Marine Le Pen veers further right with start of presidential bid

Front National leader delivers inflammatory speech as candidates begin campaigning

Far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaking in Lyon on Sunday. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP

Far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaking in Lyon on Sunday. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP

 

Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate for the extreme right-wing Front National (FN), veered sharper to the right at the first of her 10 campaign rallies on Sunday.

Polls indicate that Le Pen will lead in the first round of the presidential election on April 23rd, but is likely to be defeated in the May 7th run-off.

Alluding to the scandal over fictitious jobs that has blighted the candidacy of the mainstream conservative candidate and former front-runner François Fillon, Le Pen began by saying that “recent news has provided a striking demonstration: against the right of money, the left of money, I am the candidate of the France, of the people”.

Le Pen thanked British, Italian, Greek and Austrian voters, and Donald Trump, for “showing us the way . . . the awakening of peoples against the oligarchies can become a reality”.

Emboldened by Trump

In recent years, Le Pen had softened her discourse to “undemonise” the FN. But Trump’s victory has emboldened her. Her speech included the radical rhetoric typical of her father Jean-Marie, the party’s founder, and her niece, the parliamentary deputy Marion Maréchal Le Pen.

Le Pen’s vision of a France decimated by the dictates of the EU and immigrants who are either criminals or jihadists echoed Trump’s inaugural address about “carnage” in America.

In one of her most shocking assertions, Le Pen seemed to equate globalisation, and the EU she accuses of fostering it, with radical Islam.

“They have made an ideology of globalisation,” Le Pen said. “Economic globalism that refuses all limits, all regulation . . . and which weakens the nation’s immune system . . . makes it possible for another globalism to be born and grow: Islamic fundamentalism.”

Le Pen boasted of having “designated the enemy . . . these two globalisms that give each other a hand . . . both are working to destroy our nation. These two ideologies want to dominate our country.”

Le Pen blamed the “tyrannical Europist system” for “dragging down our economy, maintaining mass unemployment, imposing their views, their inept directives, their millions of migrants”.

Muslim crackdown

A crackdown on immigration was twinned with a crackdown on Muslims, as when Le Pen promised to enforce total secularism in the public space and in the workplace.

“When one wants to live in a country, one doesn’t start by violating its laws,” Le Pen said. “One doesn’t start by claiming rights. There will be no laws or values that are not French. If they want to live the way they did back home, let them stay there.”

The Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is running second to Le Pen in polls, preceded her with a large rally, also in Lyon, on Saturday. More than 7,000 people crowded into the auditorium, and thousands more watched the 39 year old on a giant screen outside.

Though Macron was received like a rock star, he is under pressure to define his presidential programme. The EU flag flies at all his meetings.

Alluding to Le Pen, Macron said, “Some claim to speak in the name of the people, but they are merely ventriloquists. They betray fraternity, for they detest faces that do not resemble their own.”

Le Pen, Macron and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate who also held a rally in Lyon on Sunday, all portray themselves as “anti-system” candidates.

Mélenchon, like Le Pen, speaks scathingly of the ruling “caste” and “oligarchies”.

Macron, like Le Pen, claims the left-right polarisation of France is outdated. “I’m not saying the left and right don’t exist,” he said. “But are these divisions insuperable?”

Balancing act

Economic liberalism combined with a social conscience and ecology are the mainstays of Macron’s balancing act. “We cannot glorify capitalism without trying to limit its excesses,” he said.

Mélenchon, who calls his movement “France unbowed”, created a sensation by appearing simultaneously in Lyon and in a suburb of Paris, via a three-dimensional hologram projected on transparent plastic. Up close, one could see through the Paris version, but from a distance and on television, it looked like magic.

Benoit Hamon, who won the socialist primary a week ago, was officially invested at a 3,000-strong rally in Paris. He and Mélenchon criticised other candidates, but spared each other. If one of them withdraws, the far left stands a chance of facing Le Pen in the run-off.