Bertrand Pinon and Baptiste Pace, AFP, December 2, 2015
France’s far-right National Front (FN) appears to be on course for an historic breakthrough in regional elections this weekend, with the country still traumatised by last month’s Paris terror attacks.
The party’s leader Marine Le Pen looks set to take the former Socialist heartland in the economically depressed northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, while her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen is ahead in the race for the vast southeastern region that includes the French Riviera.
The anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant FN–which has never before controlled a region–has been climbing in the polls since 130 people were killed by jihadist gunmen and bombers in Paris on November 13.
With the FN’s support soaring to between 27 and 30 percent across the country, the party is also in a close fight with the traditional right for the northwestern region of Normandy and Burgundy and Franche-Comte in the east.
Opinion polls since the Paris attacks have shown the Front appear to be benefiting, particularly from the revelation that two of the suicide bombers slipped into Europe through Greece with a wave of migrants over the summer.
“The National Front have benefited from the attacks with the message, ‘We told you so,” said Jean-Francois Doridot, of the polling company Ipsos.
In the wake of the carnage, the approval ratings of the Socialist President Francois Hollande have surged up to around 50 percent, the highest since shortly after his election in 2012.
But the credit the public are giving Hollande for his hardline approach since the carnage has not helped his party.
While the Socialists have played the national unity card after the attacks, France’s stubbornly high unemployment rate of 10.8 percent is hurting them on the doorsteps.
The party won control of all but one of the regions in historic gains in 2010, but may be left holding only three after the second round of voting on December 13.
Polls put them on 22 to 26 percent in the first round ballot, but much will depend on whether they can strike deals with the right-wing Republicans to keep the FN out.