Bank of France could print money to finance the state.
Ms. Le Pen wants her country to create a Ministry of Sovereignties to regain control over powers ceded to Brussels. Calling the euro zone a "prison," she has said the strong common currency hobbles manufacturers' efforts to sell their goods abroad.
"What has been done in the past can, in fact, be undone," Ms. Le Pen said.
When she took over in 2011 as head of the movement her father founded, Ms. Le Pen quickly set about bonding with other nationalist leaders in Europe, often picking cards from her father's Rolodex.
First she met in Rome with a Northern League leader, Mario Borghezio, and the two flew to Lampedusa. The small Italian island near Tunisia was convulsing under waves of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.
Ms. Le Pen toured its vast refugee camps and its port strewn with abandoned fishing boats used by the refugees. After a meeting with migrants, she said: "I have a lot of compassion for you. I also have a heart. But Europe doesn't have the capacity to welcome you."
Aides to Ms. Le Pen said the trip was part of a campaign aimed at remodeling the image of the National Front, long associated with the xenophobic figure of her father, to show that its stance against immigration wasn't race-based.
Her softer tone helped her gain followers, but she continued to face accusations she hadn't severed links with Europe's more extreme nationalists.
Ms. Le Pen this month with her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the National Front. Associated Press
In early 2012 Ms. Le Pen appeared in a sleek black dress at the imposing Hofburg Palace in Vienna, a guest of the FPÖ for an annual ball held by student groups that accept only ethnic Germans. The date that year fell on the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and 5,000 protesters harangued guests as they made their way into the palace under police protection.
"In going dancing in Vienna, Ms. Le Pen accomplished a major faux-pas," said the center-right editorial page of the French weekly Le Point.
Later in 2012, Ms. Le Pen joined nationalists from four countries at a dinner in a Stockholm restaurant decorated with stuffed animal heads. It was punctuated by singing, and in her turn at the mike, Ms. Le Pen sang "Paroles, Paroles," a love-duet hit from the 1970s in which a woman bemoans the emptiness of her partner's promises.
"Words, words, words, words, words," she sang in French. Language barriers among the guests didn't hide the gibe at mainstream politicians.
In between those trips abroad to court other nationalists, Ms. Le Pen ran in France's May 2012 presidential election, placing third behind Mr. Hollande and incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Her 17.9% showing topped any vote tally her father gained in his earlier runs for president.
This year, Ms. Le Pen has ventured into new territory for the National Front: foreign affairs. On a trip to Moscow last month, she met with the speaker of the Russian parliament's lower house, Sergei Naryshkin, who is among the targets of U.S. and EU sanctions imposed after Russia annexed Crimea. "I'm surprised to see how some inside the European Union have declared a Cold War on Russia," Ms. Le Pen said at a briefing with her host.
In developing her anti-euro platform, Ms. Le Pen has exchanged notes with Matteo Salvini of Italy's Northern League, a politician who brandishes campaign posters with screaming yellow banners that read "Basta €uro"—"enough with the euro."
In Italy, the slogan is luring a new generation of voters toward nationalist and populist parties. Among them is Roberto Brazzale, who heads a 200-year-old cheese-making firm in the Vicenza area bearing his family name.
He is nostalgic for the era when Italy's currency was the lira. Then, countries such as Italy could compensate for an erosion of competitiveness by devaluating their currencies. With the euro, that isn't possible.
"The common market is the best thing that ever happened to us," said Mr. Brazzale—"and the euro is about to make it explode."
Italy made a mistake in joining the euro 15 years ago, said 58% of respondents to a March survey by polling firm Istituto Demopolis.
In the election for the European Parliament, Italian parties campaigning against the EU, including the 5-Star Movement, are expected to win about 37% of the votes, according to a Pollwatch prediction based on surveys conducted by three pollsters. Five years ago, the Northern League was the only party with an anti-EU platform, and drew just 10.2%.
In Villers-Cotterêts, the French town northeast of Paris where Mr. Pigoni has his sawmill, he says nearly all of 30 competing mills that once dotted the region are gone. He complains that local schools buy imported furniture rather than turn to local suppliers.
Reinforcing his decision to vote for Ms. Le Pen on Sunday, he said, was a recent pledge by France's president to rekindle growth with small tax cuts spread through 2020.
"What's the point?" Mr. Pigoni said. "By then, France will have lost all its industries."
—Nicole Lundeen, Charles Duxbury and Ellen Proper contributed to this article.
The last time Europe wide government went away we had the fall of the Roman Empire and a thousand years of the Dark Ages. Decentralization doesn't always have a happy outcome.
If anyone thinks that Europe is better off with 28 separate currencies, customs controls at every border, and sealing off the labor market into 28 walled entities, then they just don't read history.
Clearly the EU has problems, but that's what elections are for. If it needs to spend more time on a coordinated program for employment and less time labeling cheese, then that's what the voters will pressure it into doing.
For the first time in half a millennium Western Europe has spent over a half century at peace. Arguing about Greek bonds is better than arguing over German bombs.
Hope she wins. These supra-national organizations like the EU and NAFTA are international country clubs that benefit the political and corporate elite but don't do anything to prosper the common people.
They are merely engines to create new layers of supra-national bureaucracies of government employees, while the corporations are encouraged to consolidate and lay off millions of private sector employees. That's the real reason why the global economy is dying off.
We need to return to the model where the government of each country is sovereign in protecting the prosperity of its people. Anything that can be produced locally must be made in the country --- no more letting corporations become engines of dis-employment by locating in production in peon-labor jurisdictions.
If that means booting out the international country club, then so be it. Let's do the same in the USA.
"The EU nowadays is like the U.S.S.R.: It can't be improved. We need to let it crumble" Funny -- the USSR did think it couldn't be improved or one would have to assume so, as communism was the end of history and the perfection of all things on earth. So self-delusion was part of their problem (and the EU's as well).
A French economist has a best selling book in the US about why we need to turn the world into a giant socialist state and redistribute earned wealth. Yet, the people of his own country are living that 'dream' are rebelling against it.
I am not French, but even if I were Marine Le Pen, is not a politician that I would side with, but. Right now anyone that would dare to rip down the monstrosity of the single currency has to be applauded.
The single European Currency was a shamefully botched and ill conceived experiment from its conception. Even now much of southern europe is in deep recession and in danger of falling into deflation. To what altar have the economies of these countries been effectively sacrificed? Their central banks have been rendered powerless and the option of devaluing their currencies removed. There may not have been war in Europe, but the level of human suffering has been huge and the promised land remains as ellusive as ever.
Anyone with the b#lls to kick this monstrocity into touch would get my vote.
@Domingo Trassens agreed, however the EU is like a magnification of all the national illnesses, reduced to some bureaucratic mania that tries to regulate human beings as if they were parts on a conveyor belt.
France no longer has the Franc to devalue when it becomes uncompetitive, so why not an internal devaluation? Lower wages would restore France's competitiveness but that would mean Draghi accepting deflation.
Banks don't like deflation because it makes it harder for borrowers to pay back their loans, and Draghi is a banker, so internal devaluation is unlikely. The paradox continues.
I understand their FN's popularity. I was in France recently and every small business person I spoke to complained about taxes, excessive regulation, immigration, the coziness of big government with big business, and all the ridiculous rules coming out of Brussels. They want smaller, more responsive government. Government that is closer to them. Less Paris. Less Brussels. More Toulon or Rouen, or Orleans, or wherever.
@joel lehman Her father was a major nationalist leader, of the same French minority political party, a generation ago. He had a significant following but, obviously, never had real success at the national level.
@joel lehman Marine Le Pen is NOT a small government conservative. She's fascist and nationalist in her economic tendencies. She's had many nice things to say about Putin and how things are now done in Russia.
Why is it that, even in the USA, we are forced to somehow "embrace diversity", whether it be on immigration, or forcing us to endure cultural shocks that fly in the face of traditional values? Nationalistic pride, a return to loyalty to one's "tribe", the rejection of the "Modern Family" dynamics - to me, these are good qualities that ensure the survival of a civilized society.
Why shouldn't the French want to retain their sovereignty? It's their country. You go get them, Ms. Le Pen. And Godspeed to all of you who wish to return to your roots of Faith and Family.
@Joey Dawson No one has ever explained to me the attraction of diversity. Oh I imagine that some of the Blaque Caucus our Kenyan and CAIR have a "rational" explanation but I don't get it-- never understood it. It's purpose I understand but but but don't we all understand it's purpose.
I am amazed at how many people accept their own impoverishment and accept the idea that low wages are good and a labor shortage is a bad thing and "we" need cheap immigrant labor without seeming to understand what "we" means.
@JASON FRANK I am always surprised when these people say these things Jason. If people really read the party platform of the FN they would probably be hard pressed to call them right wing. On economic affairs they are interventionist and protectionist. What is right wing about that?
@Octavio Lima @JASON FRANK The American press just toes the correct propaganda line here in the States. Marxist and Communist parties and politicians in Europe are either 'progressive' or 'socialist'. Conservative and right of center politicians are 'right-wing'. You write the story that way or you end up assigned to covering the Westminster dog show and water main breaks down on Canal Street.
Keep in mind that, in the parlance of our own main stream media, Fidel Castro, Kim Jung Il, and the Muslim Brotherhood are 'progressives'. Language and the perversion of language are very important to the Far Left.
Twenty-five percent of the seats in Strasbourg by Euroskeptics will not be enough to stop more spending, more bureaucracy or prevent the ultimate goal of Eurocrats to turn national parliaments into municipal councils.
But, if the polls are right and UKIP and FN are the leaders of the pack in this election it'll shake up politics in both the UK and France. In both countries establishment pols have dismissed them as loony-toons. No more. There is a UK general election next year. If UKIP steal sufficient votes from the Tories, Labor could slip in as winner thus annulling the possibility of a in-out EU referendum in 2017.
What you are NOT reading about in the WSJ and the rest of the news media is that the most vociferous opposition to the so-called 'Far Right' resurgence is coming from hard-core leftists like Angela Merkel, 'former' Communists and Communist sympathizers like the German Party of Democratic Socialism (formerly known as the East German Communist Party) and left-wing groups closely aligned with and drawing their support from the metastasizing Muslim populations in Europe, particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
I guess that there are some Frenchmen (and Dutch, and Swiss, and English, and Germans, and Austrians) who don't relish living in the Islamic Republic of Europe. And having to get up at 5 a.m. every morning and being frog-marched by the Religious Police to the local mosque for morning prayers is not every European's cup of tea.
The pendulum in France had swung so far left into looney ville socialism that it was only a matter of time before the pendulum swung back. EU is a socialist scam on most participating countries. Expect to see more nationalist, right wing leaders rising to power. Socialism sounded good preached from populist frauds, but the people saw what it yields - misery.