(MURDER FASCISM SLEAZE the New Face of Politics in Europe)

By Neil, Andrew | Daily Mail (London), May 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

(MURDER FASCISM SLEAZE the New Face of Politics in Europe)


Neil, Andrew, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: ANDREW NEIL

WHATEVER the understandable relief at Jean-Marie Le Pen's drubbing in Sunday's presidential elections, do not for a moment think that France's political crisis is over with Jacques Chirac's landslide victory.

Indeed, with yesterday's assassination of Holland's Pim Fortuyn, European politics faces upheaval all round.

Fortuyn, an openly gay Rightwing populist, was heading for more than 20 per cent of the vote - and a pivotal position in Dutch politics - in next week's nationwide elections.

A wave of public sympathy could propel his party - List Fortuyn - at the polls, especially if he was murdered by an immigrant extremist or one of their allies.

The party's slogan is simple - 'Holland is full' - and it resonates among voters.

There is every chance it could overtake the Centre-Right Liberals to become the country's second largest party.

So the political crisis in the Netherlands

has only just begun. In many ways, it is only just starting in France, too.

Chirac, a 69-year-old political chancer who stands for nothing except his own love of power, is part of the problem that ails French politics, not the solution.

In the mid-Eighties, I watched Chirac campaign to be Prime Minister as a French Thatcher, extolling the virtues of free markets and privatisation; but he turned his back on the market economy the moment he won office and France continued its corporatist ways.

In 1995, as Blairism beguiled Britain, I watched Chirac campaign to be President as a Centre-Left social democrat, full of talk about social inclusion and justice.

But during his first seven-year stint in the Elys?e Palace, France has become increasingly divided and troubled, at war with itself and uncertain about its place in the world.

Last week, I watched Chirac reinvent himself yet again, this time posing as the saviour of France in the face of the Far Right threat; but a man widely regarded by the Right and the Left as corrupt (his election victory will keep him out of court a while yet)and opportunist is hardly cut out to be father of the nation.

Radical Sensible French folk had no choice but to re-elect him given the alternative, but I can understand why some pinned clothes pegs to their noses as they did so.

The man is an unprincipled political chameleon who is adept at shedding his skin to suit the times; I cannot for the life of me see him saving France.

There is nothing in Chirac's track record to suggest he has the stomach for the radical reforms needed to end its political inertia or reverse its economic decline.

He has no plans to scrap the Socialists' 35-hour week, which costs the French taxpayer ?12 billion a year in subsidies to industry to cushion its anticompetitive effects.

And if Le Pen's National Front does well in the June 16 parliamentary elections, it could split the Right and keep a Leftwing majority in power in the National Assembly.

In that event, Chirac, in the words of a leading French Socialist, would spend his second presidential term as 'something like the Queen of Great Britain' - powerless to implement radical reform even if he were minded to.

Bad news for France. Good news for British eurosceptics.

The high tide of French support for further European integration is receding as nationalism takes hold in the country's politics (and elsewhere in Europe) once more.

Without the backing of Paris, the grand project for a federal Europe will have to be put on hold. It will not have escaped

Chirac's attention that the polls show the French have become distinctly lukewarm to the prospect of further European integration. Not only that, France has become the country most strongly opposed to the widening of EU membership.

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