French in Ireland: ‘People voting for Le Pen maybe think Putin will prevent a war in France’

Sunday’s presidential election is weighing heavily on French natives in Cork

Sophie Delangle, who has lived in Cork for the last 25 years, recently returned from a visit to her birthplace in the rural Eure-et-Loir district, about 100km southwest of Paris.

There, voters opted heavily for Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential elections: "It's still very white there. Le Pen got 50 per cent of the votes [in the first round of the election] there and Macron got 25 per cent," she says.

Like the other 15,000 French adults or so who have made their home in the State, Delangle is able to vote in the presidential election, either at the French embassy in Dublin, or the consular office in Cork, or by proxy.

A victory for the far-right Le Pen would be “catastrophic”, she goes on, though she believes now that a majority will finally decide to back Macron, no matter how much they detest him.

Faced with Le Pen's dramatic rise, Delangle's friends at home will vote for Macron: "They are going to vote for Emmanuel Macron even if they're against him, just to preserve the democratic regime.

“It’s the third time we have to vote against someone from the Le Pen family, but this time she is very close to getting there,” she adds, though she worries about older voters: “They want to preserve their rights and their country as it used to be.”

Meanwhile, the young are not voting because they do not want to have to choose between capitalism and the extreme right: “They feel that nobody is dealing with climate concerns,” Delangle told The Irish Times.

"In the first round, young people supported the Greens but they only got about 7 per cent because the Green party is run by someone who is too much of a politician and not enough of an activist," she goes on.

Distance has given Delangle a perspective on home: "French people are very lucky to live the way they live. Most people I know in France live rather well. They're afraid of things that are not important. I'm not afraid for them. I'm afraid for the system."

However, she is far from being an unconditional admirer of Macron: “He has given nothing to the gilets jaunes [the populist grassroots movement]. And he’s decreasing tax for the super rich. He is with the banks and the business people.

“He hasn’t really given a lot of his time to the real people. That’s why Le Pen could win because she’s telling people she’ll give them money to buy petrol. We don’t know where she is going to get the money,” she went on.

A Le Pen presidency "would put France outside Europe". People, says Delangle, "are afraid of the war in Ukraine. I think people voting for Le Pen maybe think Putin [to whom she is close] will prevent a war in France."

For the first time in 20 years, Renaud Cmela, who works for an IT company in Cork, is voting in the French election. In the first round he voted "for someone who is not in the second round," as he put it, delicately.

He is unsure who to vote for on Sunday. “If you look at it objectively, both Macron and Le Pen have good ideas. The difference is Macron has shown his strengths and weaknesses but we haven’t seen Le Pen [in power] yet.”

From reading the French press, Cmela notices "a lot of emphasis on insecurity. Tourists in Paris are more and more worried. While I love the language, the food and the landscape, France is not a country where I feel good.

It's not excluding immigrants. It's excluding immigrants who commit crimes, who don't adapt to French culture or don't respect the laws

"My wife, who is Turkish, feels safe and good in Ireland. In France, you can't leave your phone on the table in a bar and go to the bathroom. In Ireland, you can. That makes me feel sad about France, that it's not safe anymore."

Cmela is somewhat sympathetic towards Le Pen’s stance on immigration. “It’s not excluding immigrants. It’s excluding immigrants who commit crimes, who don’t adapt to French culture or don’t respect the laws.

“Straight away, people say that’s racist. But if a stranger comes to your house and starts breaking things, you wouldn’t like it. You would want to expel him, which makes sense. That I understand. When Le Pen talks about France belonging to the French people first, people say that’s racist.

"But if you say Ireland belongs to the Irish or Switzerland belongs to the Swiss or Canada belongs to the Canadians, that's not seen as racist," says Cmela, who left his native country in 2003. "I'm not saying I wouldn't go. If we gave Le Pen the chance, I would have to wait and see what she is capable of and see how the French mentality changes."

What does he think of the Irish political scene? “It’s a mess, like everywhere. But I’m not bothered. I’m not one to fight against people. I just try to educate myself. Of course, if the government here was too extreme, I wouldn’t be happy.

“In France, there’s an expression ‘not getting wet’ which means trying to please as many people as possible. That’s what I feel about Ireland. But it has fought long enough for its independence. It’s an amazing country. I’m happy I live in Ireland and have adapted to Irish culture.”

I think people are going to cop on, as happened when her father got to the second round. It will be closer, but [Le Pen] won't win

If Le Pen wins the election, Emilie Peneau, who works in marketing at Cork's Everyman Theatre, would not return to France. Originally from Nantes and living in Cork for 14 years, and Waterford before that for nine years, she says she "would be worried for her family" if Le Pen got into power. "I'd possibly try to get my brother over here." But Peneau doesn't think Le Pen will win.

“I think people are going to cop on, as happened when her father got to the second round. It will be closer, but she won’t win.”

Peneau doesn't follow politics avidly. "But because of what Marine Le Pen represents, I feel it's my duty to vote. It's not just to protect France but to protect Europe as well, because she's dangerous."

As for Macron, “he hasn’t really been looking after people well enough. I wouldn’t really support him. He’s considered centre-right but I think he’s more to the right.”

When Jean-Marie Le Pen ended up in the second round of the election in 2002, Peneau went to France to protest. This time around, she has been talking to her family and French friends about the election. “We all feel the same, even the people from different strands. Growing up, my father and my uncle had the same political opinions but at this stage, they don’t want Le Pen to get in.”

Peneau says that she and her contemporaries “grew up with a bit of fear about immigration. What happened at the Bataclan in 2015 affected young people quite a lot.” As a result of terrorist attacks, Peneau thinks the younger generation “probably see immigration as a problem”.

The Irish political scene, she says, “is like everywhere. There are issues. But it’s a good country. The pace of life is slower and there’s a lot more humanism between people and a better sense of community.”

There is a gap, which is everywhere in the world. Some people are getting richer while others are getting poorer. We need to close the gap

Although not a big fan of Macron, French woman Isabelle Sheridan, who runs On the Pig's Back food stall at Cork's English Market, is voting for him to keep Le Pen out. "Le Pen is supposed to be good friends with Putin. That's a big thing against her. It's a major reason not to vote for her. She's extreme right, pushing people against each other. At this stage, she is getting some people from the extreme left voting for her."

Sheridan says the results of the first round of voting in the French presidential election in Cork “show that people voted left more than right”.

But Le Pen’s popularity is worrying, says Sheridan. “It’s because people on low wages react to people coming into France. And they feel they’re not actually looked after. There is a gap, which is everywhere in the world. Some people are getting richer while others are getting poorer. We need to close the gap. People need to be on better wages and have a better way of living.”

Living in Cork for 35 years, Sheridan thinks Irish politicians are too beholden to “big corporations, big companies making huge money. They don’t think local enough. But one thing you can say for them is that they’re close to the people because it’s a small country. You’re never far away from [people in power].That’s a good thing.”

Read More

Recommended