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Far-right presidential candidate Le Pen promises ‘referendum revolution’

If she wins the presidential run-off on April 24th the status of 5.2m foreigners living in France will be threatened

Extreme right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has promised "a referendum revolution" to change the French constitution because "only the people should have the possibility of revising the constitution" and not the parliament.

A “referendum to stop immigration” appears on a list of first decisions Ms Le Pen would take if elected, along with “enforcing national priority” and establishing a “referendum by citizens’ initiative” (RIC), which was one of the main demands of the yellow vests or gilets jaunes revolt in 2018-19. The letters RIC often appeared in graffiti and on placards carried by protestors.

“We must stop considering the French people as an enemy,” Ms Le Pen told a press conference in Vernon, north of Paris, on Tuesday. It was “much healthier for the people to vote” on these laws than the legislature.

She chose Vernon to avoid giving the impression of being “too Paris”, an aide said.

“National priority” is the subject of a 23-page draft referendum intended to prevent immigration “modifying the composition and the identity of the French people”.

Le Pen's requirement that asylum applicants wait outside France would also violate a constitutional right

If Ms Le Pen wins the presidential run-off on April 24th, the status of 5.2 million foreigners living in France will be threatened.

The referendum would "turn discrimination and xenophobia into constitutional principles, making it possible to bar foreigners from employment, lodging or social welfare, drastically restricting the right of asylum and abolishing the right to French nationality for those born in France", wrote Le Monde columnist Philippe Bernard.

Origins

The text violates the 1789 Declaration of Human Rights and the preamble to the 1946 constitution which says that no one shall be discriminated against because of their origins, Mr Bernard said. Ms Le Pen’s requirement that asylum applicants wait outside France would also violate a constitutional right.

She would do away with the right to family reunification, which is guaranteed by the European Court of Human Rights. Her insistence that French law prevail over European law would set France on a collision course with Brussels, like her nationalist populist allies in Hungary and Poland.

Ms Le Pen's programme takes note of "a profound and irremediable divergence of views with Berlin", and envisions ending the Franco-German cooperation undertaken by President Emmanuel Macron over the past five years.

Armin Laschet, the leader of the German CDU party, tweeted on Monday that "the election in France is more important for Europe than the German election ... Madame Le Pen wants to destroy the European Union. A victory for Emmanuel Macron is crucial for Europe."

Ms Le Pen no longer advocates leaving the euro zone or the EU. Those proposals frightened voters five years ago. But she told France Inter radio on Tuesday she wants to create “a European alliance of nations with a vocation of progressively substituting itself for the EU”, because, she claims, “a great majority of French people no longer want the EU as it exists today”.

Ms Le Pen has said she does not want to be “the governor of a European region”. She wants to remove the EU flag from the official presidential photograph and from French schools. Her opponents recall that the referendum was the instrument used to achieve Brexit.

Public places

Ms Le Pen’s draft law against Islamism would ban the Muslim headscarf in public places. The wearing of all religious symbols has been illegal in French schools since 2004.

“The veil isolates and draws attention to those who do not wear it,” Ms Le Pen said on Tuesday.

Asked why she would not also ban the wearing of the crucifix or kippa, she said her law was not about laicité or state-enforced secularism, but about Islamism. “The veil is an Islamist uniform and not a Muslim uniform. It is the uniform of an ideology and not a religion.”

Last month she called Islamism “a totalitarian ideology... as dangerous as Nazism”.

Ms Le Pen has softened her image by concentrating on cost-of-living issues and social policy. On Monday she promised to exclude VAT on a selection of 100 essential food items and cleaning products. Some question whether she is still on the far right. Conservative newspaper Le Figaro now puts the words “extreme right” in quotation marks when referring to her.

Sarkozy – who refused to support his own party's candidate in the first round – on Tuesday endorsed Mr Macron, praising his 'fidelity to the values of the republican right'

In a recent interview with the Anglo-American Press Association, political scientist Dominique Reynié predicted that politicians from the mainstream conservative party, Les Républicains, would be willing to work with Ms Le Pen.

"There will be people from the right, deputies in the National Assembly, honourable people who are not considered fascists, who will say: 'It will be better if we govern with her; we'll be protecting France. We will do serious things with her'."

By adopting more violent rhetoric, failed extreme right-wing candidate Eric Zemmour helped Ms Le Pen to appear comparatively moderate. He has asked the 7.07 per cent of voters who chose him to back Ms Le Pen in the run-off.

But on Tuesday she excluded the possibility of making Mr Zemmour her prime minister.

Unwise

Like Mr Macron, Ms Le Pen is eager to capture some of the 22 per cent of the vote which went to far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. It would be unwise for her to send signals to Mr Zemmour or his followers.

Former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy – who refused to support his own party's candidate in the first round – on Tuesday endorsed Mr Macron, praising his "fidelity to the values of the republican right", the way he values work and his "clear and unambiguous commitment" to the EU.

Former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin and the business management group Medef also urged voters to choose Mr Macron.

Communist trade union CGT warned that “the extreme right is at the gates of the Élysée”. Like Mr Mélenchon, France’s most radical trade union stopped short of calling on its members to vote for Mr Macron.

“In numerous countries today, leaders who follow this ideology, including [Vladimir] Putin, [Jair] Bolsonaro and [Viktor] Orban suppress trade union and democratic rights, break social guarantees and divide workers,” said the CGT statement.

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