France: How Marine Le Pen benefits from the pension debate – Politics
It was a strange spectacle when, two weeks ago, the debate on the pension reform ended in the National Assembly. The Labor Minister’s voice cracked with exhaustion as he delivered his final speech just before midnight. The deputies of the left-wing Nupes alliance left the hall scolding, some agreed to the yellow vest protest chant “On est là” (“We are here”). The MEPs from the other groups countered with a Marseillaise.
Singing together: members of Macron’s Renaissance party, the conservative Republicans – and the extreme right-wing Rassemblement National (RN). For a brief moment, the extreme right seems to have arrived where it always wanted to be: in the middle of the political establishment, side by side with the other parties.
While France is arguing about pensions and the government, unions and left-wing opposition are taking a tough stance, one party in particular seems to be benefiting: the Rassemblement National. “The Silent Conquest” headlined the magazine L’Obs recently, “Marine Le Pen is on everyone’s minds”, wrote the newspaper Le Monde.
The far-right party is more popular than ever
During the turbulent debates in parliament, the extreme right was hardly noticed, neither through heckling in parliament nor through proposals of a substantive nature. Nevertheless, the party is more popular than ever. In a Survey by the Ifop Institute the respondents recently voted Marine Le Pen to the personality who best embodies the protest against the pension reform – ahead of the old leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the trade union leaders. By doing little, Marine Le Pen and her party seem to be doing a lot right at the moment.
Le Pen’s position on the issue of pensions is by no means as clear as that of her opponents. On the one hand she criticizes the reform, wants to block it in parliament, calls it “unjust”, “useless” and even “as sadistic as when a child plucks the wings off a fly”. On the other hand, the head of the Rassemblement National refuses to call on her supporters to strike or protest.
When hundreds of thousands of French people probably don’t go to work and instead take to the streets on Tuesday of this week, Marine Le Pen and her people won’t be there. The street fight does not fit the serious image that the politician now wants to paint of herself and her party. It is also true that trade unions and leftists have made it clear that the extreme right is not wanted at all in their protests.
“Marine Le Pen is already thinking about 2027,” says political scientist Bruno Cautrès from SciencesPo Paris. Then the next presidential election is due in France, and it can Emmanuel Macron no longer compete. According to Cautrès, Le Pen’s challenge is to present herself as a candidate who can be trusted to hold the office.
“Marine Le Pen and her party want to show that they can be taken seriously, now in parliament and possibly in a government in the future,” agrees Jean-Yves Camus, who works on the subject at the Paris Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris). researching right-wing extremism. Since last year’s general election, the Rassemblement National has been stronger than ever. With 88 MPs, it is the largest opposition faction in the National Assembly.
Suddenly, Le Pen surprises with a motion of no confidence
Marine Le Pen has been working on her party’s image for a long time. In Paris, people are also talking about the “tie strategy”: After last year’s parliamentary elections, the party leader is said to have instructed her male MPs to dress modestly for the plenary hall.
While the left-wing Nupes Alliance blocked the pension debate in Parliament with thousands of amendments and received a number of calls for order, the RN MPs stayed in the background. However, the extreme right did not appear to be supple. During the debate, Marine Le Pen surprised the government with a motion of no confidence. The application failed after no other faction voted with the right-wing nationalists.
“Marine Le Pen has to keep her balance,” says Camus. On the one hand, she must appear as professional as possible, but on the other hand she must also show that she perceives the resistance of the population and opposes the government. A large part of the RN voters comes from the milieu that comes off particularly badly in the reform: people who started working early and earn little. “Marine Le Pen has to show that she listens to their concerns. And at the same time campaign for new, middle-class voters,” says Camus.
The fact that Marine Le Pen’s own pension policy proposals are not very stable does not seem to hurt her popularity. For a long time, Le Pen called for the return to retirement at 60, but in the last election campaign she advocated general retirement from the age of 62, with exceptions for everyone who started working particularly early. While the left-wing Nupes alliance proposes filling up the pension funds through higher taxation of companies, the RN is reluctant to make counter-proposals. The contributions of his deputies in the parliamentary debate were aimed more at a demand that the RN has been promoting for a long time: that the French should have more children.