Europe’s Crisis on the Right -- and of the Left

LONDON: French politics has been rocked to its foundations by the spectre of a rapprochement between its traditional conservative parties and the ultra-right-wing Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Across Europe, mainstream conservatives will be watching this dance nervously over the coming weeks and months. For French conservatives are not alone in fearing that bumptious nationalist/anti-European movements are outflanking them on the right.

With regular scores of 14-15% of the national vote, the xenophobic and anti-European Front National has become a durable factor of French politics. Until now, it has been denied an effective national political role, because it has been quarantined by respectable conservative parties, who enforced a generally effective taboo against dealing with the Front.

That taboo disintegrated after the March regional elections in France. At first, the Socialists and their allies seemed to have done rather well, by pulling ahead in 10 of the 21 regions, compared with seven where the conventional right were ahead, and four where the result was neck-and-neck. Uproar broke out when five local conservative barons sought to hang onto control of their regions by accepting the National Front’s support.

All five were immediately suspended by their national party headquarters. Too late, the damage was done. The taboo against collaboration with the National Front was officially reaffirmed, but in reality it has been seriously weakened.