France’s slide to the extreme right is the stuff of both farce and tragedy

By Harrison Stetler, “The Guardian” :

The Le Pen family drama, Éric Ciotti apparently locking himself in his office … it would almost be funny if it weren’t so bleak

Éric Ciotti, exit stage right. On 11 June, the leader of France’s legacy centre-right party Les Républicains (LR) went on TV to finally set the record straight. With France’s leftwing parties negotiating a “popular front” in the lead-up to the snap elections on 30 June and 7 July, Ciotti announced that he would seek an unprecedented alliance with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) after its commanding victory in last Sunday’s elections to the European parliament.

This was the latest turning point provoked by Emmanuel Macron’s surprise dissolution of parliament on Sunday, which has provoked a major political crisis likely to result in a shake-up of political forces and loyalties. Of course, the old centre-right had long since embraced the hallmarks of Le Pen-style politics – from the obsessive fear of national decline and culture wars against French Muslims to to embracing the so-called “great replacement” theory. But the custodian party of what the French still like to call “Gaullism” has clung to an at least rhetorical rejection of the Le Pen family’s political project. The National Rally is the rebranded form of the Front National, the party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen and other neo-fascists in 1972 as they nursed the wounds of Charles de Gaulle’s recognition of defeat in France’s colonial war over Algeria.

Since Tuesday, the Républicains have been engulfed in an outright civil war straight out of a burlesque melodrama. With the RN president, Jordan Bardella, announcing that “dozens” of LR candidates could be supported by the far right, the rest of the LR party leadership quickly denounced Ciotti’s move as a rogue initiative, taken in isolation and without consulting the rest of the party brass. Many suspect Ciotti, an outgoing deputy from the Provence region, of nourishing personal ambitions: he is said to be obsessed with winning the mayoralty of Nice, circumventing his local rival Christian Estrosi. On Wednesday afternoon, Ciotti apparently barricaded himself inside the LR party headquarters overlooking the square behind the National Assembly, with other key figures of the party elite denouncing him as a traitor from outside – all on live television. He was expelled on Wednesday, although it’s still hardly clear who’s now in charge and of what remaining party.

What’s probably behind Ciotti’s move is the simple maths of where the critical mass of conservative voters are looking these days: to Le Pen and the National Rally. Though the LR elite may cling to their distaste of the Le Pen family, their voters are increasingly looking to the hard right. A young generation of militants and party cadres also know where the momentum and energy – and future jobs and positions – are to be found on the French right. Guilhem Carayon, leader of the youth branch of the party, has come out in support of Ciotti’s push for an alliance.

Just take a closer look at the results of the EU vote. In Ciotti’s legislative district in Nice, RN won just shy of 30% of the vote, compared with 9.75% for the Républicains. The bourgeois districts comprising Paris’s western neighbourhoods and suburbs have also long been a party stronghold. And though Macron has made serious inroads in these areas, reflective of his own turn towards nationalist conservatism, they’re increasingly in the crosshairs of the far right, whether those of the reactionary polemicist Éric Zemmour or Le Pen. Though LR emerged as the top rightwing force in many of these districts on last Sunday’s vote, the old centre-right is often outpaced by the combined scores won by Bardella’s list and the alternative hard-right force led by Marion Maréchal – Le Pen’s niece, who split from her family’s party to join Zemmour’s party, Reconquête, before the 2022 presidential elections.

Another figure also appears to have intervened to push Ciotti to seek an alliance with Le Pen: Vincent Bolloré. Le Monde reports that, in addition to opening channels of discussion with Le Pen and Bardella, Ciotti also met the conservative oligarch, who lobbied in favour of the alliance. Since the mid-2010s, Bolloré has diverted his business holdings towards the development of a massive media empire, which includes a radio network, the around-the-clock far-right TV channel CNews, France’s largest publishing group and a series of weekly magazines. Bolloré’s outlets have since given favourable coverage to this long-awaited “union” of rightwing forces. After all, it would cap off the ultimate purpose of Bolloré’s media investments: turning far-right ideas into the dominant culture of French conservatism, a crucial prelude to national power.

In expelling Ciotti, the leadership of LR may like to think that they have retaken control of their old home. (Ciotti, for his part, released a video on Thursday morning bearing the party’s logo, and is moving to take legal action over his dismissal.) Meanwhile, Macron and his allies are making final pleas for the residue of the Gaullist right to rally to the centre. But they all could be fighting over an empty shell. François Xavier-Bellamy, who led LR’s campaign in the European elections, said on Thursday that he would “of course” vote for RN in the event of a run-off vote pitting it against the left.

Ciotti’s “alliance”, or whatever you want to call it, with RN is anything but official, but Bardella and Le Pen have ultimately got what they wanted. The ongoing meltdown in what remains of France’s rightwing establishment confirms what became unmistakably clear last Sunday. Le Pen and RN have succeeded in becoming the main line of French conservatism. Zemmour popularised the call for a “union” of rightwing forces in the lead-up to the 2022 elections, although Reconquête has been sidelined from the alliance drama in recent days. His dream, nonetheless, is taking place without him, as prim and genteel upper-middle-class conservatives make the final shift to RN. Expelled from Reconquête yesterday, Maréchal – the darling of Versailles reactionaries – is probably now planning to return to the family fold. Because there’s another way to unite the right: absolute hegemony, which is just what Le Pen, Bardella, Bolloré et al have imposed.

أخبار مرتبطة

اترك تعليقاً

لن يتم نشر عنوان بريدك الإلكتروني. الحقول الإلزامية مشار إليها بـ *

زر الذهاب إلى الأعلى