Lyon (AFP) – Far-right leader Marine Le Pen vowed Sunday she would be a president who puts France first as she formally launched a campaign echoing many of the themes that propelled Donald Trump to the White House.
With polls showing her now leading the first round of the election race, the head of the National Front (FN) attacked “mass immigration”, globalisation and “Islamic fundamentalism” and said she wanted a country “which owes nothing to anyone”.
In a speech in the central city of Lyon less than three months before voting begins, Le Pen praised Britain for choosing to leave the European Union and urged the French to emulate Trump voters “who put their own national interests first”.
She compared globalisation to slavery, saying it meant “manufacturing with slaves to sell to the unemployed”.
The FN “will be all about the local, not the global,” the 48-year-old said to cheers from a crowd of around 3,000 people.
“The impossible is becoming possible,” she said, “just as it’s possible for presidents like Donald Trump to not only be elected in the face of a system ranged against them, but also that they keep their promises.”
– ‘The people’s candidate’ –
Opinion polls have shown for months that Le Pen will win enough votes in the first round on April 23 to reach the runoff, but they currently show she will be defeated in the second round on May 7.
With former investment banker Emmanuel Macron appearing increasingly likely to be her ultimate opponent, Le Pen told supporters that “faced with the cash-rich rightwing and the cash-rich leftwing, only I am the candidate of the people”.
She was also referring to the previous frontrunner, conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who is embroiled in revelations his wife drew hundreds of thousands of euros in salary as his parliamentary assistant but never actually worked.
An incident at the Louvre museum in Paris on Friday, where a man wielding two machetes and shouting “Allah Akbar” (God is greatest) was shot after attacking a group of soldiers, has shifted the focus onto Le Pen’s preferred subjects of security, Islam and immigration.
“We will not expect the French people to get used to living with terrorism,” she said, promising a massive increase in spending on law and order.
Speaking in the city where she once compared the sight of Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation, Le Pen said: “We do not want to live under the tyranny of fundamentalism.”
She promised a “zero tolerance” approach to crime with the recruitment of 15,000 extra police, focusing attention on the troubled suburbs of French cities.
Foreigners who commit crimes will be drummed out of France, she said.
Turning to the EU, she said she wanted to “release France from the tyranny” of Brussels. If the bloc refused to accept large-scale reforms, she pledged to call a referendum on membership within six months of taking office.
In the crowd, 21-year-old student Gregoire Laloux was delighted.
“I am attracted by what she says about patriotism, her definition of French identity and culture and her wish to put France back among the big international players,” he said.
Michel Ducreux, 54, a farmer, also liked Le Pen’s nationalist stance “and her policies for creating jobs for those who have the least”.
– ‘People are waking up’ –
But there were empty seats in the hall, in contrast to the packed venue in the same city on Saturday where 39-year-old Macron addressed 8,000 supporters with thousands more watching on a giant screen outside.
The FN’s influential deputy leader Florian Philippot insisted that the momentum was with Le Pen and not the fast-rising Macron.
“People are waking up. They see Brexit, they see Trump and they’re saying to themselves: ‘It’s worth going to vote’,” he said before her speech.
One of Le Pen’s advisors conceded however on Saturday that “on paper”, Macron currently had the best chance of winning a head-to-head duel.
A former economy minister under unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande, Macron is also running as a candidate outside the political establishment and has founded his own movement, En Marche (On The Move).
Macron said Le Pen “did not speak in the name of the people” and he took aim at nepotism in the FN, which was founded by her father, anti-Semitic former paratrooper Jean-Marie Le Pen.