In a further sign of the rise of the far right across Europe, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) has overtaken French president Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche! (LREM) party in a poll.
The Ifop poll of voting intentions for the May 2019 European Parliament elections showed the RN rising from 17 per cent at the end of August to 21 per cent now, moving ahead of the LREM on 20 per cent for the first time.
The RN’s 21 per cent, combined with the 7 per cent of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s Debout La France (Stand up France) party and one per cent each for Florian Philippot’s Les Patriotes and François Asselineau’s pro-“Frexit” Popular Republican Union gave far-right parties a combined 30 per cent total.
This was up five percentage points from 25 per cent of voting intentions at the end of August.
Sunday’s poll provides striking evidence that France has shifted towards the far right since Macron easily beat Le Pen, leading what was then known as the Front National, in the second round of voting in the 2017 French presidential election.
It also gives further cause to believe that the European Parliament elections in 2019 are shaping up to be a major battle between centrist, pro-EU parties such as Macron’s LREM, and far-right formations that want to stop immigration and globalisation.
The European elections will come after a year in which the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party came to be represented in all 16 of Germany’s state parliaments, and the far-right Sweden Democrats made significant gains in that country’s 2018 general election.
In Italy, a new far-right coalition took power at the end of May, offering plans for mass deportations of undocumented migrants, launching a “census” of the country’s Roma traveller population, and in October promising to make “ethnic” shops close at 9pm.
And in Hungary Viktor Orban, who has presented himself as a defender of Europe against Muslim migrants, won a third term in office as prime minister in an April 2018 election.
In France, although Macron beat Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election by 66 to 34 per cent, his victory margin was significantly slimmer than in 2002 when widespread horror at Marine’s father Jean-Marie making it to the second round produced a 82 to 18 per cent landslide for Jacques Chirac.
And since being elected president, Macron has been damaged by the brusque departure of two high-profile ministers, while a summer scandal over his bodyguard has combined with high unemployment and taxes to produce increasing discontent.
In a spate of recent polls, Mr Macron has dropped so sharply in popularity that he dipped even below his much-derided predecessor, the socialist François Hollande.