PARIS (AFP) – With a week to go before France’s presidential election runoff, right wing candidate Marine Le Pen played the green card outside a controversial aluminium plant in the south of the country.
Le Pen has made a series of targeted campaign stops in a bid to close a 19-point gap in voter surveys with centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, 39.
Vowing to pursue a vision of “true ecology”, the 48-year-old National Front (FN) candidate said the Alteo plant in the town of Gardanne was a symbol of a false choice between jobs and the environment.
The plant, with a workforce of some 400 as well as around 300 sub-contractors, is controversial for dumping toxic waste known as “red mud” into a Mediterranean nature reserve for decades.
Last year the government of former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls gave it an additional six years to comply with EU norms, prompting the European Commission to request an explanation.
The plant “is a symbol because they want us to believe that the choice is between jobs and health and the environment,” Le Pen told a handful of reporters outside the plant during her previously unannounced stop.
“I’m here to say that… there would not be such a choice to make” under a Le Pen presidency, said the candidate, who blames environmental degradation — and many other woes — on “unbridled globalisation”.
As part of her efforts to expand her base, Le Pen said Saturday she would name a fellow eurosceptic from outside the FN, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, as prime minister if she is elected.
Le Pen, who has promised France a referendum on quitting the European Union, said she and Dupont-Aignan, 56, would “build a national unity government that will bring together people chosen for their skills and their love of France.”
Like Le Pen, Dupont-Aignan — who lost in the election’s first round with 4.7 percent of the vote — has said he favours ditching the euro.
His backing for Le Pen “in the name of patriotism” sparked the resignation of two officials of his nationalist Debout la France (France Stand Up) party and drew more than 200 protesters to the town hall in Yerres, in the Paris region, where he is mayor.
On Saturday, Macron scoffed at the alliance as a “political scam that aims to solve Marine Le Pen’s credibility problems.”
Later Sunday, Le Pen laid a wreath at a monument in the port of Marseille, south of Gardanne, to mark France’s national day of remembrance for the victims of the deportation of French Jews to Nazi Germany.
Macron, for his part, was to visit the Holocaust memorial in Paris on Sunday.
– Don’t be ‘spectators’ –
The FN last week became embroiled in controversy over the choice of an interim leader who had been accused of praising a Holocaust denier.
Jean-Francois Jalkh, who was tapped to lead the FN after Le Pen stepped aside to campaign for the presidency, was quickly replaced while Jalkh himself denied making the remarks.
Le Pen has attempted to woo new voters on either side of the political divide.
In a video message Friday, she urged the near 20 percent of voters who backed eurosceptic leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon in the April 23 first round to “block” Macron, saying his pro-business programme was “diametrically opposed” to leftist ideals.
Melenchon has refused to explicitly endorse the liberal Macron, breaking with France’s “republican front” tradition of parties coming together to halt the FN.
Le Pen has sought to purge the FN of the anti-Semitism that became its trademark under her father, co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen — who made the second round in 2002 against the conservative eventual winner Jacques Chirac.
He had repeatedly calling the Nazi gas chambers a “detail” of history.
In 2015 she booted her father out of the party but this month she was herself criticised for saying today’s France bore no responsibility for the roundup and deportation of French Jews during World War II.
Meanwhile, calls on voters to block a Le Pen presidency — even if they are lukewarm toward Macron — continued to proliferate.
On Sunday, a prominent wartime Resistance figure, 96-year-old Daniel Cordier, told the weekly Journal du Dimanche that “Le Pen… represents the negation of all that we fought for.”
To those voters who would prefer to abstain — notably supporters of Melenchon and conservative Francois Fillon — around 60 civil society groups issued a joint call for them not to be “spectators”.
People must vote down “those who promote the rejection of the other,” their call read.