The Freeland File
Global Market Data
Tales from the Trail
Lucy P. Marcus
David Cay Johnston
The Great Debate
Jack & Suzy Welch
Macro & Markets
Lipper Awards 2012
Personal Finance Video
Our best photos from the last 24 hours. See more
Images of May
Romney, Republicans raise $76.8 million in May
Mexican presidency front-runner's image used to promote adultery
06 Jun 2012
Special Report: The lavish and leveraged life of Aubrey McClendon
Untreatable gonorrhoea spreading around world: WHO
06 Jun 2012
Wall Street pares early gains on Bernanke comments
NY mayor blasts sugar ban critics: ”That’s a lot of soda”
Louisiana’s bold bid to privatize schools
Florida to continue voter purge in defiance of warning
NASA delivers high-def view of Venus transit
Wed, Jun 6 2012
A look at the UK’s most beautiful face
Thu, May 10 2012
Supersonic mini-drone aims for jet speed record
Tue, Jun 5 2012
Our day's top images, in-depth photo essays and offbeat slices of life. See the best of Reuters photography. See more | Photo caption
Enterprise in NY
The Enterprise shuttle floats by Manhattan. Slideshow
D-Day: A look back
Images from the Allied landings at Normandy. Slideshow
Bulls, suburbs and the French far right
Analysis & Opinion
Little America: An Afghan town, an American dream and the folly of for-profit war
Is France closing for business?
1 of 8. Marine Le Pen (L), France's National Front party head and French lawyer Gilbert Collard, France's National Front party candidate in the upcoming legislative elections visit a local market during a campaign visit in Saint-Gilles, June 7, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier
By Geert De Clercq
Vauvert, FRANCE |
Thu Jun 7, 2012 12:00pm EDT
Vauvert, FRANCE (Reuters) - With its bullfights, wild white horses, saltpans and flamingos, the Camargue delta region of southern France has little in common with traditional strongholds of the far right.
Yet, in Sunday's parliamentary elections anti-immigration crusader Marine Le Pen may achieve a breakthrough in this sun-kissed Mediterranean tourist region, where the head of her national support committee, celebrity lawyer Gilbert Collard, is running for a winnable seat.
The Gard district around the ancient Roman city of Nimes was the only area where Le Pen beat both ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Francois Hollande, the eventual winner, in the first round of a presidential election in April. She won one vote in every four.
In other parts of the south such as the Vaucluse region around Avignon, once home to schismatic French popes, Le Pen ran second to Sarkozy but topped 30 percent in some towns - a 10 percent improvement on her party's 2007 results.
Her strong showing gives her National Front (FN) hope of its first seats in parliament since the late 1980s. It also casts the spotlight on a new phenomenon: the success of the far right among lower middle class suburban voters.
"In 2012, the far-right vote has crystallized in these communities far from the big-city centers," said Nice University sociologist Gilles Ivaldi.
In the past decade, soaring real estate prices have forced the working class and lower middle class out of urban centers and into soulless suburban housing estates, inconveniently far from their jobs and often with few public services.
These people are not the poorest of the poor, but squeezed between the bourgeoisie and an immigrant class living in drab tower blocks on the edge of the big cities, they fear they have the most to lose.
A drive in the Camargue shows suburbanization in full swing, with vineyards and apricot groves being cleared for developments of modest housing for commuters who work in cities like Nimes, Montpellier and Marseille.
A study by the left-leaning Jean Jaures Foundation shows Le Pen scored the highest vote in suburban communities located between 20 and 50 km (12 to 30 miles) from metropolitan centers. In the cities, her score averaged less than 15 percent.
"This year, even more than in the past, the National Front vote was split along residential lines," the study said.
Le Pen's program appeals to the 30 to 40 percent who live in housing estates between city and countryside. She pledges to boost state services in remote areas, control fuel prices and most of all to roll back the globalization that pits low-skilled labor in Europe against workers in developing countries.
"Slave labor in faraway countries making products to sell to the unemployed in France, that's globalization for you," she says.
The Mediterranean shoreline is fertile terrain for the National Front, though very different from its bastions in the reindustrializing north and east.
Marseille has long been a port of entry for immigrants, and many ended up staying in the region. Muslims of North African origin make up 10 to 25 percent of the population in southern towns and racial tension is palpable.
The south's traditional conservatism was amplified by an influx of hundreds of thousands of "pieds-noirs", former French colonists who settled there after Algeria won independence in 1962 after a brutal war. They resent living cheek-by-jowl with descendants of the Arabs who pushed them out of the Maghreb, who now pick their fruit, wash their dishes and fill their schools.
Lifestyle migrants are another irritant: wealthy northerners and foreigners buy holiday and retirement homes in the region, pricing locals out of the market.
When there were jobs there was relative harmony. But in the last decade, mechanized agriculture and competition from cheap Spanish fruit has hollowed out the labor market. The local jobless rate is now three points above the national average.
Water maker Perrier, the Gard's largest private employer, once employed several thousand people in Vergeze. Now its bottling plant is a mechanized ballet of conveyor belts and filling machines and the firm produces nearly a billion bottles of bubbly water per year with just 1,000 staff. Most are highly qualified engineers or logistics experts.
"When I was young 3,000 people worked at Perrier. Now it's mostly robots and computers there," said retiree Claudie Rocchi.
Anthropologist Frederic Saumade sees a link between the rise of the hard right and the area's macho bullfighting culture.
Bulls are not killed in the "course Camarguaise", in which young men try to snatch ribbons from between their horns. In the tension between land-owning bull-breeders and the young ribbon-snatchers - often of immigrant origin - Saumade sees a metaphor for ethnic strife in the Camargue region.
"There is a strong racist streak in the bull-breeding world," said Saumade, who notes that in nearly all the bull-breeding villages Le Pen won 30 to 40 percent of the vote.
But Le Pen's support stretches beyond the bullfight belt. As sociologist Ivaldi points out, far-right movements often play on regional identities, like Italy's Northern League or Belgium's Vlaams Belang, and the FN uses this card too.
For Jerome Fourquet, author of the Jean Jaures Foundation study, factors such as high immigration, a high crime rate, high unemployment and high house prices converge in the Camargue.
The typical southerner is someone whose parents used to be farmers, but who now has a low-paying job in a service industry in the city, can't afford to live where his parents lived and struggles to put petrol in his car.
"People feel dispossessed; they feel they cannot even stay in their own region. That is what drives the FN vote," he said.
All this explains why Saint-Gilles in the Camargue was the first town with more than 10,000 residents to elect a National Front mayor in 1989. The region could make headlines again this month if it sends Collard to parliament.
On Wednesday, the mayor of the nearby resort of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer became the first to defy the mainstream UMP conservative party's ban on election deals with the National Front. If the far-right candidate in his district came first in the June 10 first round, he said he would withdraw from the June 17 runoff to ensure a rightist beats the Socialist incumbent.
Ironically, the man who hopes to represent the Gard is not a local boy, but Collard, 64, an urbane figure known nationally as a devil's advocate for defending unpopular clients and causes.
Collard, who is not an FN member, says he is a southerner through and through, pointing to a Camargue country house, family ties to the region and a love of bullfighting.
He rejects accusations of being an opportunist who joined Le Pen to get into parliament, after having been a member of the Socialist and centrist parties.
"They call me Marine's left-hand man, but the right hand can sometimes disagree with the right," Collard told Reuters, adding he opposes the death penalty, which Le Pen wants to restore.
Provocative and combative, the blue-eyed Collard takes after Marine Le Pen's father, pugnacious former paratrooper Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front.
Like Le Pen senior, Collard's speeches brim with high-flying references to French history and literature as well as with sexual innuendo and vulgarity.
On Monday night, in front of a few hundred supporters in the Camargue village of Vauvert - where Le Pen scored 31 percent in April - Collard presented the National Front as "the last dike, the last bulwark" protecting French national identity.
He blasted "young troublemakers of Maghreb origin" and waxed lyrical about national heroes like Joan of Arc who resisted foreign domination, punctuating his rhetoric with a "move your ass for France" or "it's all bullshit" to rapturous applause.
On Sunday, he will know whether the Camarguais identify with him as one of their own, but victory is not assured.
Incumbent UMP deputy Etienne Mourrut has given no hint of any deal to step aside for Collard, and in a three-way runoff, Socialist Katy Guyot could well snatch the parliament ribbon from between the two rightist bulls' horns.
"A good bullfight gives me the shivers," Collard said. "Where else does a man confront death for the beauty of art?"
(Please note strong language in paragraph 35)
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Paul Taylor)
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Be the first to comment on reuters.com.
Add yours using the box above.
Back to top
New York Legal
Support & Contact
Connect with Reuters
Our Flagship financial information platform incorporating Reuters Insider
An ultra-low latency infrastructure for electronic trading and data distribution
A connected approach to governance, risk and compliance
Our next generation legal research platform
Our global tax workstation
About Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters is the world's largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on Reuters.com, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms. Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.
NYSE and AMEX quotes delayed by at least 20 minutes. Nasdaq delayed by at least 15 minutes. For a complete list of exchanges and delays, please click here.