Recent local and town elections in France gave the French a chance to show their views and opinions on President Hollande and the Socialist government in France, formerly led by Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault.
The result was unsurprising. President Hollande currently enjoys very low approval ratings and support from the French, and is extremely unpopular. Indeed, many in France remember fondly the days of Nicolas Sarkozy, who was never the most popular of French leaders himself.
The results were quite telling, and will give the political commentators and political parties much to think about. Many Socialist towns fell to other parties- in particular the right wing Union pour un Movemement Populaire (UMP). Amidst the cities and towns captured by the UMP were key areas such as Toulouse, Quimper, Limoges, Saint- Etienne, Reims, Toulouse and several districts in Marseilles. Paris remained in Socialist control; but Paris is a case apart, similar to London. Indeed, while London has the colourful Boris Johnson as its Mayor, Paris will now see its first female Mayor in Socialist Anne Hildago.
The biggest winner overall, though, was the Front National (National Front, or FN). Although not a numerical victory- that clearly went to the UMP- the FN won a decisive victory in other ways. For a party who is to France what the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP; a right wing political group) is to the UK, to suddenly win local towns shows just how powerful and influential they have become, and that the FN is now a front line force in French politics. The scattered nature of the 14 FN controlled towns, from Henin- Beaumont in the north, Beziers in the southwest and Frejus on the Riviera, shows just how varied the FN’s supporters are, and how their supporters cross demographics.
Led since 2011 by Marine le Pin, carrying on her father Jean Marie le Pin’s political legacy, the FN is strictly protectionist and right wing. Amidst their stated manifesto goals is a zero tolerance approach to law and order and increased economic protectionism. Among their ambitions and goals is to tackle and address rising immigration numbers in France; this is a goal shared by UKIP in the UK. The Front National is very much the greatest political force when it comes to right wing French nationalism.
It is the matter of the FN’s immigration policies that cause human rights concerns. Like many right wing or nationalist parties across Europe, the FN is critical of the amount of foreigners arriving in France each year, both legally and illegally. If not totally anti-immigration, many of the FN’s policies are against immigration, or concerned with controlling immigration closely, and actively reducing the numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers to France. The same can also be said of UKIP’s policies regarding immigration here in the UK.
In immigration and human rights arenas, questions are being asked as regards France’s treatment of asylum seekers. The spotlight is slowly being brought to bear on existing French immigration policies and procedures.
Asylum seekers, under conventions such as Dublin II, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, the EU Convention on Human Rights, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, have the right to have their case heard, and have undoubted legal rights and standing. Indeed, in any democracy that operates and champions the rule of law (as France does), and embodies a sense of fairness and equal treatment for all, morally asylum seekers have rights, and the chance to state their case, and to have their story heard and judged upon. Whilst that is on-going, they have the right, both morally and at law, to certain standards of treatment.
It must be admitted that any shortcomings in the French system are not deliberate. Given the troubles in North Africa and the Middle East, many thousands are making their way to Northern Europe in search of a better life. Many are descending on France, and demanding fair treatment, rights, and the opportunity to start afresh. It is impossible to treat such a volume of asylum seekers with the same high standards of dignity and decency. The perception of such refugees in the popular press and amongst ordinary citizens is also often coloured by prejudice and a lack of understanding. It must be emphasised that unfortunately this attitude is becoming widespread across Europe. Italy has been roundly condemned for its mistreatment of asylum seekers, as has Greece. Even in stable Austria, similar issues are beginning to arise. In the UK, immigration policies and policy makers have also been regularly criticised.
It is not just the policy makers. Quite often it is the enforcers of immigration policy, the police, the border agency guards, the immigration officials and caseworkers, who, by accident or design, allow certain abuses to happen, or do not do what is expected and required for the asylum seekers in detention.
In a country which already has a degree of popular prejudice against immigrants, and a system which is being exposed as flawed, having the Front National gain in power, influence and popularity is hardly an advancement in human rights.
That in itself is a great shame. In the 1700′s, the people of France rose up against an unpopular Bourbon monarchy, and installed a revolutionary, socialist government of the people, for the people (to borrow from the United States). The ‘droits de l’homme’ (the rights of man) was the rallying call of the French Revolution, and was enshrined in the ‘déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen’ (the rights of man and the citizen, the French Bill of Rights). Indeed, human rights and the creation of the ECHR in the 20th century can be greatly attributed to French efforts.
With France having contributed so much to the advancement of human rights, it would be a shame for the Front National, if they continue to gain in power and influence, to deny some the very human rights which is part of France’s heritage which they seek to restore.
The irony is that part of those human rights involves the citizen body being able to freely choose and elect who is to govern and rule them. As such, it the absolute right of the French people to show their criticism of and Gallic disdain for Mr. Hollande and Mr. Ayrault (who was replaced after the elcetion losses by popular Interior Minister Manuel Valls) by voting for the right wing UMP and FN to govern their towns and cities instead.