The chief political aide of Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party and candidate for the French presidential election, has just been put under investigation by French magistrates. If the charges are correct, the National Front leader has been cheating on European Parliament expenses to pay her bodyguard and her chief political aide for jobs they didn’t do.
This may sound strange. The National Front, like other European far-right parties, is virulently hostile to the European Union — so why is it able to use European Union resources to build itself up? Yet as we discuss in a new research article for the Review of International Political Economy, the National Front is far from unique.
Far-right parties hate the European Union — yet without it, many of them would have died
Right-wing populists like the National Front typically hate the European Union. They advocate radical changes to the European Union — or outright withdrawal from it. Yet without the support of the European Union, they almost certainly would have a far weaker voice in national politics. Many far-right parties rely on Europe both for elected positions and for money.
The first key resource that Europe offers to far-right parties is the chance to get elected. Far-right parties often have a tough time getting launched into politics. They are not part of the political mainstream, which means that they may face a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. People are unlikely to vote for these parties, even if they agree with some of the parties’ positions, because they don’t know much about them, and likely think the parties don’t have any real chance of success.
European Parliament elections have boosted far-right parties like the National Front and the UK Independence Party. European voters don’t take European Parliament elections very seriously, treating them as what political scientists call “second-order elections.” This means that voters are more willing to use their European Parliament votes to protest the government and the political mainstream, making it more likely that they will vote for fringe parties, giving these parties greater credibility. When the National Front won a third of France’s seats in the European Parliament elections in 2014, it sent shock waves through France and Europe.