Marine Le Pen gives simple world view to French voters
Front National leader targets oligarchies, global trade and European Union
Marine Le Pen, FN leader and a candidate in France’s presidential election. “If we have peaceful relations between the US, France and Russia, it will be good for the entire world,” Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images
If Marine Le Pen is elected president of France on May 7th, it will be because her binary view of the world is simple and easy to understand. The leader of the extreme right-wing Front National (FN) no longer speaks of elites, but of “oligarchies” which confiscate the will of the people. They are at the top of her enemies list, along with the “semi-totalitarian European Union” which “advances through threats, intimidation and blackmail”.
Other enemies are the “undemocratic” European Parliament which has “colluded” with the EU’s anti-fraud office Olaf to persuade French authorities to open a case against Le Pen for allegedly using EU funds to pay party workers. She says she will sue Olaf.
Le Pen’s black-and-white vision of the world extends to foreign policy. She blames the EU for provoking the war in Ukraine by “blackmailing” the Kiev government into abandoning ties with Russia. In Syria, Le Pen adds, it is in France’s interest to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. “There are no moderate rebels,” only “Islamic fundamentalists of incredible barbarity”.
Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president-elect Donald Trump are at the top of Le Pen’s friends list. “I would like to see an alliance of great nations emerge between France, Russia and the US for the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, because it is an enormous danger to us all,” she told the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris in a group interview.
In less than five months, the world could be dominated by a triumvirate of populist nationalists. “If we have peaceful relations between the US, France and Russia, it will be good for the entire world,” Le Pen says. Trump “is good for France” because he opposes a transatlantic free trade area and will stop the US meddling in other countries’ business all over the world.
Le Pen uses “the people” like a punctuation mark: “There can be no question of betraying the people. That’s why my slogan is ‘In the name of the people’. It’s more than a slogan, it’s a profession of faith. It’s unbearable for the will of the people to be shoved aside for the benefit of technocrats in Brussels.”
Asked to define populism, she quotes Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, without crediting the great American president. “If populism is defending government of the people, by the people and for the people, I accept being called a populist, even if it is used by the media to discredit, with a negative connotation.”
Le Pen is affable but maintains a certain hauteur throughout our interview. She begins by wishing us a happy new year and ends by promising to receive us next time in “other salons”, a reference to the Élysée Palace, a dozen blocks down the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
However, Le Pen’s and the FN’s relations with media are often strained. She has sued newspapers, so far unsuccessfully, for referring to her party as “extreme right”. Despite her epic struggle to “undemonise” the FN, there is still something extreme about the aura, the way there are no signs outside her campaign headquarters, the beefy bodyguards with shaved heads.
Le Pen promises to exploit social media to the hilt, to be in more direct contact with “the people”. It is because of media hostility “that we’ve become the first party of France. It works rather well to be mistreated, insulted and caricatured by the media,” she says.
An Elabe poll published on January 5th showed Le Pen within reach of defeating the leading candidate, François Fillon, in the first round of the election on April 23th, but independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is running third, is gaining ground and is fighting Le Pen for a place in the run-off.
There is no longer a difference between left and right in France, Le Pen says. “It’s enough to see how similar Macron’s and Fillon’s programmes are. The real divide is between nationalists and post-nationalists.”
Le Pen’s claim to be the true heir to Charles de Gaulle, a leader of the French Resistance, founder of the Fifth Republic and president from 1958-1969, will offend many French people, particularly in Fillon’s neo-Gaullist Les Républicains. “Gen de Gaulle was opposed to Nato, ” Le Pen says. “He was fiercely attached to the sovereignty of the French people. I feel much closer to this vision than to that of political leaders who channel de Gaulle but are for submission to the EU and Nato.”
Her “post-nationalist” adversaries “believe the nation is an outdated structure and that the people cannot be listened to because they are less competent than the oligarchy to decide what is good for them . . . Brexit marks the return of nations.”
If she is elected, Le Pen promises to spend six months wresting France’s “four essential sovereignties” from EU control. She defines these as border controls to fight terrorism, economic sovereignty to make “intelligent protectionism” possible, a sovereign French currency to enable the country to fight unemployment by devaluing and legislative sovereignty because “the people’s decisions cannot be reversed by any rules, laws or directives from the EU”.
If negotiations succeed, she says, she would advise the French to vote in a referendum to remain in the EU. If they fail, she would advocate what has been called a “Frexit”.
Le Pen is the first to admit that her strategy would precipitate the unravelling of the EU as we know it. “A lot of countries would take advantage of these negotiations to put forward their own concerns,” she predicts. “Brexit and the election of Donald Trump mark the end of laissez faire, of this globalisation which was presented to us as happy and which is savage, which creates mass migration, catastrophic de-industrialisation and upheaval for those affected by it,” Le Pen concludes.
“Global free trade is dying. It’s over. This page of world history is turning. We are going back to the epoch of nations, of reasonable protection and economic and cultural patriotism, which are the best ways to protect people.”