WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- At first glance, it would appear that France's far right National Front party, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, lost the May presidential elections. But in politics, things are rarely what they seem. In fact, one could safely say that the real winner was the extreme right's Le Pen.
Of course, one could always argue that Jacques Chirac won by a landslide, did he not? Well, yes, sort of. But how could Le Pen have won when Chirac defeated him with a whopping 82.5 percent of the ballots, and even managed to get the left to campaign and vote for him?
The answer is quite simple; a good part of Le Pen's electorate agenda will, without a doubt, have to be implemented by Chirac in order to ensure that Le Pen, and his successors, will be denied the opportunity to succeed in the next presidential elections in five years' time. In fact, even if the left wins next June's parliamentary elections -- which is expected to be a close race -- they, too, will be obliged to address issues that Le Pen's National Front has brought to the forefront, and ultimately brought about the defeat of the left.
Anyway you look at it, the real winner, at the end of the day, is Le Pen. Be it the left or the right that controls the reins of power in France, part of the National Front's electorate agenda will have to be implemented. Granted, Le Pen himself, or his party, may not be in a direct position to govern, or enact laws, but two of their primary concerns -- rising insecurity and rampant immigration -- have become the buzz words of the post May 2002 elections.
Whoever sits in the presidential palace at the Elysée, or the prime minister's residence at Matignon, will have to place those concerns high on their agendas.
In fact, Chirac's new government wasted little time. The newly appointed prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, immediately named Nicolas Sarkozy, (who had been thought of as a possible candidate for the prime minister) to take charge of the sensitive security dossier. As minister of the Interior, one of the most important Cabinet posts in France, Sarkozy will be responsible for the national police force and all related security matters. This is a clear indication that Chirac is taking the issue seriously. He has little choice, if he intends to win the hearts and ballots of the electorate, and draw them away from the extreme right.
Strike one point for Le Pen, who, come what may, has already won on this front.
So, how exactly, the question may be asked, did the political situation in Europe reach this point, with the left losing so much of their political clout to the right--and worse, to the extreme right? What is worrisome to the European left is that France is not alone to witness this sudden shift.
The phenomenon in France is far from being an isolated case. The trend was clearly there, all across Europe. All European left-wing parties saw the right and the far-right take votes away from what was until recently a traditionally strong left.
In February 2000, Austria voted in Jorg Haider's far-right Freedom Party. Last year Italy voted for Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. In March 2002, Portugal also veered to the right, giving the Portuguese communists their worst defeat since the 1974 revolution, when the left, aided by the military, overthrew António de Oliveira Salazar's rightist dictatorship.
In Denmark, for the first time since 1929, the Liberal Party led by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, won more seats than the Social Democrats. A conservative coalition dominated by anti-immigrant sentiments defeated Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. And finally, the traditionally socialist-leaning Netherlands favored Pim Fortuyn's rightist party in last week's national elections.
The 54-year-old Dutch sociologist, whose ideas were "once written off by Dutch politicians and media alike, recently burst on the political scene with a heady cocktail of policies which was finding favor in the right across the Netherlands," relates a recent British Broadcasting Corp. obituary for the slain Dutch leader. Fortuyn was assassinated nine days before the elections, in which polls predicted he would win enough seats to lead one of the country's largest parties.
The French Communist Party, which once counted several ministers serving in François Mitterrand's government, are now relegated to scoring a pitiful 3 percent of the vote in last month's presidential elections.
Why the drastic change? The answer can clearly be found in the left's own political agendas. In short, the dog came back to bite the very hand that was feeding it.
Following the turbulence of the 1960s, especially the May 1968 revolt that gave birth to a strong student and workers' movement, and that saw the initial strengthening of trade unions, the European left played a crucial role in helping shape European society. The left helped enact important social guardrails that transformed Europe into a gentler, kinder place in which to work and live. Social laws protected the worker, provided free cradle-to-grave medical care, and generous unemployment benefits.
But at times the left went too far (the 35-hour work week in France, for example). It seemed their successes were the cause of their own downfall. People found the weak links in the system that was meant to protect them and instead they learned how to abuse it, turning the system against itself.
Easy-going immigration policies opened Europe's doors to the arrival of large numbers of immigrants from the developing world. Countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands were overrun with wave after wave of immigrants -- both legal and clandestine. Entire shiploads of refugees -- Kurds, Albanians, Chinese and others -- arrived to discharge their human cargoes on Europe's shores.
High taxes and higher social benefits made it difficult for employers to create new jobs. Many of those immigrants found themselves unemployed, and collecting benefits -- paid by the high taxes of those in the work force.
High unemployment, drastic failure to properly control and then integrate the refugees and immigrants, combined with sub-standard housing conditions often gave rise to criminal activity that resulting in over-crowded detention centers. This, in turn, forced judges to allow "soft" offenders to go unpunished, often to commit more crimes.
Stories of muggings and aggression in France, as in other European countries, are commonplace today. Almost everyone talks about someone they know having been "aggressed," usually by immigrant youths from the "banlieue," -- the suburbs.
"Those who are serious about work and willing to respect our laws are fine, but the rest should be deported," voiced one concerned French woman as she sipped champagne in her country estate in the Dordogne, while discussing the political situation a dew days after the presidential elections. Like the majority of French people, she opposes Le Pen and his xenophobic views and is elated he did not win. But, she stated, "enough is enough."
One of Le Pen's proposed solutions was to forcefully deport all illegal immigrants, as well as legal ones who have committed crimes. That sentiment was reflected by millions of people across Europe today, and that was expressed in votes for the Le Pens and the Fortuyns.
Le Pen's success, however, as with Fortuyn, has served as a drastic wake-up call for the traditional left and center right, who now realize they can no longer afford to ignore those burning issues. If the extreme right is to be kept away from power, part of their agendas will have to be addressed. You could say that either way, the extreme right's message has been heard.