Global Post: HENIN-BEAUMONT, France — This former coal-mining town of 26,000 languishing in the economic badlands along the border with Belgium is about as far as you can get from the postcard image of this country as a land of wine and romance.
Street after street of red-brick row houses lie in the shadow of mountainous spoil tipsleft behind by long-dead mines that once attracted waves of migrant workers from Italy, Poland and North Africa.
Downtown, shuttered stores are common. Among those that survive, traditional patisseries and charcuteries — bakers and butchers — are outnumbered by Turkish fast-food joints plastered with garish photos advertising kebab and fries.
In the cafes, men wearing tracksuits drinking mid-morning beers are a reminder that the 17 percent unemployment rate here is among the highest in France.
Since March, Henin-Beaumont has also been a National Front town.
“Europe is detached from people’s lives.”
The ultra-nationalist party swept to a landslide victory here in municipal elections, ending decades of left-wing rule.
Now the party is hoping to repeat that success at a national level by harnessing voters’ anger with the political mainstream to become France’s biggest political party in this week’s elections for the European Parliament.
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