Le Pen Campaigns On ‘France First’ Platform

Marine Le Pen's once-fringe National Front party makes its bid for the presidency on anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies

Marine Le Pen in Lyon — REUTERS
Feb 06, 2017 at 7:22 AM ET

Far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen vowed to “free France from the tyranny” of globalization, immigration, and the EU at the official launch of her presidential campaign this weekend, where she declared that the same populist powers that propelled Donald Trump in the U.S. and Brexit referendum in the UK would also ensure her the presidential victory.

“What is at stake in this election is the continuity of France as a free nation, our existence as a people,” said Le Pen to a crowd of thousands at a sleek conference hall in Lyon, France.

“The divide is no longer between the left and right but between patriots and globalists,” she said, linking her campaign to that of Donald Trump, whom she praised for “keeping his promises, acting fast and strong in the interest of his people.”

The first round of voting will take place April 23, with a runoff on May 7 if no single candidate secures more than half of the vote. Le Pen promised that if elected she will pursue a referendum on French membership in the EU, and move to replace the Euro with the French franc, within six months of beginning her term. The withdrawal would “unambiguously” cause France to default on its sovereignty debt, according to the head of the global ratings agency Standard & Poor.

Over the two-day long political rally this weekend, Le Pen also reiterated the 144 proposals of her manifesto, which focus on her party’s main issues of tackling globalization and Islamic terrorism. Her declarations that “financial globalization and Islamist globalization” were linked and were “two ideologies that want to bring France to its knees” received booming applause and “France is ours!” chants.

France is home to a Muslim immigrant population of 5 million, the largest such community in Western Europe, which has been largely marginalized to the French suburbs. The community has had to deal with some of its members traveling to fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as undertake terror attacks on French soil, raising a fierce debate over the idea that the West and Islam are engaged in a clash of civilizations.

Le Pen’s policy proposals, which include denying education and healthcare to the children of undocumented immigrants, are striking a chord as the French public is roiled by high rates of unemployment and threats of global terrorism.  Her weekend speech was delivered as the French police continue a probe into an attempted stabbing attack at the Louvre Museum in Paris last Friday.

The National Front has been gaining in popularity in recent years, but a presidential win would allow her to finally shed the party’s fringe image.

In a process she has described as “de-deligitimization,” Marine Le Pen has expelled the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father, who was repeatedly convicted for his racist and anti-Semitic statements. In 1987, he was fined for proclaiming that Nazi gas chambers were “a detail of World War II history.” Today, she’s campaigning as a softened, more palatable version of her father’s political vision, going by “Marine” only—no last name, against the traditional Socialist Left and Republican Right which are struggling to present a united front.

French voters are tired of Socialists after five years of an extremely unpopular Francois Hollande, while the Republican candidate Francois Fillon is embroiled in his own corruption charges so serious that he may not even be eligible to submit his candidacy by the March deadline.

Le Pen is also under investigation for funneling more than $300,000 in salaries for National Front staff, including a personal bodyguard, though she has refused orders requiring her to repay the money.

Currently, Le Pen’s toughest opponent is centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron,  who launched his own campaign for his own “En Marche!” party this weekend. In a speech to some 15,000 on Saturday, he mocked Le Pen’s empty promises to speak “in the name of the people,” as her slogan reads, saying “they are speaking to a France that never existed.”

The latest polls say that while Le Pen is expected to win the first round of voting in April, a more moderate candidate is more likely to secure the second round of voting in May. But observers are also cautious in referring to those polls, given their failure to predict the outcome of the recent U.S. elections. Even the popular newspaper Le Parisien, announced last month that following Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, polls will no longer be commissioned so as to “avoid giving the sort of commentary that accompanies a horse race…[and instead] concentrate, in depth, on the candidates and their manifestos.”

Wt the National Front event, though, Le Pen and her supporters paid little attention to polls, instead focusing on the next French “revolution.”

“We were told Donald Trump would never win in the United States, where he faced off against the media, against the establishment, but he won… We were told Marine Le Pen would not win the presidential election, but on May 7 she will win!” Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a top National Front official, told hundreds of party members.