France's far right gains big in polls – with key caveats

On the heels of a Swiss referendum to restrict immigration, Marine Le Pen's party gets another jump in approval. But a closer look is warranted.

BENOIT TESSIER
Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far right National Front party, met with the media recently. A new poll indicates that 34 percent of French support the party's principles.

The Swiss decision to cap immigration from European Union nations has been viewed as a bellwether for upcoming EU parliamentary elections. And it comes just as a new poll in France shows that more than a third of the country supports the ideas that drive Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN) – a party whose platform includes restricting immigration.

But a closer look at the poll’s results show that the principles communicated by the victory in Switzerland’s referendum Sunday don’t resonate as much as Europe’s mainstream might think.

Far-right parties across Europe are using the Swiss results to market their own platforms, reminding voters that they too are against mass migration. Ms. Le Pen praised the Swiss people’s “lucidity,” tweeting approvingly: "Swiss referendum: Managing immigration is a national priority – the program of the National Front.”

The FN is slated to win big not only in May at the EU polls, but during March local elections as well – a prospect underscored by the new poll, which was carried out by TNS Sofres. Published in Wednesday’s Le Monde, it reveals that 34 percent of respondents say they adhere to the ideas of the FN. That is a sharp rise from 22 percent who backed the FN's platform in 2011.

But voters reject two cornerstones of Le Pen's policies: 64 percent oppose her call to leave the euro currency. And another 72 percent are opposed to plans to have preferential treatment for French employees over foreigners – the central message that the Swiss communicated to the rest of Europe.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, upon hearing the results from Switzerland, called it bad news “both for Europe and the Swiss.” For one thing, the EU will now have to renegotiate its various treaties with Switzerland, which doesn’t belong to the 28-member bloc.

But it could become good news, at least for those on the side of European integration, encouraging robust debate about the merits or demerits of closed doors. Europe might also have an upper hand in renegotiating with Switzerland, as many would argue that the Swiss need the EU more than vice-versa. That could set a tougher standard for negotiations with other countries questioning their relationship with the EU, namely, Britain.

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