Although stigmatisation of foreigners has been the mainspring of the National Front since its foundation, the far-right party is now trying to present itself as “the voice of the people” and defender of the weak by investing in economic and social issues. The inability of successive governments to provide convincing answers to rising inequalities, lack of social mobility and the effects of globalisation on employment and skills has undoubtedly contributed to the progress of the FN vote among the working classes: for example, in the European elections of 2014, it attracted 43% of blue-collar and 38% of white-collar votes.
However, the programme of Marine Le Pen does not defend the most disadvantaged. Many of her economic and social proposals run directly against their interests. The dejeunity of her policies, indeed her almost total silence, on several key issues in the fight against inequalities, notably education and training, taxation, environmental issues, women’s rights, access to health or the consequences of an exit from the euro, raise seriously doubts about her real will and ability to act on behalf of the least well-off.
Abolition of the uniform secondary school system
Exit from the euro and the European Union, the cornerstone of the FN project, would, as we know, have very unfavourable effects on the purchasing power of the working classes. Both inflation and the increase in taxes and tariffs would penalise the purchasing power of modest incomes, a large part of which is devoted to buying essential imported products (such as energy, foodstuffs and clothing). The media’s emphasis on the exit from the euro also obscures other essential points of her programme, which it seems important to stress here.
Thus other proposals of the FN or the effective policy vacuum on major subjects make it clear that the reduction of inequalities is not really its priority. Education is a good example. On this subject, the Front National’s programme is minuscule, and the only precise measures envisaged, such as the abolition of the uniform secondary school system and restoration of apprenticeships at 14, tend to reinforce social stagnation in favour of families with higher cultural and financial capital. By contrast, an ambitious policy would require a massive investment from early childhood to reduce social inequalities.
Tax exemption of giving
Its position on tax exemption of giving is another example: the FN proposes to increase the amount of non-taxed gifts from 50,000 to 100,000 euros every five years per parent and per child, a measure that does not benefit the poorest. The increase in the family quotient ceiling included in the programme is in line with this, since this measure provides for a tax reduction that increases as families become more numerous and have higher income.
On health, family and women’s rights, the proposals of the FN are no more favourable to the least well-off. The FN claims to be fighting against medical deserts, but the envisaged increase in the numerus clausus does not solve this problem, because, even if more numerous, doctors will still be able to work in the region of their choice (and so in the more attractive regions). While the FN has muted its usual positions on the family and women’s rights during the campaign, it remains an extremely conservative party and the measures it supports (maternal wage, no development of custodial policies, an end to the sharing of parental leave between the two parents) imply a return of women to the home and would be particularly harmful to women from poorer backgrounds. As for abortion, even if Marine Le Pen now defends its maintenance, the divergences within the party suggest that the issue of its exclusion from social state support, which would induce a terrible inequality of access according to the social environment, could reappear. So what would be the actual policy of the FN if it acceded to the presidency of the Republic?
These disparate issues illustrate the extent to which the FN is using populist arguments by proposing measures that will contribute to reinforcing social stagnation. In addition, a further point of concern is the alleged costing of the FN programme. Whereas the Front boasted in 2012 of the merits of balanced budgets (based on the much criticised golden rule), the 2017 programme has no clear budgetary resolution. It merely invokes miraculous revenues such as those related to the supposed cost of immigration for public finances, which it estimates at tens of billions of euros, an amount totally uncorrelated with all serious existing figures. Other revenues, equally fantastic, would supposedly be derived from the introduction of customs duties, the exit from the euro and Europe, exclusion of foreigners living in France from access to health, education and the social minima and a fight against “social” fraud on a largely fantasised scale.
How can one still believe, after reading the above, that the party of Marine Le Pen would, as it claims, be working for the most deprived?
Tribune of the Ecolinks group, a collective of left-oriented economics researchers and teachers.
Ecolinks recently published Small anti-FN economic manual, Editions Le Cavalier Bleu (2017), with a preface by the economist Thomas Piketty.
Photo: Guillaume Destombes / Shutterstock.com