Interview. Jean-Yves Camus, expert in far-right extremism, discusses France’s National Front as the party holds a two-day ‘re-founding’ convention. Theirs is not a crisis so much as a decades-long failure to govern at a meaningful level.

Jean-Yves Camus: The National Front will never be in power

Jean-Yves Camus is the director of the Observatoire des radicalités politiques (Observatory of Radical Politics) at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. Among the leading experts on the extreme right, he has recently published, together with Nicolas Lebourg, Les extrèmes droites en Europe (“The Extreme Right Movements in Europe,” Seuil, 2015).

This weekend, the National Front is holding its two-day convention dedicated to its “re-founding.” Is the far-right party in crisis, even after Marine Le Pen got into the second round of the presidential elections and received more than 10 million votes? What kind of crisis is it?

Her result in the elections was not bad—quite the opposite. However, between the two rounds of voting there was a televised debate that Marine Le Pen lost against Emmanuel Macron. This is the reason for the crisis. The electoral result could have been better if she had been successful in that debate.

Is it a crisis of leadership then, rather than one of ideas? But Le Pen is still the only candidate for her current position as the head of the FN.

She is personally responsible. But today we have a paradox, as Marine Le Pen is indeed the only candidate. Her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, has not yet decided whether she will return to politics. But we must remember that one does not prepare for a presidential debate alone—there were advisers who chose the wrong strategy, which failed from beginning to end, in form and content.

Does the responsibility fall on the strategy of her chief adviser, Florian Philippot, who later left the National Front to set up his own party, Les Patriotes? And was the biggest mistake the confusion around the issue of the euro?

It was not just Philippot’s fault. The preparations for the debate were conducted by a whole team. And the error went far beyond the issue of the euro. It lay in the decision to attack Macron on the economy, while it was clear that Marine Le Pen was not comfortable in this field. The mistake was not focusing on the issues that are specific to the National Front’s position: security, immigration, identity, the refugee crisis, which is to say all the themes of the radical right.

Are these ideas deeply rooted in a part of the electorate? Is the new leader of the French right, Laurent Wauquiez of the Républicains, trying to court the supporters of the National Front by moving even further to the right than they?

These ideas are still present. Wauquiez is trying to be competitive, just like Pasqua, Chirac and Sarkozy before him, who always sent signals to attract National Front voters. But then, once in power, they did not turn these into concrete measures. For instance, the right wing in France, even when they were in government, never abolished the jus soli to impose the jus sanguinis, did not exit the EU or the Schengen area, and did not ban the construction of new mosques. Fortunately, they did none of these things! Marine Le Pen is always saying that the right is using the language of the National Front, but once in power does not act on it.

Marine Le Pen has exchanged congratulations with her friends, Salvini in Italy and Strache in Austria. But both have adopted the strategy of seeking alliances, unlike the FN.

The situation in Austria is different from that in France. The FPÖ had already been a member of a government coalition in the ‘70s, and again in 2000. The Lega was in government with Berlusconi, although it is not the same now as it was back then. On the other hand, the National Front has no experience in government at all.

But they govern at the local level. Isn’t that enough?

They never governed a region, or a big city, with the exception of Toulon between ’95 and 2002—but that was not a success. They have only won small cities, no larger than Fréjus.

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen might return to politics and, in the future, become the leader of the National Front. But in terms of economics, she holds a neoliberal position, which will hardly be able to persuade those working-class voters, especially from the de-industrialized north, who voted for Marine Le Pen, together with the middle class (particularly from the south).

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen will not be able to get elected if she does not hold on to these two groups of voters, from the middle class and the working class. This is why I’ve been saying for some time that, most likely, the National Front will never be in power in France. It might remain at around 20 percent for decades, without ever taking part in any government.

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