Almost one in five French voters cast their ballots for National Front leader Marine Le Pen’s call to abandon the euro and turn her country into an anti- immigrant fortress.
While that wasn’t enough to propel her into the final round of the presidential election, her party’s record 17.9 percent showing make her supporters key to the May 6 runoff between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Francois Hollande.
“We have blown apart the monopoly of the two parties of banking, finance and multinationals,” Le Pen said last night, declining to endorse either candidate. “Nothing will ever be the same.”
A lawyer by training, Le Pen, 43, led a campaign against both Hollande and Sarkozy, pledging to bring back the French franc, tighten borders against immigration and pull away from European treaties. While she failed to shock the establishment by making it into the second round like her father did in 2002, she still got about 68 percent more votes than he did in 2007. Her views are likely to color the election debate.
Already yesterday Sarkozy touched on immigration and crime as issues he is likely to focus on in his campaign, referring to a “crisis of immigration” and calling for greater border controls. National Front voters should “look closely at what they want,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today. The choice is between an excessive welfare state proposed by Hollande and a competitive country under Sarkozy, he said.
For his part, Hollande blamed Sarkozy’s economic and social policies for the rise of the National Front.
Hollande won 28.6 percent of the vote against 27.1 percent for Sarkozy, the interior ministry said. Le Pen said she will outline in Paris on May 1 her position for second-round voting.
Le Pen, a member of the European Parliament, has concentrated a large part of her campaigning against Europe and has repeatedly criticized the close relations between Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Europe is a “country-killing grinding machine, a machine that has killed our prosperity and our democracy,” she told supporters in Henin-Beaumont in northern France April 15.
She has blamed the euro for France’s 12-year-high jobless rate and factory closures, rejecting a December treaty agreed to by European countries for closer fiscal ties to resolve the region’s sovereign debt crisis.
“I would review all of the European treaties and rip up the new ones that Nicolas Sarkozy has accepted behind the backs of the French people,” Le Pen said. “The horrible stability pact condemns us to pay endlessly for the countries that are victim of the euro.”
Taking Back Power
Le Pen would cut French debt partly through national central bank lending. She’d seek savings by cutting European Union payments, raising company taxes, and cracking down on welfare fraud.
“Sarkozy and Hollande and their allies are in favor of the Europe of Brussels; I prefer France,” Le Pen has said, pledging to take back powers transferred to Europe including currency, borders, trade, industrial policy, immigration and justice.
Le Pen has tried to remake the party, which was historically based on anti-immigration policies, in a bid to attract more mainstream voters who blame Europe and porous borders for many of the country’s woes.
France accepts about 200,000 immigrants a year, about 0.3 percent of the country’s population. Le Pen wants to cut that to 10,000 annually.
Her father, who headed the National Front until last year, made it into the second round of the French presidential election in 2002, losing to Jacques Chirac, and garnered 10.4 percent of the vote in 2007. Jean-Marie was condemned by a French court in 1991 for denying the Holocaust.
“The economic, political and social situation is very serious,” her father said after last night’s results were announced. “There needs to be a return of policies that put France first.”
In campaign speeches, Le Pen has taken aim at both Sarkozy and Hollande, accusing them of looking out for the interests of privileged Parisians and neglecting concerns of average French workers. Bankers, media personalities, multinational bosses and soccer stars have come under Le Pen’s criticism for being rich while “honest” workers suffer.
Sarkozy and Hollande are “completely disconnected from the French people,” she said. “I am the only one in this election who offers another choice.”
‘Rejecting the System’
Winning over as many as possible of her voters will be key to Sarkozy’s chances of beating Hollande, who can count on the support of Communist-backed candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and three other first-round contenders.
“Le Pen supporters are rejecting the system,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. “If Sarkozy tries to appeal to them, he’ll give up the center.”
While many Le Pen supporters may abstain, some say they’ll throw their lot with Sarkozy. About 57 percent of Le Pen voters will back Sarkozy in the second round, 23 percent will abstain and 20 percent will back Hollande, according to BVA’s survey.
“I voted for Marine Le Pen in the first round, and I will vote Sarkozy in the second,” Roger Trasleglise, 83, a retired jeweler, said yesterday after casting his ballot in Paris. “She had no chance of going on to the second round, but still she could give her ideas to the winner.”
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