In French elections Sunday it was no surprise that the Socialist Party, with strong local reach and organization, scored well at 36 percent. What is striking is the continued rise of Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Front and the relative scarcity of Mr. Sarkozy’s ruling party in an election notable for low turnout even though it is the last national poll before presidential elections next spring.
The French vote was round 2 for some 100 districts, and Sarkozy’s UMP party was routed, in some regions losing half its traditional totals, while the National Front in some places scored 40 percent.
Ms. Le Pen, tall and telegenic, has taken control and is altering the image of Europe’s premier far-right party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, historically known as anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant. She is moving to institutionalize the National Front in the mind of French voters by abandoning the old screeds against Jews, and including gays, while at the same time picking up on a general mainstream worry about Muslims.
“Marine Le Pen is beginning to transform the National Front from a protest party into a political alternative,” argued Stéphane Rozès at the French graduate school Sciences Po on Monday.
Earlier in the month as refugees from upheavals in North Africa landed at Italy’s Lampedusa Island in the Mediterranean, the new Le Pen made a high-profile visit, meeting refugees, noting that no other political figures bothered to visit them in their hour of need.
But she also said, “I want Europe to realize what is happening here. European leaders are looking the other way, trying to minimize the risk of migratory flows…. I told [the refugees]: I have compassion for you, I also have a heart, but Europe does not have the capacity to receive you. We do not have the financial means to do so anymore."