France continues to struggle with its mounting immigrant population. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, warned this week that her country is on the verge of civil war. This precarious situation is, according to Le Pen, a direct result of the government's open-borders policy, which has undermined the economic and social stability of her country.
These warnings come at an interesting time for France. The National Front is leading French polls as the most popular party, while the current president, Francois Hollande, is the most unpopular in recent history. Hollande, a Socialist, is seen by many as an increasingly ineffective technocrat who lacks a real vision for France and any real solutions to its growing list of structural problems.
By focusing the attention of dissatisfied and anxious French voters on the negative consequences of immigration and the destructive aspects of European regulation emanating from Brussels, Le Pen and her supporters are gaining traction in the polls. For many French, the status quo is simply not working. Despite the wave of optimism that brought Hollande to office 18 months ago as a replacement for his frenetic predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, little has occurred since the election to meaningfully slow or stop France's perceived decline.
At the heart of Hollande's unpopularity is a French economy no longer fit for purpose. High unemployment and anemic growth have turned more and more attention toward immigrants, who are believed to be taking jobs away from French citizens. This rhetoric is not only coming from the National Front. Even left-leaning members of Hollande's Cabinet are pointing fingers at foreigners as a way of explaining away their government's inability to make progress in addressing these problems.
Importantly, distrust of Brussels and concern over the effects of unrestricted immigration are not unique to France. In recent weeks, Le Pen has teamed up with the Dutch far right and its leader, Geert Wilders, to form a wider coalition of anti-EU groups in a number of countries. Since the global financial crisis demonstrated the weakness of European banks, as well as the flaws with the euro, European Union institutions previously beyond criticism have found themselves in the firing line. The long-standing consensus that the EU could bring economic growth and political stability through free trade, a single currency and open borders is being widely questioned.
By attacking globalization and its consequences, Le Pen is purportedly moving the National Front away from the type of racist demagoguery that has been at its core for several decades. Instead, the focus now is on protecting national sovereignty and limiting the encroachment of Brussels.
Britons, always more awkward Europeans than their Continental cousins, have been wrestling with these issues for some time now, and a split among those on the right into distinct pro- and anti-EU camps has become a recurring feature of British politics. Resentment toward Brussels eventually reached such a state in Britain that a new political party, the UK Independence Party, was launched to funnel this sentiment away from the center-right Conservative Party. Interestingly, however, UKIP has not joined the coalition with Le Pen, Wilders and the other anti-EU parties because of concerns over the racism that permeates many of these organizations. UKIP is more narrowly focused on exposing EU flaws and shifting sovereignty back to Britain, without being sullied by the far-right history and connotations these other parties bring with them.
With the level of Brussels-bashing that is taking place across Europe, it would be easy to forget that only last year, the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of the good work done to bring peace and stability to a continent that had seen years of bloody war during the past century. Unfortunately, the opinion of the selection committee in Norway, a country not even a member of the EU in its own right, is not universally held among the people who have to live their lives under Brussels' tsunami of rules and regulations.
Elections in May to the European Parliament will be key to establishing what real gains these various Euro-skeptic parties have made with voters. Local French elections in March will give Le Pen an early opportunity to see whether her party's newfound popularity can be turned into an effective electoral mandate.
By using inflammatory rhetoric to describe her country as being on the verge of a civil war, Le Pen has given voice to the large number of French people who are frustrated with their country's current predicament and worried about what is still to come. Until the Hollande government is better able to voice an alternative view of France's future, this vision of division and potential conflict will continue to build momentum.
Timothy Spangler is a writer and commentator who divides his time between Los Angeles and London. His radio show, "The Bigger Picture with Timothy Spangler," airs every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to midnight Pacific time on KRLA AM 870. To find out more about Timothy Spangler and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.