The French political class, as this lofty and permanent but universally despised layer of society is called in France, is mortified. In a historic victory, the right-wing, anti-EU, anti-euro, anti-French-political-class National Front (FN) won 25.1% of the vote for the European Parliament. It was the highest score the party had ever obtained in national elections – and up from 6.3% in the 2009 elections.
It was a resounding slap in the face of the runner-up, former President Sarkozy’s conservative UMP, which is at the core of that political class, but has been tearing itself apart. It won only 20.2% of the vote. And it was a public shaming of the other major part of the political class, the governing Socialist Party – and by extension of the most unpopular tax-and-retreat President of France, François Hollande. It obtained a meager 14.3% of the vote, just ahead of a bevy of tiny also-ran parties.
FN leader Marine Le Pen has campaigned for years on pulling France out of the Eurozone and reinstituting the franc that can then be printed and devalued in the traditional French manner (a principle now taken to the next level by other central banks, particularly the Fed and the Bank of Japan). She condemns the European Commission as a supranational, non-democratic, out-of-control government and wants to give it the boot. She disdains the Commission’s power to tell France what kinds of deficits it is allowed to incur and what expenditures to cut to stay within the limit – though France sucks on the EU’s teat more than any other EU country.
A “massive rejection of the European Union” is what she called the victory. “The sovereign people have proclaimed that they want to take back their destiny into their own hands,” she declared triumphantly, clamoring more broadly for the “return of the nation” across all of Europe.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the youthful embodiment of the political class, didn’t share her enthusiasm. He called the election outcome a “shock,” an “earthquake,” and a “most grave moment for France and Europe.” It was “more than a new warning.” So there would be more reforms, he said, which is precisely what the French hate, hate, hate the most – unless they’re government giveaways. And he promised to push them forward “faster,” as there was “no moment to lose.”
The political class might squabble amongst each other and mutually scratch up their faces, but they take turns governing and enriching themselves based on a set of rules they all follow, and they can’t even envision letting outsiders, like Marine Le Pen and her cohorts, into their elite self-propagating club. And they don’t have to. Not anytime soon.
Voter turnout was an anemic 42.5%. The rest didn’t want to waste a perfectly good Sunday on a vote for a purposefully emasculated European Parliament that can’t even initiate legislation. Only the most motivated went to the polls; and Marine Le Pen had motivated her troops. Those closer to the center and those on the left were disillusioned and frustrated – so they had another aperitif among family and friends and complained instead of voting.
While all this gloating and hand-wringing was going on, the FN published on its website a sobering accusation against the government, and particularly the Ministry of the Interior which organizes elections: reports had come in that at a number of polling stations around the country, including in the 3rd arrondissement in Paris, FN ballots were either missing or from another polling station, and thus useless.
“The multitude of the occurrences leads us to believe that the fraud is massive,” the statement said. And it went on with the FN’s usual linguistic panache that occasionally verges on humor:
The Ministry of the Interior has chosen to try to prevent the victory of the National Front by prohibiting it simply from competing in some areas of the country. This is a most grave obstacle to democracy.
The National Front therefore accuses the government of Manuel Valls, and his Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve, of having rigged by the most odious means the vote of the French people. This industrial manipulation of the vote of the French people should be stopped immediately, and the prefects must make every effort in the shortest time to bring National Front ballots to all communities in France.
The FN had inquired about these issues at the Ministry of the Interior “several times” Sunday morning, but the Ministry has responded “with only vague disinterest,” which proved “a desire to interfere with the proper proceedings of the election.” And there would be consequences. Sort of. The FN would demand after the election that “light be shed on the manipulations perpetrated by the government….”
The French system, like so many electoral systems, is rigged against those outside the established two-party spectrum, and despite its relative popularity, the FN has almost no political power at the national level. During the 2012 elections, it won only two seats out of 577 in the National Assembly. So France’s “democratic” institutions know how to deal with outsiders and gadflies, no matter what their popularity.
By Monday, the accusatory page had garnered over 4,400 Facebook likes, as opposed to the 77 likes of the preceding post, in which the FN lambasted the EU’s decision to include the results of criminal activity in its GDP figures to make them look better. And the fact that these accusations of election fraud were made not by a sore trampled-into-the-ground loser, but by the ecstatic winner that had kicked the despised political class in the groin adds a flavor of bitter irony to the collective aperitifs with which France washed down the election results.