France’s right-wing has a common image of the enemy, but is currently tearing itself apart. In the end, neither Marine Le Pen nor Eric Zemmour will be allowed to move into the Élysée Palace.
Paris – Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe calculation. When Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate of the right-wing extremist Rassemblement National, appeared in front of her supporters in Reims, northern France, on Saturday, only about 200 kilometers to the north, another spoke to his fans: Eric Zemmour, even more radical than Le Pen and currently probably the biggest nightmare of the 53 -year-old politician, had come to Lille to present his vision of a France that had slipped to the right in front of an audience of 6,000. It was a long-distance duel that the two politicians fought in northern France – and that incumbent Emmanuel Macron observed in Paris with satisfaction.
Zemmour and Le Pen, as has become clear in recent weeks, share a common enemy: migration. And yet they stand in their own way in their attempt to evict Macron from the Élysée Palace in April. In recent polls, the two right-wing candidates are tied at around 14 percent each, while Macron clearly leads the field with 24 percent. Behind him, in second place, is Conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse (16.5 percent). It is unlikely that one of the candidates will win an absolute majority of the votes in the first ballot on April 10th. At the moment everything looks as if Macron will have to face a runoff two weeks later. But then Le Pen and Zemmour could already be out of the race – unlike five years ago, when Le Pen made it to the second round.
Nonetheless, it is the issues of the extreme right that are shaping the election campaign. Above all, the right way to deal with immigrants is currently the subject of a heated argument between Calais and Marseille. “Look at France, there are the presidential elections – and suddenly the issue of migration is pushing all other issues to the wall,” said Vice Ethics Councilor Julian Nida-Rümelin recently IPP-Interview.
Election campaign in France: controversial issue of migration
On the matter, both Le Pen and Zemmour are relatively unanimous: stopping immigration, closing the borders and increasing deportations are the means of choice for the two politicians to restore what they believe to be France’s lost greatness. In terms of tone, however, the two candidates are now worlds apart, which is one of the reasons why voters currently have the choice between two representatives of the extreme right.
Zemmour said on Saturday that he would “stop financing immigration so that the welfare state model becomes truly French again.” He also seized on the conspiracy theory popular among the extreme right that the elites are working to replace France’s indigenous population with immigrants: “We’re going to stop funding our own replacement,” the 63-year-old former journalist ranted, giving an example for his conspiracy story, the city of Roubaix, which he described as “Afghanistan two hours from Paris”*.
Such radical tones cannot be heard from Marine Le Pen at the moment. The daughter of the right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen is currently trying to attract centrist voters. In a direct comparison with Zemmour, the French “have become aware that my government program is serious and reasonable,” Le Pen recently told the mirror. “I don’t have any excesses.” Unlike herself, Zemmour knows “only one issue: immigration.”
France: low immigration in OECD comparison
But also on Saturday, during her campaign appearance in Reims, Le Pen tried to score points with her supporters with the issue of migration. So she made an “obvious connection between the explosion of insecurity and these waves of immigration that we are suffering”. Le Pen demanded: “Firstly, France will continue to determine its own migration policy, secondly, the foreigners who want to come must pay for their livelihood and thirdly, we will decide who is allowed to stay and who has to go.”
Apparently spurred on by Zemmour and Le Pen, Republican Pécresse is also trying to score points with the migration card. If necessary, the “problems of the ghettos” would have to be solved with the help of the army, the 54-year-old demanded – a statement that even the otherwise not squeamish Le Pen went too far.
Presidential election in France: the issue of migration overshadows everything
The fact that France is discussing immigration so excessively, while the topic barely played a role in the German election campaign a few months ago, is due to the fact that “we have not developed a programmatically sound European answer to the migration issue,” said Deputy Nida-Rümelin. . The German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is currently trying to find such a common line. But their idea of a “coalition of the willing” – an informal association of EU states that are already willing to take in refugees or express their solidarity through payments – has met with little support. Macron supports Faeser’s plans, but also calls for better protection of the EU’s external borders. In any case, the issue remains a bone of contention in the EU.
When looking at the bare numbers, it is surprising that the French are currently so moved by the issue of migration. Because Zemmour’s often repeated claim that after Macron’s current presidency France will have two million additional immigrants (“That’s the size of a city like Paris!”) is simply wrong, as a fact check by the television channel TV1 showed.
In fact, for example, in 2019, before the global border closures due to the Corona pandemic, 291,000 immigrants came to France to settle there permanently. This corresponds to 0.4 percent of the population – and thus only half as much as the OECD average. France is also below the average for the OECD countries in terms of the number of foreigners already living in the country. “In an international comparison, France is not a major immigration country,” says Jean-Christophe Dumont, head of the OECD migration department, in an interview with the New Zurich newspaper.
France: Immigrants less qualified than average population
Especially after the Second World War, many migrants came to France to work as (cheap) workers to help rebuild the economy. After initially mainly people from European countries immigrated to France, mostly immigrants from the former North African colonies followed from the 1960s. The oil crisis temporarily slowed down migration, but later many immigrants brought their families to France, so that foreigners became more visible on the streets again. This is probably also how it happened that the Front National, as Le Pen’s Rassemblement National was called until mid-2018, got eleven percent of the votes when it first stood in an election to the EU Parliament in 1984.
Even if France has a relatively low level of immigration in an OECD comparison, the migrants who come to France tend to be less qualified than other OECD countries and not very diverse. That put one last Study by Emmanuelle Auriola and Hillel Rapoport from the University of Toulouse fixed. Accordingly, the level of education of the immigrants is below the French average, and most non-European immigrants come from Africa, while the countries of origin in other OECD countries are spread across many regions of the world. At the same time, French policy failed to attract qualified immigrants in a targeted manner.
Such differentiations are not heard in the current election campaign. Instead, the candidates rely on escalations and sharp tones – and are thus in good French tradition. In 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy proved that one can be quite successful with prejudices and clichés. During the election campaign, the Republican toned during a TV interview: “If you live in France, you stick to your rules: you’re not polygamous, you don’t practice circumcision of your daughters, you don’t slaughter sheep in your apartment.” A little later he moved Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace. (sh) *fr.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.
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