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French PM: Marine Le Pen Could Be Next French President

Berlin (AFP) – French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned Thursday that far-right leader Marine Le Pen had a chance of winning next year’s presidential election, boosted by the momentum of Donald Trump’s shock victory in the United States.

“It’s possible,” Valls said in response to a question at an economic conference in Berlin on whether the candidate of France’s anti-immigration National Front could win in light of the US upset.

“All the opinion polls have the candidate Marine Le Pen making it to the second round” of France’s presidential race in May, the Socialist premier said.

“If she does make it to the second round, she will face either a candidate of the left or the right. This means that the balance of politics will change completely,” he added, warning of “the danger presented by the extreme right”.

There is growing concern in France that the same wave of populist, anti-globalisation anger that carried Trump to the White House and saw Britons vote to leave the EU could hand Le Pen the keys to the Elysee Palace.

“Of course there are risks in France, I am struck by the tone of the public debate,” Valls said.

But he stressed that there were differences between Trump and Le Pen, noting that the American billionaire was the candidate of a mainstream party even though his “speeches and proposals are worrying”.

Valls is suspected of having presidential ambitions himself but has yet to officially throw his hat in the ring to go up against his party’s deeply unpopular head of state Francois Hollande.

– ‘Nothing set in stone’ –

The French will hold the first-round vote in April for a president who enjoys even greater executive powers than the US commander-in-chief, including the authority to send the country to war without parliamentary approval.

Polls currently show Le Pen making it past the first round to the May 7 run-off, where she is expected to face off against a conservative candidate from the centre-right.

While the country’s two-round electoral system makes it difficult for outsiders to cause an upset, observers believe that the Trump and Brexit earthquakes have shown that old certainties can no longer be relied on.

Le Pen, who is currently polling at around 25-28 percent, has gleefully seized on Trump’s win as proof that nothing is “set in stone”.

Trump “made possible what had previously been presented as impossible,” she said in a recent BBC interview.

She was among the first European politicians to congratulate the Republican on his win last week and has praised his opposition to free trade, globalisation and the “warlike interventions that are the source of the huge migratory waves that we are suffering”.

In Berlin, Valls pleaded for a new approach to globalisation to respond to the kind of “anger” that led to the Brexit decision and the US election result.

“I am for a globalisation that serves the people,” he said.

His comments echoed those of US President Barack Obama, who was also in Berlin on Thursday as part of a European farewell tour aimed in part at reassuring allies about transatlantic ties under Trump.

In a speech in Athens on Wednesday, Obama acknowledged that globalisation had fuelled a “sense of injustice” and needed a “course correction” to address growing inequality.

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