Although the party describes itself as a "mainstream right" organization , observers in the media describe the party as "far right or "extreme right". Both Le Pen and FN general delegate Bruno Gollnisch have been condemned sometimes for Holocaust denial or minimizing.
Other prominent members include:
Occasionally, Le Pen's leadership has been questioned. In a widely publicized move, Bruno Mégret and other major National Front members split away in 1998 to form a new party, the National Republican Movement (Mouvement national républicain - MNR), alleging that Le Pen's provocative comments and his management style were limiting the National Front to being a marginal opposition party, without any possibility of gaining power. This led to a major purge and reorganization of the leadership of the Front National. However, in view of the 2007 presidential election, Mégret has made an agreement with Le Pen in order to avoid division.
The party opposes immigration, particularly Muslim immigration from North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East. In a standardized pamphlet delivered to all French electors in the 1995 presidential election, Jean-Marie Le Pen proposed the "sending back" of "three million non-Europeans" out of France, by "humane and dignified means".
In the campaign for the 2002 French presidential election, the stress was more on issues of law and order. Recurrent National Front themes include tougher law enforcement, firm sentences for all crimes and the reinstatement of the death penalty.
The Front National regularly campaigns against the "establishment", which encompasses the other political parties and most journalists. Le Pen lumped all major parties (French Communist Party (PCF), French Socialist Party (PS), Union for French Democracy (UDF), Rally for the Republic (RPR)) into the "Gang of Four", an allusion to China's "Cultural Revolution". According to the Front National, the French right-wing parties are not true right-wing parties, and are almost indistinguishable from the "Socialo-Communist" left.
Political scientist Pierre-André Taguieff described the FN as "national-populism" as early as 1984. In 1988, René Rémond took the same epithet and spoke of a "resurgence of populism" (Notre siècle, 1988). René Rémond considers the FN as the main representative of the far-right family in France. However, Rémond believes that the FN has accepted the inheritance of the 1789 Revolution and is "included in the frame of representative democracy", which is disputed by Michel Winock and Pascal Perrineau (Histoire de l'extrême droite en France) who cites Le Pen's statements against the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as clear signs of opposition to the French Revolution. Winock also defines the FN as the conjunction of all far-right French traditions: the counter-revolutionaries, the pétainistes (collaborationists under Vichy France), fascists and members of the OAS terrorist group.
Elsewhere Pierre Milza and Guy Antonetti refuse to class the FN as a fascist party, while Michel Dobry, professor at the Sorbonne university (Paris-I), defines it as a party with fascist tendencies. Robert Paxton suggests that fascist ideology may come back under the guises of the FN.
The party didn't have any relevant electoral successes until the beginning of the 1980s, in part because of competition from the Parti des forces nouvelles (PFN), an off-shoot created in November 1974 from National Front members opposed to Le Pen. In 1974, Le Pen called for members of the Third Position Revolutionary Nationalist Groups (GNR), headed by François Duprat, to join the FN.
However, in 1983, Jean-Pierre Stirbois, then general secretary of the FN, gained one of the first victories for Le Pen's party, scoring 16.7% in the Dreux by-election. The FN then won the city council and deputy mayorship, amid rising unemployment. The victory was made possible by an electoral alliance with the conservative Rally for the Republic (RPR), headed by Jacques Chirac. The FN had passed alliances with other right-wing parties since 1977 and continued to do so unitl 1992. Finally, the RPR condemned them in September 1988, as did the Parti républicain in 1991. Regional alliances (Charles Millon, leader of La Droite) were then sometimes passed.
During the June 17, 1984 European elections, the party obtained 10 seats. The FN then gained 35 seats in the March 16, 1986 legislative elections, taking advantage of the new proportional ballot, which president François Mitterrand (PS) had imposed in order to moderate a foreseeable defeat by the right-wing RPR, headed by then mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac. The RPR won anyway, and Mitterrand nominated Chirac as Prime minister, setting up the first cohabitation between the two main political parties in France, the PS and the RPR, in the executive, since the 1958 founding of the Fifth Republic. Furthermore, some hard-liners in the FN spin-off to create the French and European Nationalist Party.
In 1988 Bruno Mégret became the general secretary of the FN, overshadowing Jean-Pierre Stirbois, who died the same year. Carl Lang and Bruno Gollnisch were then promoted by Mégret to senior levels within the party. Royalists such as Michel de Rostolan, Thibault de la Tocnaye and Olivier d'Ormesson also joined the FN in the 1980s, seeing in it a continuation of the Action Française royalist movement.
The FN collegial lists won three cities during the June 1995 municipal elections, all in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, in a political context of triangulaires ("triangulars," opposing a left-wing candidate to a conservative candidate and an FN candidate). The party has tended to cut back on social services for immigrants as well as cultural activities deemed "anti-family" or "multicultural." Spending has been redirected to the municipal police and other services.
Jacques Bompard, former member of the national direction of Occident and of OAS, was then elected mayor of Orange, one of the FN's major city, in 1995 (his list making a score of 33% at the first turn and 36% at the second, and re-elected in 2001. He then left the FN, to take membership in 2005 in Philippe de Villiers's Movement for France (MPF). Daniel Simonpieri won in Marignane, with 33% at the first turn and 37% at the second turn, and Jean-Marie Le Chevallier won in Toulon with 31% at the first turn and 37% at the second turn. Two years later, in 1997, Catherine Mégret, the spouse of then general delegate Bruno Mégret (who was ineligible) won at the first turn, with an absolute majority (52.48%) the partial municipal election of Vitrolles, Bouches-du-Rhône.
The FN's management of these towns became controversial, amid liberal economic policies (In Orange, Jacques Bompard reduced school spending by 50%, while in Vitrolles, lead by Catherine Mégret, 150 civil employees were fired, while the police force was expanded from 34 to 70 officers), corruption and even censorship in public libraries. In Vitrolles, the party sought to give 500 euros to the families of each French baby born (in accordance to the FN's policy of "national preference" (préférence nationale). The purpose was to allow money to French citizens only but she was unable to do so for constitutional reasons.
Some of these mayors are still very popular in their cities. For example, Jacques Bompard has been re-elected twice (in 2001 and 2008) with more than 60% of the votes at the first turn. Bompard was however expelled from the FN in 2005, and, along with Marie-Christine Bignon, FN mayor of Chauffailles, he joined Philippe de Villiers' Mouvement pour la France (MPF) . Since 2005, the FN has therefore lost control of all municipalities it had won .
Mégret thereafter quit the FN in December 1998, and founded, in 1999, the National Republican Movement (MNR), along with Serge Martinez (vice-chairman), Jean-Yves Le Gallou (executive director and member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 1999) and Franck Timmermans (secretary-general). Other notable members of the party included Jean Haudry, Pierre Vial, Jean-Claude Bardet, Xavier Guillemot, Christian Bouchet (leader of Unité Radicale, a Third Position movement) and Maxime Brunerie (author of the attempted assassination of Chirac in 2002, which lead to the dissolving of Unité Radicale).
The "Megretist crisis" led to an Ubuesque situation, in which Le Pen and Mégret fought for the legal right to use the name "Front National." Just before Mégret filed with the sous-préfecture of Boulogne-Billancourt the name "Front national - Mouvement national" (cancelled by the courts in May 1999), Le Pen filed (on January 27 1999) articles for the creation of an association "Front national pour l'unité française" (National Front for French Unity).
However, both figures were outraced by the legal owner of the appellation "Front national," which was the name of a resistance, and therefore anti-fascist movement created in 1941 by Communists, and which also gathered Catholics and religious people. Along with René Roussel, currently responsible for the legacy of the Resistant Front National, the satiric weekly Charlie Hebdo deposed the FN name to the INPI (Institut national de la propriété industrielle, the institute in charge of trademarks) on December 18 1998 (explaining why neither the FN nor the MNR could simply call themselves "Front National"), with the intention of giving the name back to its original owners. Thus, legally, the FN is not named "Front National," an appellation reserved to the original Front National. At the Liberation, after the deportation and death of many of the members of the clandestine direction, the FN resistant movement counted as members such figures as Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Pierre Villon, Henri Wallon, Laurent Casanova, François Mauriac and Louis Aragon. .
In the 2002 presidential election', many commentators were shocked when Jean-Marie Le Pen gained the second highest number of votes, and thus entered the second round of voting. Almost all had expected the second ballot to be between Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin (the Socialist candidate). This result came after the election campaign had increasingly focused on law and order issues, with some particularly striking cases of juvenile delinquency catching the attention of the media, and low voter turnout. Furthermore, Jospin had been weakened by multiple candidacies from the left-wing of the political spectrum. The election brought the two-round voting system into question as well as raising concerns about apathy and the way in which the left had become so divided. After huge demonstrations against the FN, Chirac went on to win the presidency in an overwhelming landslide (83% of the vote), aided by ubiquitous support in the media and academia, while Le Pen's constituency was either ridiculed or ignored by the French press. Jospin himself urged voters to choose "the lesser of two evils". The day of the election, France's most popular national newspaper, Le Monde, featured a front page article entitled "Chirac, bien sûr" ("Chirac, of course").
A year after the 2002 presidential election, in which Le Pen succeeded in getting in to the second round against Jacques Chirac, Le Pen appointed his daughter, Marine Le Pen, to the executive of the party.
In 2004, opponents of Le Pen in the executive such as Jacques Bompard, mayor of Orange, the largest town administrated by the FN, and Marie-France Stirbois (who particularly opposed Marine Le Pen's nomination, which they saw as the establishment of a "Le Pen dynasty") were steered away from the center of power. Along with Catholic traditionalist Bernard Anthony, Jacques Bompard organized a rival summer university in 2004 . Bompard was finally expelled from the FN in 2005 , and thereafter joined Philippe de Villiers' Movement for France (MPF), a reactionary party which has similar ideas to the FN and a similar voting base, and hence represented the FN's main rival for the 2007 presidential and legislative elections. Several former FN members have joined it, including the FN's only two mayors.
Carl Lang tried to bring former FN members back into the FN, by inviting in 2001 members disappointed in the MNR to rejoin the FN. The MNR, however, has allied itself with the FN with an eye to the 2007 presidential election (and, even more, of the legislative elections), thus making de Villier's MPF the main competition.
In the 10 and 17 June 2007 elections, the party won no seats. The party's 4.29% represented one of its lowest scores since the party's creation, and only one candidate- Le Pen's daughter Marine Le Pen in the Pas de Calais department reached the runoff (she was defeated by the Socialist incumbent).
These electoral defeats partly accounted for the FN's financial problems. Le Pen announced, in 2007 and 2008, the sell of the FN headquarters in Saint-Cloud, Le Paquebot (as well as of his personal armoured car, a Peugeot 205, sold on E-bay ). 20 permanent employees of the FN were also dismissed in 2008, also for economical reasons .
Bruno Gollnisch, MEP and leader of the European parliamentary group Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty since its creation in early January 2007, was condemned the same month to three months of prison on probation and 55,000 Euros in damages and interest by Lyon's tribunal correctionnel for the "offense of verbal contestation of the existence of crimes against humanity, ." Gollnisch had carried out the incriminated verbal contestation on October 11 2004, by declaring:
Some FN activists have been prosecuted for illegal acts : on May 1 1995, Brahim Bouraam was pushed into the Seine River by four FN activists . In December 1997, skinhead David Beaune was judged in Le Havre for the death of Imad Bouhoud . In 1998, Ibrahim Ali, a 17-year-old Frenchman with Comorian origins, was shot dead by three FN billstickers, members of the FN's militia, the Department of Protection-Security (DPS) (15 years, 10 years and 2 years of prison for the group) .
|Election year||# of 1st round votes||% of 1st round vote||# of 2nd round votes||% of 2nd round vote||# of seats|
|Election year||Candidate||# of 1st round votes||% of 1st round vote||# of 2nd round votes||% of 2nd round vote|
|1974||Jean-Marie Le Pen||190,921||0.8%||—||—|
|1988||Jean-Marie Le Pen||4,376,742||14.5%||—||—|
|1995||Jean-Marie Le Pen||4,571,138||15.0%||—||—|
|2002||Jean-Marie Le Pen||4,805,307||16.86%||5,525,906||17.79%|
|2007||Jean-Marie Le Pen||3,835,029||10.44%||—||—|
|Election year||# of total votes||% of overall vote||# of seats won|