Marine Le Pen tells business leaders euro is dead

Right-wing presidential candidate says she will resign if she fails to take France out of euro

Marine Le Pen (left) of the French far-right Front National  party  speaks at a gathering hosted by small businesses group Ethic. Photograph: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

Marine Le Pen (left) of the French far-right Front National party speaks at a gathering hosted by small businesses group Ethic. Photograph: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

 

If she becomes president of France on May 7th, Marine Le Pen leaves open the tinest possibility she might negotiate continued EU membership. But taking France out of the euro is her unconditional, flagship policy. If the French chose in a referendum to stay in the euro, she would resign, Le Pen said on Tuesday.

“The euro isn’t ailing, it’s dead,” the leader of the extreme right-wing Front National (FN) told a breakfast hosted by the small businesses group Ethic.

Le Pen will meet a half dozen business management groups before the presidential election first round vote on April 23rd, in the hope of luring members away from Les Républicains (LR) candidate François Fillon. Some are already at the tipping point.

The breakfast took place in the prestigious Cercle Interallié, next door to the British ambassador’s residence and a few doors from the Élysée Palace, which Le Pen seems to be closing in on. She showed no sign of being impressed by the brocade curtains, tapestries and gilt mouldings.

Currency

Le Pen’s determination to return to the French franc is approved by 64 per cent of FN supporters, according to the annual political “barometer” published on Tuesday by Le Monde. Only 11 per cent of LR supporters and 14 per cent of left-wing voters want to leave the single currency.

Le Pen’s economic programme is an astute mix of left and right-wing policies. From the left, she has borrowed retirement at age 60, abrogation of last year’s labour law, and preservation of the civil service and the 35-hour working week.

Other policies are calculated to please business. “I am on the side of entrepreneurs who heroically face endless audits, suspicion and aggressiveness,” she told Ethic’s members. “The administration should help business.”

Le Pen wants to reduce social charges and taxes on small- and medium-size enterprises. A 2014 study showed that one in two owners of very small businesses supports Le Pen, particularly those in the construction sector.

Worries

Would Le Pen, like David Cameron, resign if she lost a referendum? “If I tell the French we have to leave and they decide to stay? The people are always right,” Le Pen replied. “I would have to leave . . . if I don’t have the levers, if I cannot chose my immigration policy, stop family reunification, expel terrorists because of EU laws, if I cannot practise an intelligent form of protectionism, if I cannot demand that imports respect French industrial and agricultural standards . . . If I cannot do all that, I am useless.”

The policies of the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron are compared to Tony Blair’s Third Way, now discredited in the UK and Germany. Fillon’s supporters liken him to Margaret Thatcher.

Le Pen says she’s more up to date. “We’re at the beginning of the end of the ultra-liberal model that was imposed by the US and UK and exported to the entire world,” she says. “Today, the Anglo-Saxon world, which is extremely pragmatic, has shut down ultra-liberalism, because it’s in their interest. They say, ‘We forgot to tell you, free trade is over. Now we’re doing economic patriotism, intelligent protectionism’.”

Le Pen asks rhetorically what France should do. “Get stuck in the era of Reagan and Thatcher? We’ll die.”

The Le Monde barometer shows that Le Pen’s ideas are more popular than her party. While 58 per cent of the French consider the FN to be a danger to democracy, one third of the population agree with its ideas and are ready to vote for it.

“In 30 years, the extreme right has never been at such a high level,” President François Hollande told Le Monde. The outgoing head of state reportedly believes Le Pen’s popularity is underestimated by polls.

Opponents

But Le Pen is poised to lead the first round on April 23rd, and experience shows the first round winner goes on to win the runoff. “Everyone has accepted the idea that the FN will be in the second round,” Macron told a rally on February 24th. “It is a complete moral and political defeat.”

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