France’s Populists

Visiting Marine Le Pen's Strongholds

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If French voters choose far-right candidate Marine Le Pen as their new president, it could jeopardize the European Union’s future as she wants to pull France out of the euro zone and EU.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The first round of the French presidential elections will be held April 23. The second round, featuring just the two most popular candidates, will be held May 7.
    • Currently Marine Le Pen is polling at around 23 percent, around the same as independent candidate Emmanuel Macron. In the run-off Mr. Macron is expected to win against Ms. Le Pen though.
    • Recently Ms. Le Pen has come in for even more criticism because of statements she made about France’s behavior during World War II.
  • Audio

    Audio

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dpa-Story – Frankreich-Wahl
Supporters of Marine Le Pen and her Front National party at a rally in Lille in early 2017. Source: Sebastian Kunigkeit/DPA

Steve Briois sits in a café on Hénin-Beaumont’s market square, nursing a glass of wine. He squints in the bright sun, exuding an air of smug satisfaction. “Marine Le Pen had 35 percent of the votes here five years ago. This election she’ll get over 50 percent,” he says confidently.

The 44-year-old Front National member has been mayor of the small town in the north of France for three years. It is one of the strongest bastions of far right extremism in France: 28 of the 35 members of the town council are members of Le Pen’s party, the Front National, or FN. Socialists dominated the whole region for years. But when their cronyism became unbearable – Mr. Briois’ Socialist predecessor traded his mayoral office for a prison cell – the voters searched for an alternative and found it in the FN.

Conditions there were perfect for the populists. The coal mines were dying, industry was at a standstill and the textile industry had shifted oversees. That is even though the greater region of Hauts-de-France is a hub for logistics. The Socialists in the north of France neglected to engage in forward planning and today, 20 percent of the population of the départements – the French term for a municipality between the larger administrative regions and the smaller “communes” – around Hénin-Beaumont live below the poverty threshold.

That is a record for mainland France. Now the state is paying the price for that, in the form of massive gains in the number of votes for the far right.

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