Learning from Le Pen

Article published on May 14, 2004
community published
Article published on May 14, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

European politicians have much to learn from the electoral campaigns of public enemy No. 1, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Particularly for the European parliamentary elections this June 10-13.

Le Pen is no shrinking violet. He almost seems to enjoy the scandalised reactions of political observers. Last week, café babel representatives were in Prague for a conference, organised in co-operation with the Czech organisation AMO, and at Ruzyne airport they were astounded by the protests which routinely accompany the French National Front leader’s every move. An identical scene had taken place a few days beforehand in the UK where Le Pen had travelled to in support of the European election candidates of the British National Party, led by Nick Griffin.

If Jean-Marie wants to act European…

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to define Le Pen’s behaviour as schizophrenic. Le Pen is the most ‘European’ nationalist leader in the field. He goes from one city to another across the continent, displaying a complete lack of respect for the rules and controls concerning immigration. He is a hot topic for the media in all parts of the continent. If he sneezes in Paris, it provokes an editorial in the Italian daily La Reppublica and a special mention in the German weekly Die Zeit. In Europe, Le Pen has been giving vent to an ideology which has been ostracised in France, the mother country, today more than ever before. Meanwhile, in new Europe, Eurosceptic and populist movements seem to be on the rise.

Political correctness is killing Europe

And while Europeans political elites sweep the problem under the carpet and hope we won’t notice, Le Pen is becoming a European scandal par excellence. It will not be the fault of European citizens if the recent federalist initiative by Commission President Romano Prodi, Francois Bayrou and Graham Watson is perceived as one of the usual under-the-table trade-offs between national parties who are incapable of reaching any kind of consensus on European integration.

Europe and federalism are not ‘difficult’ issues and the lack of consensus on these questions does not constitute a need for a new parliamentary group. Rather, politicians need to take a leaf out of Le Pen’s book and use rousing oratory to get their opposing views across. They need to cross borders three times a day, make people admire and challenge them, break down the communication barriers of ‘political correctness’, act as if what might be already exists: the European public arena. Creating interest, not indifference. Betting on the promises of transnational democracy against the fear of populist demagoguery. In short, Prodi, Giscard, and all the other Europeans political elites need to discover that the Europe they are pushing for already exists; a Europe made up of intelligent individuals, not just the tired old parties who are drawing up the European constitution.

European democracy cannot be constructed by placating newspapers and lesser politicians but by stimulating – with scandals too – the conscience and intelligence of the public. For the good of Europe, it would be nice if people could learn from Jean-Marie Le Pen. Before June 13 if possible.

Published May 13 2004 in the section Caffeine