Primary Contributor: David Brooks
Leader: Blaine Yonemitsu
From Brexit to Donald Trump, 2016 has unquestionably seen a new rise in populism and right wing movements around the world. Election results that were deemed impossible by analysts have set new precedents in democracies worldwide. These results have only encouraged the already existent far-right movement in Europe, and though the Austrian elections have shown their successes are not guaranteed, the growing presence and strong results of far-right candidates across Europe present a disturbing trend. Candidates from this movement have consistently been achieving a greater share of votes in elections, leading to small successes, noticeably in European Parliament Elections. While no far-right candidate has yet become the leader of a European nation, businesses across Europe must begin analyzing what the impact of such an election would be on their industry.
France’s far-right party, the National Front, has a longer history than several other far right groups in Europe and has noticeably gained traction in recent years. In 2002, founder Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the runoff stage in the French Presidential election, the first time the National Front had reached second place status. More recently, in 2011 Jean-Marie’s daughter Marine Le Pen took over the leadership of the party and has led it to further success.
Despite criticisms of the party’s strong anti-immigration attitudes, vocal support of Russia and promotion of Islamophobia, Marine Le Pen has led the National Front to historic victories in municipal and European Parliament elections across France. There is now increasing speculation that Le Pen will not only be a strong contender in the April 2017 French Presidential election, but perhaps even win the Presidency.
Prior to President François Hollande’s announcement that he would not be seeking re-election, Le Pen was polling well ahead of the Socialist Party’s leader. While the Republican’s, France’s centre-right party, have yet to announce their candidate, it is now widely expected that Le Pen and the Republican candidate will advance to the runoff. This is due to the Socialist party’s growing unpopularity across France, resulting in a general trend to a conservatively focused party, with the National Front gaining the most votes of any individual party. While in 2002 the National Front was defeated soundly by the Republicans, the changing landscape amid growing populism and far-right movements could be enough to win Le Pen the presidency over the mainstream right party. A recent poll showed Le Pen winning an election between her and former Republican president Sarkozy, who some speculate may be the Republican’s nominee. Marine Le Pen praised Trump’s election in the US stating “people are taking their future back” and thinks she will be able to benefit from this momentum. As anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiments grow within France in the wake of continued terror attacks, and the nation’s state of emergency has been extended into July, past the election date, businesses in France must begin questioning what a Le Pen presidency would mean.
In regards specifically to the Tourism industry, there are several effects that business should prepare for in the event of a Le Pen Presidency. First, the Euroscepticism seen among far-right parties could lead to possible limitations in the free flow of people currently seen in the EU. While drastic changes to France’s cooperation with EU policies may not be seen, limitations made by the National Front could see a damaged tourism industry. Immigration remains a key issue for the party and if the promised stronger borders and stricter immigration laws are realized, it could deliver a blow to the tourism industry. Further, it could impact many businesses who are dependent low cost foreign labour.
Additionally, while stronger borders theoretically protect France from international terror attacks, the Islamophobic sentiments of the National Front could lead to even higher threats of domestic terrorist attacks and isolation of a huge Muslim population. Due to France being home to one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, the threat of online radicalization of Islamic residents of France is prominent, growing under a Le Pen administration. Further terrorist attacks in France would further damage its tourism industry, and the fragile perception of safety for tourists could be broken.
Finally, even in a scenario where France’s security improves under Le Pen to the point that it is not the victim of further domestic or international terrorist attacks, the tourism industry may still have cause for concern. This is due to the fear-based narrative that a National Front government could use to promote acceptance of their agenda. While this may not damage France’s valuable high end tourism sector, which promotes its own security features, the average tourist may be dissuaded from visiting France based on the fear based governing a Le Pen presidency could promote. Unsecure and extreme governments have huge perception impacts on potential tourists. However, France’s tourism industry remains one of historic importance, seeming unlikely for it to come crashing down anytime soon. Mitigation strategies are difficult given the nature of elections. Investors could remain stagnant until the election results and impacts appear more clear. It is unlikely that the event will have a huge impact, however the low-risk option would be to most advised.However unlikely it may seem, the election of Marine Le Pen and the National Front is a very real possibility in France. Tourism dependent businesses must prepare to accept this outcome and begin thinking of the implications it may have on their industry.