Trans-Europe Express: National Front Multiculturalism

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

Marine Le Pen in Lebanon? The idea is almost preposterous. But, it’s an election year in France, and, taboo breaker that she is, the National Front chief made the trip this week, albeit with the expected controversies, pimping Assad, and offending the grand mufti by refusing to meet him over the headscarf requirement.

What gives? As a number of commentators have conjectured, Le Pen is seeking the support of wealthy expats from the former colonial holding, which France ran between 1923 and 1946, 250,000 or so of which call the country their home.

Still, the idea surprises. How could a right-wing icon, like Le Pen, who has compared the Muslim presence in France to the Nazi occupation, reconcile herself to the idea that she must visit an Arab country? You could call her an interfaith populist, who seeks to govern from the centre, on the basis of defining subordinate identities.

Especially if you consider the fact that 5-7% of France’s population is estimated to be Muslim. Surely, there are some National Front voters there, of the family values voting sorts, who join other nominally Catholic, right-wing protests when it suits them, such as the Manif Pour Tous demonstrations of 2015.

Consisting of anti-gay, family values demonstrations in Paris and Lyon, the protests brought together an unlikely diverse coalition of communities, ranging from hard-line Islamists to neo-Nazis chanting racist slogans.

The events were an eye-opener given the ethnic and religious boundaries they crossed. Might they represent the genesis of a new right, one that transcended the narrow nationalism of the European right?

The Manif Pour Tous demos have not repeated themselves. Perhaps, if there had been no Charlie Hebdo or Nice attacks, the cultural synthesis they represent would have developed further. As the National Front’s growing prominence suggests, non-Muslims are indeed less tolerant than ever. That window, at least for now, is closed.

Still, it’s impossible to not think of them, when trying to understand why Marine Le Pen’s trip to Lebanon makes sense. At it’s most fundamental, the gesture is similarly extreme, insofar as it violates the common sense of the growing apartheid-like environment in France, in which Arabs and Muslims are viewed as foreign.

On the other hand, despite what would be Le Pen’s protestations to the contrary, the visit heralds an evolving right-wing sensibility, one which accepts diversity, albeit a hierarchical one. As long as Muslims know their place in French society, they will not try to place demands on it, such as that women wear headscarves.

To defy such a convention in a country as deeply religious as Lebanon was a deeply offensive gesture. It was not so much a declaration of Le Pen’s feminism, or support for laïcité, as much as it was an assertion of European hegemony.

That is what her trip communicated, internally, within France. She just had to go to the Mideast to make it clear. Under President Le Pen, Muslims are just going to have to reconcile themselves to that.


Socialism still matters. Martin Schulz has a real chance of becoming Germany’s next chancellor, political consultant Michael Spreng told WirtschaftsWoche, as Angela Merkel struggles to appeal to the right.

German officials have proposed that the EU relax some human rights safeguards so that more asylum seekers can be deported while awaiting the outcome of their cases, according to a working paper seen by Reuters.

Hence populism. According to a new German study, many member states are too slow to implement socio-political reforms in crucial sectors like education. Migrants and refugees are particularly affected.

Bullshit detector. “I never made any (‘Grexit’) threats,” Schäuble told ARD just before the network played recent comments in which he said Greece was “not yet over the hill” and the “pressure needed to stay on” Greece or it “couldn’t stay in the currency union”.

Even the IMF agrees. The Eurogroup took a small step on Monday towards the completion of the 2nd review of Greece’s €86 billion bailout programme, according to Jorge Valero, emphasising reforms not austerity.

Greece can still take the rap. Corina Crețu is extremely dissatisfied with the performance of the Adriatic-Ionian Strategy. Aria Koutra, on the Romanian Commissioner’s criticisms, and why she’s not scheduled its next meeting.

The song remains the same. The European Commission warned Italy on Wednesday it risked disciplinary action if it did not adopt promised measures to cut its deficit.

Moldovan media reports that the country could take advantage of Transnistria’s uncertain future and bring the disputed territory back under its control. But, mindful of Moscow, Chișinău insists it’d prefer to remain neutral.

Accession is not just about new markets. After ten months, and no judicial progress, lawmakers in the European Parliament are discussing the destruction of privately owned buildings in the centre of Belgrade last year.

In the year since Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) submitted its formal application to join the European Union, little has gone according to plan for the fragile Balkan confederation, according to Sanford Henry.

Nostalgia for the Soviet era, sans the Soviets. Reporters Without Borders has called on the Commission to defend press freedom in Poland, after the country fell 29 places in the RWB’s global ranking.

The Americans are an equal challenge. The election of Donald Trump is posing unique challenges to the Czech Republic. Local concerns are logically focused on security, business, and diplomatic relations.

An Austrian court on Tuesday approved the extradition of Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash to the United States in a bribery case, overturning an earlier ruling that had said the US request was politically motivated, as Firtash links Trump to Putin.

Don’t call it the zeitgeist. Dutch voters will go to the polls on 15 March to elect their new MPs, in what many observers see as a dry run for the French presidential election one month later.

The hard left. Despite signs of rapprochement between the Socialist Benoît Hamon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in recent weeks, hopes of a political partnership between the two look increasingly fragile.

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