Science at risk as far right nears power, French academics warn

Sector leaders say international students and researchers, funding and academic freedom at risk if National Rally wins power

July 2, 2024
Marine Le Pen poster in France
Source: Remon Haazen/Getty Images

University leaders described the prospect of a far-right victory in the French parliamentary elections as “frightening”, with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) apparently on course to win the most seats in the National Assembly.

RN and its allies received 33 per cent of the vote in the first round of the elections on 30 June, with the New Popular Front, a coalition of left-wing and green parties, claiming 28 per cent, and president Emmanuel Macron’s centrists trailing with 20 per cent. Current projections suggest that RN may fail to secure an absolute majority in the second round of voting on 7 July, which would result in a hung parliament.

Patrick Lemaire, president of the Collège des Sociétés Savantes Académiques de France, an alliance of the country’s learned societies, said “everything would be stalled” in the event of a hung parliament. “At a time when many critical environmental and social decisions need to be taken, this sort of chamber would definitely not be a good thing – but it will still be better than an outright far-right majority,” he said.

RN, a nationalist, anti-immigration, Eurosceptic party, has advanced policies including “national preference”, which would see French citizens prioritised over non-nationals for jobs, housing and social benefits.

Bernold Hasenknopf, a professor of chemistry and adviser for European commitment at Sorbonne University, said the far right’s hostility towards immigration would have a vastly negative impact on French research. “Science, by essence, is open to the world,” he said. “We have to have mobility of students and researchers.”

Johanna Siméant-Germanos, professor of political science at the École Normale Supérieure, said the projected election result was “frightening for French research and higher education”.

While the humanities and social sciences might expect particular antagonism from the far right, Professor Siméant-Germanos said, she feared that “in all areas that touch on environmental, climate and public health issues, political control of research would result in some research not being funded and others being prevented from being published”. Other “emblematic” subject areas could also be targeted, she said, including race and gender studies.

“It is difficult to imagine that [RN] would not slash science funding,” said Dr Lemaire, noting that the current government under Mr Macron imposed major budget cuts earlier this year. A potential casualty of a far-right government could be the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, he added, predicting that research responsibilities could be reassigned to industry while higher education could be merged with schooling.

The success of the far right’s messaging, Dr Lemaire said, reflected in part an increasing hostility towards science across France. “As scientists, we are considered a part of an elite that is increasingly rejected by the French population,” he said. “We need to convince people that we are not pushing for decisions disconnected from their everyday life.

“We may otherwise become easy scapegoats, and we need to do something about that.”

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Reader's comments (1)

I guess they are worried that the post-colonial astrology degrees will be canceled.