The Rise of the Front National: Taking Stock of Ten Years of French Mainstream Politics
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The growing influence of the Front National (FN) in French politics and the explanations for its success are playing a pivotal role in the upcoming 2017 French elections. Favorable economic and political contexts and a successful rebranding of the party are often emphasized to explain the current situation. However, the role of mainstream parties, and especially that of the two previous failed presidencies, has been largely underestimated.
This paper argues that although Marine Le Pen’s internal strategy to transform the party’s image and to design a coherent anti-liberal project has increased its influence in the French political landscape, its seemingly unstoppable rise is best understood by the ability of the FN to take advantage of four key conditions. First, its anti-establishment discourse has thrived due to the general lack of clear political alternatives; second, anti-liberal promises made by mainstream parties have not been delivered; third, the FN has managed to appear as a victim of the media system; finally, the depreciation of the presidential function during the last ten years has weakened the traditional bipartisanism and helped the FN emerge as a credible alternative.
Even if the FN does not come to power in this election, it is likely to become the main menace in the French political system during the next presidency. Mainstream parties must understand their recent failures in order to avoid a deeper political crisis in the next five years.