Most Tea Party groups around the country started with libertarian-leaning folks who wanted government to get out of all aspects their lives – from their bank accounts to the bedroom. In another country across the Atlantic, people are demonstrating in the streets against their socialist leaders and over-reaching government programs.
This political uprising is from an unlikely sector: Social conservatives in one of the most liberal countries in Europe – France. This cultural political movement seems to be spreading like wildfire throughout Europe.
This backlash against liberal social policies started in opposition to certain teaching in French schools. Students were required to read books that promoted non-traditional gender roles such as “Daddy Wears a Dress.” One boy reportedly had been forced to dress up as a princess for a school party. In response, social conservatives organized a “take your child out of school for a day” protest.
A recent same-sex marriage law signed by French President Francois Hollande turned more French citizens against these liberal policies.
Political fuel was added to the fire when a rumor circulated that Hollande may have secretly renounced his Christian faith. This is something that’s difficult – if not impossible – to prove, but it stirred up social conservatives even more.
These political newcomers have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands to voice their disapproval of the Hollande government. They organized assemblies and social media campaigns… and targeted Socialist politicians, but also right-of-center candidates who they didn’t think were conservative enough.
This organized, focused action paid off as French conservatives won recent elections in a nationwide landslide. The runoff vote gave the far-right National Front party its biggest victory ever, taking 11 towns and a major district in Marseille. The center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) took elections in more than 150 other French cities.
These heavy Socialist losses reflected extreme disapproval in the leadership of President Hollande. In response, Hollande reshuffled the French government the day after the election. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was replaced by Interior Minister Manuel Valls. In the newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Valls warned:
“We are witnessing the rise of a tea party of the French.”
This political culture war is also being waged across Europe. In Spain, the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants to push through legislation that would greatly limit abortion rights. This unleashed a bitter confrontation with the left and reversed a steady trend of liberal social policies in Spain since the death of General Francisco Franco.
In Poland, a measure that would grant same-sex civil partnerships failed last year due to massive opposition. After the bill went down to defeat, Prime Minster Donald Tusk said he saw no chance of these type of unions passing in the next 10 to 15 years.
Social conservatives have also gained momentum in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked outrage among progressives after she expressed doubts about full adoption rights for same-sex couples. Merkel said in a German public TV interview, “To be completely honest with you, I’m having difficulty with full equality.”
Given the results of this recent election, does this mean we’ll see a limited-government Renaissance in France? Not exactly. This movement called the “tea party, a la Francaise” by some in France hasn’t had the same impact that the Tea Party had on US politics in the 2010 election. While some conservatives are opposed to high taxes and wasteful government spending, big government is still generally considered good government in France by many people on both the left and the right.
Many French social conservatives bristle at the comparison between them and the American Tea Party movement. But others say they see some similarities. “In a way, yes, on values, I think we could be described as a kind of tea party,” said Madeleine de Jessey, 24, a co-founder of the Common Sense Movement within the UMP. “But economically speaking, we are not conservative like them.”
While this political movement in France isn’t the same as the Tea Party in the US, it’s encouraging that more people are rejecting the cultural policies of the Left. Over time, maybe this opposition could also attack the failed liberal economic policies.