Authoritarian right: France
One of the most well-known authoritarian right-wing parties in Europe is France’s Rassemblement National (RN), known until June 2018 as the Front National (FN). Recent electoral success such as making it to the 2017 presidential run-off against Emmanuel Macron is widely held to be due to leader Marine Le Pen’s attempts to re-brand the party to make it more appealing to voters put off by its xenophobia. But make no mistake, the RN remains a party with a toxic anti-migrant ideology.
Friend to Russia
State funding of political parties in France is the norm; nonetheless, in 2014 the FN took a €9.4 million loan from the Russia-based First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB). At the time, Marine Le Pen argued that French banks’ refusals to provide the party with loans meant it had to look to Russia instead for financing. But an in-depth Mediapart investigation has disputed that, arguing that there were in fact conscious FN efforts to create a network “with its intermediaries and opaque structures - to help Marine Le Pen’s party to win millions, and even to hide [their] origin”.
In 2014 the FN took a €9.4 million loan from the Russia-based First Czech Russian Bank
Key figures who helped cement the ties between the FN/RN and Russia are MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser; Russian senator and presidential adviser Alexander Babakov, who helped secure the 2014 bank loan and who Mediapart described as an “oligarch close to the Kremlin who juggles with several hats, mixing politics and business”; and Konstantin Malofeev, another Russian businessman, who helped secure a previous two million euro loan for the French far right (see also section on Lega). Mediapart documents how the collapse of the FCRB led the FN to look for additional Russian funding. Babakov apparently tried to help Schaffhauser source loans from two other Russian banks, although like dominoes, these banks also collapsed. Mediapart further speculates whether the collapse of the FCRB may conveniently turn the FN’s original loan into a grant, as it may no longer need to be paid back.
Juggling outside interests
MEP Schaffhauser was not doing this work for the FN from the kindness of his heart; he was handsomely rewarded with a €140,000 commission from the FCRB bank, which he initially failed to mention in his declaration of interests as an MEP. This kick-back has been under subsequent investigation by the financial prosecutor’s office in France.
Schaffhauser's kick-back has been under subsequent investigation by the financial prosecutor’s office in France.
Before becoming an MEP, Schaffhauser was a consultant with corporate clients including Auchan, Dassault and Total. He resumed his consultancy activities in 2017 while still an MEP, declaring a huge monthly side income of €20,000 a month. This work, conducted via the mysterious “MWD Dubai”, was for Losberger on “security and defence contracts” and with ICTS, a major player in the field of port management. Incidentally, ICTS applied for a stake in the controversial privatisation of the Greek port of Thessaloniki, a sell-off which had been a condition of the EU-backed Greek bailout. The FN had been vocal in opposing the Greek bailout, arguing it would increase France’s debt. TV channel France 3 has raised questions about Schaffhauser’s conflicts of interest, considering his role as shadow rapporteur on a European Parliament report on private security companies. Earlier this year he was also shadow rapporteur for a report on EU-Russia relations.
Another French far-right MEP with ties to Russia is Aymeric Chauprade, a former adviser to Le Pen who has since left the party. Politico recently reported that the daughter of Putin’s spokesperson was interning in his office. Chauprade undertakes occasional teaching at a Russian university and has promoted strong ties between the FN and Russia. He declares up to €5000 income per month in a self-employed capacity but it is not clear whether this is his teaching work, or something else.
According to its July 2018 report, Transparency International says that Schaffhauser’s political group, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), has the highest proportion of MEPs with sources of outside income (54 per cent of the group’s MEPs) of any group in the European Parliament.
The Europe of Nations and Freedom has the highest proportion of MEPs with sources of outside income of any group in the European Parliament
These are not the only controversies facing the FN/RN and ENF in the European Parliament. Recently Le Pen was vocal in criticising the European Parliament’s Liberal group (ALDE) for accepting corporate sponsorship of its party congress, but she has been subject to numerous funding controversies herself. Similar to the accusations levelled at UKIP MEPs, the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF has been investigating allegations that up to 20 national-level FN staff were paid as MEP assistants which would be a clear violation of EU party funding rules. A separate OLAF investigation in 2016 found that Le Pen may be guilty of “misappropriation of funds, or fraud and use of fraud” over contracts given to several staff members. Le Pen, her sister Yann, her partner Louis Aliot, and many others have now been indicted in a French court, while her estranged father Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former head of the FN, could face similar charges.
Separately the official audit of the ENF group’s use of its EU funding cast doubts on its expenditure and record-keeping. Dated May 2017, the report said the group did not meet budget obligations for “10 service providers with a total value of €492,506.88” with other income “unaccounted for”. The Parliament has now asked it to repay €470,000.
On top of this, in 2018 the ENF group was embroiled in an unedifying internal row, nicknamed ‘champagne-gate’, over which of its MEPs had been responsible for drinking 228 bottles of champagne at the European Parliament’s expense. Austrian FPÖ MEP Vilimsky apparently blamed Le Pen, reportedly saying that champagne is as common for the French as Grüner Veltliner wine is for the Austrians.
Say one thing, vote the other way
Le Pen has attempted to re-brand the party and portray the FN/RN as standing up for working people. In the 2017 presidential election she told a rally that globalisation “wants to make the world a giant supermarket where everything is for sale, where everything is bought, including people, including workers. Well France is not for sale, the French people are not for sale”. But a look at the 14 votes we have studied indicates that the FN/RN are happily prepared to risk the interests of working people, as they voted against: a proposal for an EU strategic framework to boost health and safety at work; country by country reporting for corporate profits; support for action on work-life balance; a proposal for a directive on ‘decent work’; a pan-EU 25 per cent corporate tax rate; and action on the gender pay gap. The MEPs also voted against the promotion of environmental justice and a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies. The Adelphi report says that the party “fiercely opposes national climate action” and called the UN climate talks a “communist project”.
Bastamag concluded that FN MEPs “rarely miss an opportunity to demonstrate their total disdain for workers and their interests”
In 2017 Bastamag also investigated the FN’s voting record and concluded that FN MEPs “rarely miss an opportunity to demonstrate their total disdain for workers and their interests”, accusing them of often saying one thing publicly, but failing to back this up with their votes. Socialist MEP Pervenche Berès agrees, publishing a 2017 report into the FN’s voting habits at the EU level saying: “It is striking to see how, in Strasbourg, their positions put them in contradiction with their speeches”. She additionally points out their consistently pro-Russia approach.
The FN/RN represent the ultimate success of the Kremlin’s strategy of seducing European authoritarian far-right parties.