years ago, the Front National (FN) leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, shocked the world by reaching the run-off in the presidential election of 2002. Now, his daughter Marine came first in last year’s European elections. The FN is expected to win the first round of local elections on March 22nd, with a 30% vote. Back in 2002, Le Pen’s père was so widely loathed that left and right rallied around Jacques Chirac, who won the run-off easily. Today, mainstream politicians openly speculate about Ms Le Pen reaching the second round in the 2017 presidential election -and, just conceivably, winning it-. She is a more appealing political leader than her father. The transformation of the FN’s image is striking: voting FN has become semi-respectable. That is deeply worrying. For all the softening of its image, it remains an extremist party.
Fiercely anti-immigrant, its xenophobia continues under the theme of warnings against Islamism. It is also anti-globalisation, opposing free trade and displaying a strong protectionist streak. Ms Le Pen rails against France’s membership of the euro and is hostile to the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour at the heart of the European single market. She is anti-American and an admirer of Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. It is no coincidence that the FN has taken a big loan from a Kremlin-linked bank. A Le Pen Presidency -however unlikely- would be a catastrophe for France, Europe and the world. That is a message mainstream French politicians cannot repeat too often.