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France's National Front Fades From Prominence


It was not that long ago when it seemed that the far right might come to power in France. But since National Front leader Marine Le Pen lost the presidential election to Emmanuel Macron last May, she and her party have largely disappeared from the political scene. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sent this report on what has become of Le Pen and her supporters.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The provincial town of Villers Cotterets, population 10,000, lies about 60 miles northeast of Paris. Marine Le Pen got one of her highest scores here last May. The French town is also one of a handful of municipalities now run by the National Front.

(Speaking French).

FRANCK BRIFFAUT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Mayor Franck Briffaut escorts me into his office. Briffaut was elected in 2014 on a wave of support for National Front candidates in regional elections. He does not see Le Pen's loss to Macron as a failure.

BRIFFAUT: (Through interpreter) We got the highest scores we have ever had. Everyone is taking our ideas. Our themes are no longer vilified and people realized we were right, for example, about the link between illegal immigration and terrorism.

BEARDSLEY: But since the loss in May, Le Pen has kept a low profile and her party has been plunged into internal discord and dissent.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: In early October, Le Pen reemerged for an interview on national television. She said, perhaps the party had not been ready for national leadership. She said, the National Front is in the process of renewing itself and would focus on local and regional politics.


MARINE LE PEN: (Through interpreter) But I think the French are going to realize that I was right about a lot of things. And everything that I warned about is starting to happen.

BEARDSLEY: Mayor Briffaut says the National Front is growing fast in small communities like his, attracting both conservative and left-wing working-class voters.

BRIFFAUT: (Through interpreter) Because the differences between right and left don't exist anymore, both sides propose the same failing solutions. Macron is for globalization and opening borders. We believe a strong nation state is the best way to respond to global challenges and protect people's customs, culture and identity.

BEARDSLEY: With the mainstream left and right now in tatters, there's a feeling among many French people that if Macron does not succeed, Le Pen could win next time around.



BEARDSLEY: Macron says his first task is to overhaul the French labor market and bring down the jobless rate. Stephane Wahnich lectures on the far right at the University of Paris-Est Créteil. He says the National Front's rise is not necessarily linked to unemployment.

STEPHANE WAHNICH: (Through interpreter) The link to the party's rise is with loss but not job loss. It's about people losing their identity and their bearings.

BEARDSLEY: Wahnich says for now, a majority of French voters are still wary of the National Front, but there's fertile ground for the party's ideas. In a bar back in Villers Cotterets, 42-year-old ambulance driver Claude Dubois is having a beer. Dubois says he began supporting the National Front three years ago because he's worried about the future for his children.

CLAUDE DUBOIS: (Through interpreter) It's false that the National Front is racist. It's simply defending France from, like, radicalization and Islamist extremism and such. And they want to put the French first instead of giving everything away to illegal immigrants.

BEARDSLEY: Dubois says Macron is taking France backward by opening borders to immigration and unfair competition that's gutting French industry. He says he has total confidence in Marine Le Pen, and he's waiting for her return. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Villers Cotterets. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.