Rural France Votes Far Right to Stop Crime Before It Starts
A RESTAURANT owner in downtown Mulhouse breaks away from his grill to make a point about his city in northeastern France.Skip to next paragraph
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''Look out at that street,'' he says. ''I see drugs, prostitution, 25-year-olds driving cars that cost 35,000 francs [$7,320]. How do they get the money? They don't talk like us. If you ask them to name French authors, they can't give you any. I can't even hire North Africans. I serve Alsatian food here. [Muslims] don't eat pork. What am I supposed to do? Serve shish-kebab and Coca-Cola? I believe in modernity, but enough is enough.''
In the past, such views might have been dismissed by the nation's leading political parties as simply racist or as an isolated response to urban blight.
But even here in Alsace, one of the most prosperous regions in France, the conviction is growing that the country has too many foreigners and that borders should be closed. The outcome of this debate over immigrants could show whether national leaders can restore public confidence in European union and open borders.
Alsace has had a long tradition of openness to outsiders. Some 60,000 Alsatians cross the border every day to work in Switzerland or Germany. More than a third of its industrial jobs are created by foreign investors, and 97 percent of the region's youths speak three languages. In 1992, 65 percent of Alsatians - the highest percentage in France - endorsed the Maastricht Treaty, which laid out a blueprint for deeper European integration.
Yet this year, the region's voters handed presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right-wing National Front party, his highest score in France. One in 4 voters in Alsace backed Mr. Le Pen's calls to close French borders and expel immigrants. Regional National Front candidates also made gains in June's local elections.
''We're very concerned [about the National Front vote] because it goes against what we've always said about the region, that it's open to the exterior,'' says Sabine Coquelet, a spokeswoman for the Alsace Development Agency.
French observers see the Alsace vote as significant. ''All the other trends - such as the growth of National Front voters among working-class voters and the unemployed - were known before,'' says Nonna Mayor, research director with the Paris-based Center for the Study of French Political Life. ''What's new in this year's vote is the party's support in Alsace.''
Regional activists wondered at the origins of a protest vote in small, quiet towns that seem to have nothing much to protest. ''Is there a single rational reason to choose the theses of Le Pen at 46.25 percent in a rural community with 96 voters?,'' wrote Jean-Paul Gutfreund, secretary-general of the CFDT trade union in a letter to the Regional Council after the presidential vote.
Catherine Trautmann, Socialist mayor of Strasbourg, the region's largest city, says the only way to fight the National Front is by refusing to legitimize the party. She denied Le Pen a municipal hall for a rally during his presidential campaign despite court sanctions.