On May 7, 2017, France elected former French Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry Emmanuel Macron, over National Front Party President Marine Le Pen to serve as the next President of France. Macron, founder of his party, En Marche!, stood out in the election as a centrist and liberal, a strong contrast to his opponent Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right party.
Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the National Front party and is notorious for his anti-semitic beliefs. While leader of the party, Jean-Marie proposed deporting three million immigrants, and denied the existence of the Holocaust. Le Pen eventually expelled her father from the party for his controversial statements, and steered the party away from anti-semitism. The French election caught the world’s eye as many claimed it could determine the future of the European Union. The United Kingdom, in 2016, voted to leave the EU, a decision Le Pen strongly agreed with. If she were elected as President, Le Pen stated that she would withdraw France from the “eurozone” and implement a new currency for the country, and while she didn’t want a full “Frexit,” she suggested to negotiate to restore French sovereignty under the EU.
However, although President-elect Macron is a strong supporter of the EU, it is worth understanding why such anti-EU sentiment is growing in Europe.
Spencer Rosen ’18, a student from London, responded to this sentiment, stating, “Brexit was based on anti-immigration. People are playing off the fear of islamic radicalism, and people have seen incidents in Sweden, or France, or even in the UK. People are equating radicalists with immigrants.”
Anti-immigration ideology dominated other recent European elections. During March 2017, Geert Wilders gained popularity in the Dutch election with anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant rhetoric, proposing policies such as paying Muslim residents to leave the country. Wilders proposed leaving the EU in order to ensure less immigration. A similar shift was present in Denmark, where the New Right party proposed leaving the EU to further limit immigration.
“It’s becoming a popular way for politicians to get new votes,” observed Angel Paes ’17, a Spanish post-graduate student. “They want to stop Syrian refugees because of a few uncorrelated incidents…They don’t want new people in their country.”
Noah Lang ’18, also from Spain, described how the EU is advantageous from an economic point of view: “There is a ridiculous amount of corruption… Because of this, Spain benefits from there being an EU.”
Paes elaborated, “Some ‘populists’ in Spain, they wanted to leave the EU, because of the economics and debt. Now it’s all about immigration, not economics.”
While both Le Pen and Wilders lost their elections, their ideologies still play a significant role in European politics, while the UK is still on track to leave the EU. Paes described the impact of shifting voter demographics, stating, “I think in the future Europe will become very conservative, very anti-immigrant. People don’t know the power they have, [so] they are just voting on impulses.”
However, Rosen holds a more hopeful stance: “I see the EU in 15 years being stronger than it has been in the last 15 years. I believe that my generation believes firmly in Europe, and is going to restore the power of the EU.”