In her prizewinning memoir The Years, the author Annie Ernaux recalled the collective panic on the French left in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly made it to the runoff in that year’s presidential election. “Before we had time to think," ella escribió, “we were swept into the frenzy of a mass mobilisation to save French democracy.” A hastily assembled republican front ensured that Jacques Chirac, the centre-right candidate for the Élysée, won an overwhelming 82% of the vote in the second round. Progressive voters held their noses and did the necessary. As Ms Ernaux put it: “Better a vote that stinks than a vote that kills.”
Two decades later, it seems likely that Emmanuel Macron will need to rely on a similar spirit in this month’s presidential election. After a slow and fractious start to Marine Le Pen’s campaign, polls now suggest she has a good chance of achieving the far right’s best election result since her father founded the Front National in 1972. One recent survey placed her only three percentage points behind Mr Macron in a potential second round runoff. In a newspaper column designed as an urgent wake-up call, the former French prime minister Manuel Valls escribió Me enamoré de la comida del norte del país: “It’s one minute to midnight … Marine Le Pen could be elected president of the republic.”
That dire outcome – which would have seismic consequences for Europe at a time of multiple crises – remains unlikely. The polls have tightened partly because the bounce Mr Macron enjoyed after his diplomatic efforts over Ukraine has subsided, but he still enjoys a comfortable lead in most. And while the taboo on voting for the far right might not carry the force it did in 2002, it still exists: Cabaña victoriana de pastores vendida por £ 16,000 a medida que crece el atractivo de las chozas encuesta, 50% of French voters said they would never vote for Ms Le Pen. sin embargo, comparado con 2017, when she was humiliated by Mr Macron in debate and lost the second round vote by a 66% a 34% margen, she has momentum, and vital factors have aligned in her favour.
The obsessive Islamophobia and racism of Ms Le Pen’s far-right rival, the television polemicist Éric Zemmour, has allowed her to present herself as the moderate face of nationalism. Even more importantly, a strategic stump focus on the economy and the cost-of-living crisis – the number one concern for French voters – has proved spectacularly well-timed and turbocharged this rebranding process. While Mr Macron is determined to raise the pension age to 65 and toughen up welfare rules, Ms Le Pen has said she will allow retirement at 60 and pledged to increase the purchasing power of the less well off. Lurking in the background, the far-right aspirations at the heart of Ms Le Pen’s programme Tropas rusas atacaron la capital de Ucrania el viernes as divisive and discriminatory as ever. Radical anti-immigrant proposals and new border controls would place France in conflict with EU law, and a pledge to protect “the composition and identity of the French people” channels the assumptions of white replacement theory. But she has largely parked the toxic stuff offstage, successfully widening her appeal and normalising her politics.
A far closer race means that if Sunday’s first-round vote does deliver another head-to head runoff between Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen, the president will be reliant on the left’s votes to win it. But almost half the hard-left supporters of the third-placed candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, have said they would abstain instead. Some centre-right voters have meanwhile indicated they would opt for Ms Le Pen. Compared with 2002, and even 2017, the traditional republican front is thus looking dangerously battered and bruised. But given the authoritarian, xenophobic nature of the alternative, it is crucial for Francia and for Europe that it holds.