LYON, France (AP) — Marine Le Pen, the right wing presidential candidate, is unveiling her platform at a weekend conference, envisioning a thriving nation “made in France.” That means a state having its own borders to guard, its own currency to spend and its identity unchanged by immigrants, refugees and globalization.
On full display for two days will be the proud nationalism of the National Front party candidate. The timing could not be better for Le Pen, a leader in early polls for the April 23 and May 7 elections.
The British decision to exit the European Union and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump could inspire would-be voters and provide a moral boost for her backers attending the event in the southeast city of Lyon.
“The entire world, it’s true for Brexit, it’s true for Mr. Trump, is becoming conscious of what we’ve been saying for years,” she said in a recent television interview.
Le Pen denounces what she calls the “ultra-liberal economic model,” globalization, open borders and “massive immigration,” notably of Muslims. In her view, immigrants take jobs from the French, raises the terrorism risk and, like a thief in the night, are stealing away the identity of France.
No more, she vows.
Measures by Trump, notably his months-long halt on arrivals of refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries, could be right out of Le Pen’s playbook — if France weren’t a member of Europe’s open borders group and with a refugee policy in part dependent on the EU.
Unlike Trump, Le Pen is not a new quantity in French politics — she has headed the National Front since 2011 — but they share a belief in what she calls “economic patriotism” and “intelligent protectionism.” That may include tariffs on some imports and punishment for French companies that move factories abroad
This will be Le Pen’s second bid at the presidency after placing third in 2012. Early polls consistently show her among the two top candidates, but suggest she’ll lose by a wide margin in the runoff. But the unexpected is becoming the new normal, bolstering hopes.
Parisian baker Walter Fraudin, 44, a National Front member, said Trump’s victory might motivate the French to undo a system in which political promises never leave the wish list.
“He does what he says,” Fraudin said. “If you’re on a battlefield you’ll follow him … Marine Le Pen, I would follow her.”
Her first move, if elected, will be working to spring France from the European Union, and her first trip will be to Brussels to try to extract her country from the euro currency, border agreements and other critical domains. It’s a battle she apparently sees as lost in advance since she has a Plan B: a Brexit-style exit referendum.
“Today, the European Union decides in your place,” Le Pen’s campaign manager, David Rachline said.
“It is the survival of industry, the survival of jobs that are at play in this (election) battle,” Rachline told supporters at a local federation sharing, in the old French tradition, an Epiphany cake. “It is a battle for our heritage.”
France’s longstanding jobless rate of 10 percent, growing disgust with politics as usual and the disarray of the political establishment, on right and left, have added voter appeal of a party seen as a pariah for its racist, anti-Semitic profile under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen — an image the daughter has worked to clean up.
It’s no longer uncommon to find hard-boiled leftists as well as conservatives supporting her. Still, numerous backers questioned over months remain reticent about identifying themselves publicly, saying her campaign to make the party a fully respectable alternative will take years.
The candidate just two weeks ago considered the mostly likely to beat Le Pen and win, former conservative Prime Minister Francois Fillon, is bogged down in a corruption scandal over handsomely paid, and possibly fictitious, parliamentary aide jobs for his wife and two children. Untested former budget minister Emmanuel Macron, who rebelled against his Socialist masters to strike out on his own, could end up facing Le Pen in the second-round vote.
Macron, a centrist, chose Lyon for a weekend rally, as did hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Le Pen knows that not all measures announced at the conference will please everyone. Her decision not to seek a return of the death penalty, abolished in 1981, runs counter to her 2012 presidential platform, and to the wishes of a hard-line National Front contingent.
However, she has made it clear that the platform is hers alone — not the party’s.