Thousands of French Front National activists marched in Paris on May 1 behind party leader Marine le Pen, as the party rides high in polls on a wave of discontent over the country’s stagnating economy.
The Front National, which stages a procession through the French capital on May 1 every year to celebrate Joan of Arc, is currently doing well in opinion polls on the back of the economic crisis and a deeply unpopular government.
Ms Le Pen, a fervent critic of the European Union, in a speech after the march in front of Paris’s famed opera building, said France had “shut itself away in the darkness of Europe.”
“[France] is sinking into an absurd policy of endless austerity… because it’s about always saying yes to Brussels, to Berlin of course, and to financial moguls in all circumstances,” she said.
The show of strength comes as her party is gaining strength just as Socialist leader Francois Hollande’s government struggles against a tide of discontent.
In one recent opinion poll, when asked who respondents would vote for if an election was called immediately, former president Nicolas Sarkozy came first and Le Pen second, far ahead of Hollande in third. His Socialist government has been deeply affected by the economy, and a scandal involving ex-budget minister Jerome Cahuzac who was charged with tax fraud for siphoning hundreds of thousands of euros into a secret foreign bank account.
Since his election last May 6, Hollande’s approval rating has fallen faster and further than any other president’s since the founding of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958.
As a result, the National Front says it has gained more followers, including Socialists unhappy with their government. The party is looking to municipal elections next year, where it hopes to gain control of several towns or cities.