The National Front (French: Front national, FN) is a far-right and nationalist political party in France, which was founded in 1972. The party was formed on the background of a variety of French far-right currents, which it sought to unite under a single broad-based movement. Jean-Marie Le Pen was the party's first leader, and the undisputed centre of the party from its start until he stepped down in 2011. While the party struggled as a marginal force for its first ten years, it has since 1984 been the unrivalled major force of the French far-right. The FN has established itself as the third largest political force in France, currently after the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the Socialist Party (PS). The 2002 presidential election was the first ever in France to include a far-right candidate in the run-off, as Le Pen beat the socialist candidate in the first round. In the run-off, Le Pen nevertheless finished a distant second to Jacques Chirac. Due to the French electoral system, the party's representation in public office has been limited despite its electoral success. The current leader of the party is Marine Le Pen, who took over from her father in 2011.
The party's political profile is based on French nationalism. Its current policies include economic protectionism, a zero tolerance approach on law and order issues, and opposition to immigration. Since the 1990s, its stance on the European Union has grown increasingly eurosceptic. The party's opposition to immigration is particularly focused on non-European immigration, and includes support for deporting illegal, criminal and unemployed immigrants; its policy is nevertheless more moderate today than it was at its most radical in the 1990s.
One of the primary progenitors of the party was the Action Française, founded at the end of the nineteenth century, and its descendants in the Restauration Nationale. More recently, the party had its background from Poujadism in the 1950s, which started out as an anti-tax movement without relations to the far-right; its parliamentary deputies however included "proto-nationalists" such as Jean-Marie Le Pen. Another conflict that served as background for the party was the Algerian War (many frontistes, including Le Pen, were directly involved in the war), and the far-right dismay over the decision by French President Charles de Gaulle to abandon his promise of holding on to French Algeria. In the 1965 presidential election, Le Pen unsuccessfully attempted to consolidate the far-right vote around presidential candidate and new far-right hope Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the French far-right consisted mainly of small extreme movements such as Occident, Groupe Union Défense (GUD) and the Ordre Nouveau (ON).
While the ON had competed some local elections itself since 1970, it decided on its second congress in June 1972 to establish a new political party to contest the 1973 legislative elections. The party was formally launched on 5 October 1972, under the name National Front for French Unity (Front national pour l'unité française), or National Front for short. In order to create a broad movement, the ON sought to model the new party (as it earlier had sought to model itself) on the more established Italian Social Movement (MSI), and it adopted a French version of the MSI tricolour flame as its official logo. It wanted to unite the various French far-right currents, and initially brought together Le Pen and his nationalist group, Roger Holeindre's Party of French Unity, Georges Bidault's Justice and Liberty movement, former Poujadists, Algeria veterans, some monarchists and more. Le Pen was chosen as the first president of the party as he was untainted with the militant public image of the ON, and was a relatively moderate figure on the far-right.
Having been formed expressely for the 1973 legislative elections, the election became a disaster with a mere 0.5% of the national vote (Le Pen won 5% in his Paris constituency). The rhetoric used in the campaign stressed old far-right themes and was largely unispiring to the electorate at the time. Otherwise, its official program at this point was relatively moderate, differing little from the mainstream right. Le Pen sought the "total fusion" of the currents in the party, and warned against crude activism. The more radical elements of the ON were not persuaded, and reverted back to hard activism only to become banned later the same year. Le Pen followingly became the undisputed leader of the party, although it cost it many leading members and much of its militant base.
In the 1974 presidential election, Le Pen failed to find a mobilising theme for his campaign. Many of its major issues, such as anti-communism, was shared by most of the mainstream right. Other FN issues included calls for increased French birth-rates, immigration reduction (although downplayed), establishment of a professional army, abrogation of the Évian Accords, and generally to bring about a "French and European renaissance." Despite being the only nationalist candidate, he failed to gain the support of a united far-right, as the various groups either rallied behind other candidates or called for voter abstention. The campaign further lost ground, when the Revolutionary Communist League published a denunciation of Le Pen's alleged involvement in torture during his time in Algeria. In his first presidential election, Le Pen gained a mere 0.8% of the national vote.
Following the 1974 election, the FN was obscured by the appearance of the Party of New Forces (PFN) which was founded by FN dissidents (largely from the ON). Their competition weakened both parties throughout the 1970s. During the same time, the FN gained several new groups of supporters, including François Duprat and his "revolutionary nationalists", Jean-Pierre Stirbois and his "solidarists", the Nouvelle Droite, and Bernard Anthony and some Catholic fundamentalists. Following the death of Duprat in a bomb attack, the revolutionary nationalists left the party, while Stirbois became Le Pen's deputy as his solidarists effectively ousted the neo-fascist tendency in the party leadership. The far-right was marginalised altogether in the 1978 legislative elections, although the PFN was better off. For the first ever election for the European Parliament, in 1979, the PFN had become part of an attempt to build a "Euro-Right" alliance of European far-right parties, and was in the end the only one of the two that contested the election. It fielded Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour as its prime candidate, and Le Pen called for voter abstention.
For the 1981 presidential election, both Le Pen and Pascal Gauchon of the PFN declared their intent to run. Increased demands on support by elected officials had however been introduced for the election, which left both Le Pen and Gauchon unable to stand for the election. The election was won by François Mitterrand of the Socialist Party (PS), which gave the political left national power for the first time in the Fifth Republic; he then dissolved the National Assembly to call a snap legislative election. The PS went on to reach its best ever result with an absolute majority in the 1981 legislative election. This "socialist takeover" led to a radicalisation in centre-right, anti-communist and anti-socialist voters. With only three weeks to prepare their campaign, the FN fielded only a limited number of candidates, and won a mere 0.2% of the national vote. The PFN was even worse off, and the election mark the effective end of competition from the party.
By October 1982, Le Pen supported the prospect of deals with the mainstream right, provided they did not call for the FN to soften its position on key issues. In the 1983 municipal elections, the centre-right Rally for the Republic (RPR) and centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) formed alliances with the FN in a number of towns. The most notable result came in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, where Le Pen was elected to the local council with 11% of the vote. Later by-elections kept media attention on the party, and it was for the first time allowed to pose as a viable component of the broader right. In a by-election in Dreux in October, the FN won 17% of the vote. With the choice of defeat to the political left or to deal with the FN, the local RPR and UDF to a minor national sensation agreed to form an alliance with the FN, and together won the second round with 55% of the vote.
Le Pen complained of the media boycott against his party by letters to President Mitterrand in mid-1982. After some letter exchange, Mitterrand instructed the heads of the main television channels to give equitable coverage to the FN. In January 1984, the party made its first appearance in a monthly poll of political popularity, where 9% of respondents held a "positive opinion" of the FN and some support for Le Pen. The next month, Le Pen was for the first time invited to a prime-time television interview program, which he himself later deemed "the hour that changed everything". The 1984 European elections in June came as a shock as the FN won 11% of the vote and ten seats. Notably, the election used proportional representation and had a low level of importance, which played to its advantage. The FN made inroads in constituencies of both the right and left, and finished second in a number of towns. While many socialists had arguably exploited the party in order to cause division on the right, Mitterrand later conceded that he had underestimated Le Pen. By July, 17% of opinion poll respondents held a positive opinion of the FN.
By the early 1980s, the FN featured a mosaic of ideological tendencies, and attracted figures who were earlier resistant to the party. The party managed to draw supporters from the mainstream right, including some high-profile defectors from the RPR, UDF and CNIP. In the 1984 European elections, eleven of the 81 FN candidates came from these parties, and the party's list also included an Arab and a Jew (the two latter in unwinnable positions). Former collaborationists were also accepted in the party, as Le Pen urged the need for "reconciliation", arguing that forty years after the war the only important question was whether or not "they wish to serve their country." The FN won 8.7% overall support in the 1985 cantonal elections, and over 30% in some areas.
For the upcoming 1986 legislative elections the FN took advantage of a new proportional representation system, that had been imposed by Mitterrand in order to moderate a foreseeable defeat for his PS. In the election, the FN won 9.8% of the vote and 35 seats in the National Assembly. Many of its seats could be filled by a new wave of respectable political operatives, notables, who had joined the party after its 1984 success. Nevertheless, the RPR won a majority together with smaller centre-right parties, and thus avoided the need to deal with the FN. Although it was unable to exercise any real political influence, the party could however project an image of political legitimacy. The party's time in the National Assembly effectively came to an end when Jacques Chirac reinstated the two-round system of majority voting for the next election. In the regional elections held on the same day, it won 137 seats, and gained representation in 21 of the 22 French regional councils. The RPR depended on FN support to win presidencies in some regional councils, and the FN won vice-presidential posts in four regions.
Le Pen's campaign for the upcoming presidential election began unofficially already in the months following the 1986 election. To promote his claim to statemanship, he made trips to South East Asia, the United States and Africa. The management of the formal campaign (launched in April 1987) was entrusted to Bruno Mégret, one of the new notables. Together with his entourage, Le Pen traversed France for the entire period, and helped by Mégret employed an American-style campaign. Le Pen's presidential campaign was highly successful; no candidates came close to rival his ability to excite audiences at rallies and boost ratings at his television appearances. Utilising a populist tone, Le Pen presented himself as the representative of the people against the "gang of four" (RPR, UDF, PS, PCF), while the central theme of his campaign was "national preference". In the 1988 presidential election, Le Pen won an unprecedented 14.4% of the vote, double the votes from 1984.
While the snap 1988 legislative elections saw the return to two-ballot majority voting, the FN was also hurt by the limited campaign period and had been departed by many of its notables. In the election, the party retained its 9.8% support from the previous legislative election, but was reduced to a single seat in the National Assembly. Following some anti-Semitic comments made by Le Pen and the FN newspaper National Hebdo in the late 1980s, some valuable FN politicians left the party. Other quarrels soon also left the party without its remaining member of the National Assembly. In November 1988, general secretary Jean-Pierre Stirbois, who together with his wife Marie-France had been instrumental in the FN's early electoral successes, died in a car accident, and Bruno Mégret was left unrivalled as the de facto FN deputy leader. The FN won only 5% overall support in the 1988 cantonal elections, while the RPR announced it would reject any alliance with the FN, now including at local level. In the 1989 European elections, the FN held on to its ten seats as it won 11.7% of the vote.
In the wake of FN electoral success, the immigration debate, growing concerns over Islamic fundamentalism and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini, the 1989 affaire du foulard was the first major test of the relations between the values of the French Republic and Islam. Following the event, surveys found that French public opinion was largely negative towards Islam. In a 1989 legislative by-election in Dreux, FN candidate Marie-France Stirbois—campaigning on an anti-Islamism platform—returned a symbolic FN presence to the National Assembly. By the early 1990s, anti-immigration rhetoric also began to be employed by some mainstream politicians. In the first round of the 1993 legislative elections the FN soared to 12.7% of the overall vote, but did not win a single seat due to the discriminatory nature of the electoral system (if the election had used proportional representation, it would have won 64 seats). In the 1995 presidential election, Le Pen rose slightly from the former to 15% of the vote.
The FN won an absolute majority (and thus the mayor) in three cities in the 1995 municipal elections, namely Toulon, Marignane and Orange. (It had won the mayor only once before, in the small town of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard in 1989.) Le Pen then declared that his party would implement its "national preference" policy, with the risk of provoking the central government and being at odds with the laws of the republic. The FN pursued interventionist policies with regards to the new cultural complexion of their towns by directly influencing artistic events, cinema schedules and library holdings, as well as cutting or halting subsidies for multicultural associations. The party won Vitrolles as its fourth town in a 1997 by-election, where similar policies were pursued. Vitrolles' new mayor Catherine Mégret (who ran in place of her husband Bruno) went further in one significant measure, as she introduced a special 5,000 franc allowance for babies born to at least one parent of French (or EU) nationality. The measure was ruled illegal by a court, and gave her a suspended prison sentence, a fine and a two-year ban from public office.
In the 1997 legislative elections the FN polled its best ever result with 15.3% support in metropolitan France, confirming its position as the third most important political force in France. It also showed that the party had become established enough to compete without its leader, who decided not to run to focus on the 2002 presidential election. Although it won only one seat in the National Assembly, it advanced to the second round in 132 constituencies. The FN was however arguably more influential now, than it had been in 1986 with its 35 seats. While Bruno Mégret and Bruno Gollnisch in an unusual display of dissent favoured tactical cooperation with a weakened centre-right following the left's victory, Le Pen rejected any such compromise. In the tenth FN national congress in 1997, Mégret stepped up his position in the party as its rising star and potential leader following Le Pen. Le Pen however refused to designate Mégret as his successor elect, and for the upcoming European election rather entrusted the leadership of the FN list to his wife Jany.
Mégret and his faction left the FN in January 1999 and founded the National Republican Movement (MNR), which effectively split the FN in half at most levels. Many of those who joined the new MNR had joined the FN in mid-1980s, in part from the Nouvelle Droite, with a vision of building bridges to the parliamentary right. Many had also been particularly influential in intellectualising the FN's policies on immigration, identity and "national preference", and following the split, Le Pen denounced them as "extremist" and "racist". Support for the parties was almost split in half in the 1999 European election, as the FN polled its lowest national score since 1984 with just 5.7%, and the MNR won 3.3%. The effects of the split, and competition from more moderate nationalists, had left their combined support lower than the FN result in 1984.
For the 2002 presidential election, opinion polls had predicted a run-off between incumbent President Chirac and PS candidate Lionel Jospin. The shock was thus great when the unlikely event of Le Pen beating Jospin (with 0.7%) in the first round became a fact. This resulted in the first presidential run-off since 1969 without a candidate of the left, and the first ever with a candidate of the far-right. To Le Pen's advantage, the election campaign had increasingly focused on law and order issues, helped by media attention on a number of violent incidents. Jospin had also been weakened as the left-wing vote was scattered among exceptionally many leftist parties. Nevertheless, Chirac did not even have the need to campaign for the second round, with widespread anti-Le Pen protest in the media and public opinion, culminating on May Day with an estimated 1.5 million demonstrators across France. Chirac also refused to debate with Le Pen, and the traditional televised debate was cancelled. In the end, Chirac won the presidential run-off with an unprecedented 82.2% of the vote, and with 71% of his votes according to polls cast simply "to block Le Pen." Following the presidential election, the main centre-right parties merged to form the broad-based Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The FN failed to hold on to Le Pen's support for the 2002 legislative elections, with 11.3% of the vote. It nevertheless outpolled Mégret's MNR which won a mere 1.1% support, even as they had fielded the same amount of candidates.
A new electoral system of two-round voting had been introduced for the 2004 regional elections, in part in an attempt to reduce the FN's influence in regional councils. The FN won 15.1% of the vote in metropolitan France, almost the same as in 1998, but its number of councillors was cut almost in half due to the new electoral system. For the 2004 European elections too, a new system less favourable to the FN had been introduced. The party regained some of its strength from 1999, with 9.8% of the vote and seven seats.
For the 2007 presidential election, Le Pen and Mégret had agreed to join forces in order not to lose votes to their disputes. Le Pen came fourth in the election with 11% of the vote. In the 2007 legislative elections, the party won no seats. The party's 4.3% support was the lowest score since the 1981 election, and only one candidate, Marine Le Pen in Pas de Calais, reached the runoff (where she was defeated by the socialist incumbent). These electoral defeats partly accounted for the party's financial problems. Le Pen announced the sale of the FN headquarters in Saint-Cloud, Le Paquebot as well as of his personal armoured car. Twenty permanent employees of the FN were also dismissed in 2008. In the 2010 regional elections the FN appeared to have re-emerged on the political scene after surprisingly winning almost 12% of the overall vote and 118 seats.
Marine Le Pen
Jean-Marie Le Pen announced in September 2008 that he would retire as FN president in 2010. Le Pen's daughter Marine Le Pen and FN executive vice-president Bruno Gollnisch campaigned for the presidency to succeed Le Pen, while Marine's candidacy was backed by her father. On 15 January 2011, it was announced that Marine Le Pen had received the two-thirds vote needed to become the new leader of the FN. She sought to move the FN into becoming accepted as a mainstream party by softening its image. Although opinion polls showed the party's popularity increase under Marine Le Pen, in the March 2011 cantonal elections the party won only 2 of the 2,026 seats up for election, although it carried about 15% of the vote overall. For the upcoming 2012 presidential election opinion polls have shown Marine Le Pen as a serious challenger, with a few polls even suggesting that she could win the first round of the election.
The party's ideology has been broadly described by scholars such as Shields as authoritarian, nationalist and populist. The FN has changed considerably since its foundation, as it has pursued a policy of modernisation and made a principle of pragmatism, adapting to the changing political climate. At the same time, its message has increasingly influenced mainstream political parties, although the FN too has moved somewhat closer towards the centre-right. In 2002, Le Pen campaigned within law and order on "zero tolerance", harsher sentencing, increased prison capacity, as well as a referendum on re-introducing the death penalty. In its 2001 program, the party linked the breakdown of law and order to immigration, deeming immigration a "mortal threat to civil peace in France."
In popular and even academic press, the party's program has often been reduced to the single issue of immigration. The party opposes immigration, particularly Muslim immigration from North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East. In a standardized pamphlet delivered to all French electors in the 1995 presidential election, Le Pen proposed the "sending back" of "three million non-Europeans" out of France, by "humane and dignified means." Over the years, and especially since the 1999 split, the FN has cultivated a more moderate image on issues of immigration and Islam, at least compared to some of the proposals of Mégret's MNR or Philippe de Villiers's Movement for France. It does no longer expressly support the systematic repatriation of legal immigrants, although it supports the deportation of illegal, criminal and unemployed immigrants.
The party's economic policy shifted from the 1980s to the 1990s from neoliberalism to protectionism. This should be seen within the framework of a changed international environment, from a battle between the Free World and communism, to one between the nation and the globalising project. During the 1980s, Le Pen comlained against the rising number of "social parasites", and called for deregulation, tax cuts and the phasing out of the welfare state. As the party gained growing support from the economically vulnerable, it converted towards politics of social welfare and economic protectionism. This can be seen with the shift away from its former claim of being the "social, popular and national right," to its claim of being "neither right nor left – French!" Increasingly, the party's program has become an uneasy amalgam of free market and welfarist policies.
From the 1980s to the 1990s, the party's policy shifted from favouring the European Union to turning against it. In 2002, Le Pen campaigned on pulling France out of the EU and re-introducing the franc as national currency. In the early 2000s, the party denounced the treaties of Schengen, Maastricht and Amsterdam as foundations for "a supranational entity spelling the end of France." In 2004, the party critisised the EU as "the last stage on the road to world government," likening it to a "puppet of the New World Order." It also proposed to break all institutional ties back to the Treaty of Rome, while it returned to supporting a common European currency to rival the United States dollar. Further, it rejected the possible accession of Turkey to the EU. The FN was also one of several parties that backed France's 2005 rejection of the Treaty for a European Constitution. In other issues, Le Pen opposed the US-led invasions of Iraq both in 1991 and 2003.
The FN has been part of several groups in the European Parliament. The first group it helped co-establish was the European Right after the 1984 election, which also consisted of the Italian Social Movement (MSI) and the Greek National Political Union. Following the 1989 election, it teamed up with the German Republicans and the Belgian Vlaams Blok in a new European Right group, while the MSI left due to the Germans' arrival. From 1999 to 2001, the FN was part of the Technical Group of Independents. In 2007, it joined the short-lived Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty group. Currently, the party sits among the non-affiliated Non-Inscrits.
The party has also been active in establishing extra-parliamentary confederations. During the FN's 1997 national congress, the loose EuroNat group was established which consisted of a variety of European far-right parties. Since 2009, the FN has been part of the Alliance of European National Movements.In 2010, the FN visited Japan's Issuikai movement, along with other European parties.