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Sacré Bleu! French far right sweeps to victory in local election

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Has the EU given French far right movements a boost. Here members of the “Renouveau Francais” nationalist group take part in a demonstration in Paris on May 12, 2013. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

France’s Front National swept to victory over the country’s mainstream centre-right opposition in a closely watched local election on Sunday in a vote widely seen as presaging big advances by the far-right party in next year’s European and municipal elections.

In the decisive second round of the poll for a departmental council seat representing Brignoles, a town in the south of France, the FN candidate comfortably defeated his rival from the UMP, the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, by 54 per cent to 46 per cent.

The knockout blow came despite calls from President François Hollande’s Socialist party for its supporters and other leftist voters to rally behind the UMP candidate in a bid to block the FN. The left’s candidate in the poll, the incumbent Communist, was easily knocked out in the first round of the election last weekend.

Marine Le Pen, FN leader, called the vote “a great victory”. She cautioned that it was only a local by-election, but added: “This shows a desire for change among the French people, who are making their voices heard, who are mobilising. It augurs towns gained and hundreds, maybe thousands of municipal councillors [for the FN in next March’s local elections].’

The FN, riding on a wave of recession-fuelled disaffection with the two mainstream parties, is mounting its biggest campaign to date to make gains in both the local elections and the European elections that follow in May.

Last week an opinion poll for the first time put the FN ahead in the running for the European poll, with 24 per cent backing the party, giving it a two-point lead over the UMP and five points over the Socialist party.

Manuel Valls, the interior minister, told the Financial Times in an interview last week, that it was possible the FN would emerge as the leading party in the European elections.

Ms Le Pen, a charismatic figure, is seeking to take advantage of the record low popularity of Mr Hollande – a poll on Sunday showed his approval rating at 26 per cent – and deep national anxiety over high unemployment and an economy struggling to emerge from recession.

Jean-Francois Copé, who is currently president of the UMP, blamed the FN victory in Brignoles on the “disastrous” leadership of country by the left.

But the FN has also taken advantage of disarray within the UMP over the leadership of the party.

Mr Sarkozy has signalled he is sizing up a return following his defeat by Mr Hollande last year, but a number of other senior figures, notably his former prime minister François Fillon, are jostling him for supremacy.

The FN victory also owed much to the breakdown of the “republican front”, a previously shared willingness of the UMP and Socialist party to back each other in straight fights with the far-right. The UMP has abandoned the principal and leftist voters also appear increasingly reluctant to follow it, despite appeals from socialist leaders.

The first secretary of the Socialist party, Harlem Desir, said the Brignoles result showed the “overwhelming necessity for the left to unite” for the municipal elections.

FT.com

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