Nicolas Sarkozy’s Legitimisation of the Front National: Background and Perspectives

This article will be published in the final issue of this year or the first issue of next year of Patterns of Prejudice.

An electronic copy might be available earlier.

Many commentators saw in the ‘poor’ result achieved by Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2007 presidential elections the demise of the Front National. However, when asked by a journalist whether it was the end of her father’s political career, Marine Le Pen replied smiling: ‘I don’t think so. In any case, this is the victory of his ideas!’ In these question and answer lie the whole story of the Front National and its impact on mainstream politics in the past two decades. First, Le Pen’s defeat was exaggerated, the same way his victory had in 2002. In what was seen as the demise of the Front National, Le Pen managed to obtain almost 4 million votes despite the candidature of far right Philippe de Villiers and still ranked fourth in the tally. Furthermore, that Le Pen managed to retain these votes despite the adverse context was a victory in itself. The five years between the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections had indeed led to drastic changes in the way politics was done in France.

What is argued in this article is that the 2002 presidential elections did act as an ‘earthquake’ within French politics. However, this ‘earthquake’ was not so much triggered by a Jean-Marie Le Pen tsunami, but rather by a tidal wave of misinformation and misunderstanding of the real interests and novelty of the results of these elections. By concentrating on the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections, this article will highlight how this reaction led to the consecration of right wing populist politics best exemplified in the landslide election of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

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