Economic Policies & Ideologies

France is a founding member of the twenty-eight state European Union (EU), an economic and political organization of European nations that shares a market, a currency (the Euro), trade policies, and various other institutions. France is the second largest economy within the EU “euro zone,” and is generally considered to be an economically prosperous nation, but the country’s economic health has fluctuated over the past seventy-five years. These and past economic downturns have contributed to periods of increased social conservatism that have brought right-wing political parties to prominence. 

The immediate post-World War II period  was followed by three decades of rapid economic growth and prosperity, which ended with a severe economic crisis and rising unemployment triggered in part by the 1973 oil embargo.[1] Riots in the 1980s—which foreshadowed riots in 2005—reflected the social impacts of economic changes that exacerbated ethnic tensions and widened the gaps between immigrants and others.[2] The economic crisis also prompted the emergence of the popular far-right political organization Le Front National . The Front National (FN) was at that point led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who framed the declining economy and its social effects as an outcome of immigration.  

The Front National, led today by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, presents a conservative economic and social agenda that is sometimes linked to Christian (Catholic) values, not unlike some right wing political parties in the United States, though the majority of its supporters are not themselves conservative Catholics.  

France continues to face high levels of unemployment, currently estimated at 10%. Unemployment rates disproportionately impact young people—youth unemployment peaked in 2013 at 26%—and especially those of low socioeconomic status and immigrant descent, a factor that contributed to the outbreak of riots in urban banlieues in 2005.[3] The majority of the rioters were the children and grandchildren of North African immigrants, leading many to place the blame on Islam instead of exploring underlying structural factors such as racism and unemployment.[4]

Like other nations in the EU suffering in the wake of the global recession, France has seen economic decline and rising unemployment within the past decade. These and past economic downturns have contributed to periods of increased social conservatism that have brought right-wing political parties to prominence.


[1] Freedman, “‘L’affaire des Foulards’: Problems of Defining a Feminist Antiracist Strategy in French Schools,” pp. 295–312.

[2] Jocelyne Cesari, “Ethnicity, Islam, and les Banlieues: Confusing the Issues,” Riots in France, November 30, 2005, http://riotsfrance.ssrc.org/Cesari/, accessed April 2, 2014.

[3] “Migration Picking up but Rising Unemployment Hurting Immigrants,” OECD, June 13, 2013, http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/migrationpickingupbutrisingunemploymenthurtingimmigrants.html, accessed April 2, 2014; Clea Calcutt, “France adds employability to the university mission,” Times Higher Education, January 23, 2014, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/france-adds-employability-to-the-university-mission/2010636.articleaccessed April 2, 2014.

[4] Kim Willsher, “French Socialists suffer as far-right and conservatives sweep elections,” The Guardian, March 30, 2014, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/france-adds-employability-to-the-university-mission/2010636.article, accessed April 2, 2014.

Image Source:

Marion Le Pen (2012), Gauthier Bouchet, Wikimedia Commons