Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Migration News

contact us

June 2002, Volume 9, Number 6

France, Netherlands: Le Pen, Pim Fortuyn

Europeans in May 2002 discussed anti-immigrant extremism; anti-immigrant politicians figured prominently in French and Dutch elections, but did not come close to achieving power. Some observers said that the anti-immigrant, anti-European right is nonetheless making gains in Austria, Britain, Denmark, France and Italy, feeding on disenchantment with the entrenched political elites who do not tackle problems important to voters, including immigration.

Jean-Marie Le Pen and Pim Fortuyn were expected, according to one commentator, "to force politicians in Europe to start talking more realistically about immigration, race and crime." These issues have "often have been put out of bounds in polite political discourse for fear of encouraging a re-emergence of the racism and fascism that swept Europe in the 1930s."

France. Jacques Chirac was re-elected overwhelmingly as president of France, winning 82 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent or 5.8 million votes for Jean-Marie Le Pen. The spotlight immediately shifted to legislative elections, to be held June 9 and 16, 2002. The question was whether Le Pen's National Front could get enough votes to hold the balance of power between rightist and leftist parties in as many as 150 of France's 577 legislative districts.

In the US, Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote in 1992. He based his campaign on finance reform, balancing the budget and the danger to US workers posed by trade liberalization.

Even though French voters rallied to elect Chirac, analysts said that the fuel for future anti-immigrant and anti-Europe politicians remains among voters worried by crime, immigrants, European integration, and economic globalization. One said: "Le Pen is not the danger. The danger is what he reveals," lack of action on crime, immigration, economic inequality, political stagnation, urban decline. The elites tend to discount anxiety about these issues, which made Le Pen's call to withdraw from the EU and replace the Euro with the franc appealing to those who believe that globalization endangers traditional jobs and values. Socialist Premier Lionel Jospin resigned, and was replaced by conservative Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

France has received an average of 100,000 immigrants a year for 50 years, and has one of the most liberal naturalization policies in Western Europe. France's republican tradition from the French Revolution made the country willing to accept foreigners as settlers, immigrants, and even as citizens. France published five-year plans during the high-growth years between the mid-1940s and mid-1970s that anticipated, for example, 430,000 guest workers in late 1940s and 325,000 in the late 1960s. However, the actual level of immigration was set by private employers and migrants; the norm was for a migrant to arrive in France, find a job, and then be "regularized." This was especially true of Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians.

Between 1974 and 1981, France tried to stop immigration. A socialist government elected in 1981 offered an amnesty that attracted 145,000 applicants during the early 1980s. This led to the election of National Front leaders in Dreux, an industrial town west of Paris, and thrust Jean-Marie Le Pen onto the national stage. François Mitterrand, the socialist president, manipulated the immigration issue in the 1980s for electoral purposes, allowing the National Front to siphon votes from the Communist Party and enter Parliament in 1986. He proposed giving foreigners the right to vote in local elections in order to embarrass the parties of the traditional right (RPR-UDF). When Charles Pasqua was made Minister of the Interior, he stepped up immigration controls, and in 1991 declared that the goal was zero immigration.

The French state railway company announced on May 17, 2002 that it would spend $6.6 million dollars on extra security measures to keep migrants away from the Channel tunnel. A double barbed-wire fence will be built around the perimeter of the Frethun yard and an infra-red detector will be installed.

Nick Hardwick, of the UK Refugee Council, said: "Sangatte is the symptom, not the cause, of the problem refugees face entering Britain in order to exercise their right to claim asylum. If it is closed, refugees will still try to come to Britain. It will not solve the inconsistencies of asylum policy across Europe, nor address the failure of the French authorities to properly deal with refugees in France." Some 53,875 foreigners applied for asylum in France in 2001.

Netherlands. Pim Fortuyn, a former sociology professor who launched a new political party in 2002, was killed a week before the May 15, 2002 elections. It was the first time in modern history that a Dutch political leader had been assassinated. His party, List Pim Fortuyn, which advocated limits on immigration, especially of Muslims received 18 percent of the vote and 24 seats in the 150-seat Parliament, making it the second-largest party in Parliament.

Fortuyn rose to prominence quickly by challenging a Dutch tradition of tolerance that by and large has welcomed immigrants. Fortuyn opposed multiculturalism, saying immigrants must learn the Dutch language and integrate into Dutch society, and called for a halt to new arrivals until those already in the country had been fully assimilated. Almost 10 percent of the 16 million people in the Netherlands are not of Dutch or European descent - the highest proportion in Western Europe- including 800,000 Muslims. He said of Muslims: "How can you respect a culture if the woman has to walk several steps behind her man, has to stay in the kitchen and keep her mouth shut."

Like other European populist and anti-immigrant politicians, Fortuyn came to symbolize unhappiness with the political establishment, which he accused of wheeling and dealing rather than tackling the issues of concern to the public: a typical comment was that "the previous Dutch government ignored public concern about the effects of largely Muslim immigration on traditional Dutch values." However, the Netherlands had moved further on integration than many other countries. In 1998, the Dutch government introduced a requirement that every new immigrant from outside the EU sign up for a 600-hour Dutch language course.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the Christian Democrats (CDA) leader who is expected to become the next prime minister, said that he would implement some of Fortuyn's proposals, including removing rejected asylum seekers "within months." The new leader of the List Pim Fortuyn said: "In the past, asylum seekers were allowed to stay in the country for years. If people can't prove their identity after some months, they will be sent back."

"Straw denies Sangatte deal," The Guardian, May 23, 2002. Rebecca Harrison, "France wants to shut refugee camp," Reuters, May 23, 2002. Tim Cornwell, "Dutch government to get tough on immigrants," The Scotsman, May 17, 2002. "After new tensions, French railways to up security at tunnel," Agence France Presse, May 17, 2002. "After new tensions, French railways to up security at tunnel," Agence France Presse, May 17, 2002. Ian Black, "Liberal heart of Europe shifts to the right," Guardian, May 16, 2002. John Hooper, "The twisty politics of a far right showman," The Guardian, May 7, 2002. Keith B. Richburg, "Key Dutch Rightist is Shot Dead," Washington Post, May 7, 2002. Stephanie Van Den Berg, "Dutch far-right leader Fortuyn shot dead," Agence France Presse, May 6, 2002. Marcel Van de Hoef, "Dutch Politician Fortuyn Shot Dead," Associated Press, May 6, 2002. Thomas Marzahl, "Immigrants tell France's Chirac to address immigration," Agence France Press, May 6, 2002. Sebastian Rotella, "France's Social Problems A