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Will the far right win in France? Warwick experts provide political analysis

Dr David Lees, Teaching Fellow in French Studies and Dr Piere Purseigle, Associate Professor in Modern European History provide expert analysis of the political situation in France in the run up to the first round of voting during the presidential elections,

Dr David Lees, Teaching Fellow in French Studies said,

"At this stage of the presidential election race in France, all of the pressure is on Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National. Le Pen is facing immense scrutiny from the media and indeed from commentators and politicians from across the world. Where typically the build-up to French presidential elections is only really noticed by people outside France towards the end of the race, this year the eyes of the world have been on the French people for some considerable time. Le Pen's campaign has not been slick nor has it been particularly original. Drawing on themes and policies lifted straight from her 2012 manifesto, Le Pen has sought to maintain her mainstreaming of the Front National while also clinging onto traditional far-right values in France. Le Pen's mask has slipped already during the campaign, when, unprompted, she chose the example of the French role in the Holocaust to demonstrate how French children are not being taught to be proud of their nation.

"Through claiming that it was not the French who were responsible for the round-up of 13,000 Jews in July 1942 (a fact well-established by historians), Le Pen laid herself open to accusations of Holocaust denial and at the very least re-writing French history. This was all too much a reflection of her father's image as a hardline anti-Semite, and not sufficiently focussed on maintaining a positive image of the Front National. Attacked on three fronts - from the centre by Emmanuel Macron, from the right by François Fillon and from the hard-left by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Le Pen has often seemed out of her depth. Marine may well go onto lead the polls after the first-round, but a run-off against any one of these three candidates would show just how far the extreme-right needs to go to win the presidency in France."

Following the first round of voting, Dr Lees continued,

"Marine Le Pen faces an uphill struggle to convince voters that she is the right person for the job. Faced with support for Macron from the major parties and their candidates, Le Pen may well find her path to the presidency blocked by steategic voting in the second-round on May 7. Nonetheless, Macron is himself inexperienced and of all the candidates last night gave the vaguest of speeches to his jubilant supporters. The second-round will not be a repeat of 2002, where Jean-Marie Le Pen was blocked by huge support for the incumbent Jacques Chirac, and we should never write off Le Pen at this stage. With it all to play for, France and the French now face a stark choice between pro-European values and a potential Frexit under Le Pen."

Dr Piere Purseigle, Associate Professor in Modern European History said,

"This election is characterised by an unprecedented degree of uncertainty. Despite a very high degree of interest and mobilisation, most French people don’t believe they are appropriately represented (politically and ethically) by the political class. Even before the campaign began, the willingness to break with the past was illustrated by the elimination of high-profile potential candidates, including the incumbent (Hollande) and previous president (Sarkozy).Yet most candidates, with the exception of Emmanuel Macron (current frontrunner), have been in politics for decades.

"This election like others in Europe and across the world (including in the UK and the USA) is marked by the strength of populism. Most British commentators have rightly highlighted the risk of a far-right victory (Le Pen), but have ignored the national-populist, pro-Putin, pro-Assad, platform of self-style radical left-winger Mélenchon. Like Le Pen, he is committed to take France out of the EU. In contradiction with his platform, he has recently been trying to soften his stance, lest he suffered in the polls as a result.

"Europe is indeed a key issue in this election, for a Mélenchon or Le Pen victory would severely damage the Union and would be far more serious than Brexit."

Dr Lees and Dr Purseigle are available for interview on Globelynx camera, Skype, ISDN, Facetime or mobile phone.


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