France’s far-right party leader Marine Le Pen promised a crackdown on foreigners and the forces of globalisation if she won the presidency as she kicked off her campaign for a highly unpredictable election.
Launching her bid in front of a 3,000-strong crowd in Lyon on Sunday, she laid out a plan to pull the country out of the euro, tax foreign workers, impose trade barriers and stop “uncontrolled immigration”.
Interrupted by chants of “France! France!” and “On est chez nous!” (“This is our country”), she told a raucous crowd that the country was threatened by the “two totalitarianisms” of economic globalisation and Islamic fundamentalism.
She also called on her supporters to take heart from the global anti-establishment surge that led the UK to vote to leave the EU last year as well as the victory of Donald Trump. “The winds of change are turning around the world,” she said. “People are waking up!”
Polls show Ms Le Pen, the 48-year-old daughter of the founder of the National Front party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, winning the first round of the French election on April 23 and then losing the May 7 run-off to a more mainstream candidate.
But the collapse of support for the Socialist party, the funding scandal engulfing the centre-right candidate, and the youth and inexperience of the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron have offered the FN hopes of victory.
Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a senior party official, said: “We were told Donald Trump would never win in the US against the media, against the establishment, but he won . . . We were told Marine Le Pen would not win, but on May 7 she will win.”
Financial markets have over the past month been pricing in the increasing risk of a Le Pen victory, with French 10-year bond yields rising steeply. A report by UBS Wealth Management last week gave Ms Le Pen a 40 per cent chance of becoming president.
Since Ms Le Pen succeeded her father as party head in 2011, the FN has softened its xenophobic rhetoric and developed a statist platform designed to attract blue-collar workers disappointed by the left.
This strategy has helped her party thrive in areas of France that have felt the brunt of deindustrialisation, tapping into growing disillusion among traditional leftwing voters who feel abandoned by the mainstream political class.
The 144 “presidential commitments” Ms Le Pen presented over the weekend as the basis of her policy platform suggest she wants to further broaden the party’s appeal.
In the document, for example, gone was any mention of restoring the death penalty, which had been part of her previous programmes. There was also a long tract on the importance of the environment.
But her speech on Sunday — where she evoked an “ideological battle” against the “barbarism” of radical Islam — made clear that her anti-immigration stance would remain at the core of her agenda over the coming months.
Her promises included: a special tax on job contracts for foreigners; slashing migration by 80 per cent to 10,000 people a year; making it much harder to become a French citizen; and stopping undocumented migrants becoming French citizens.
Party supporters seemed to appreciate this focus. Pierre Chardin, a 71-year-old former engineer at the campaign launch in Lyon, said immigration was the most important issue. “Jobs should go to French workers first . . . there are too many foreigners around where I live,” he said.
On the economy, Ms Le Pen redoubled her appeal to blue-collar workers. She said she would restore the competitiveness of France by abandoning the euro, pursuing a policy of “intelligent protectionism” and “re-industrialisation”.
Internationally, she said her election would be followed by six months of talks with EU partners to reshape the EU into a loose confederation of nations, for example by ending the border-free Schengen area and ending the pre-eminence of EU law.
If there was no such deal, then there would be a referendum on leaving the EU. The party also reaffirmed its commitment to recreating the French franc as the national currency, although gave no detail about the mechanism for leaving the euro.
The two-day rally in Lyon came on the same weekend as Ms Le Pen’s chief rival, the centrist and pro-European Mr Macron, was also kicking off his campaign in the same city, welcoming around 10,000 people to his event.
Ms Le Pen on Sunday tried to present the election as a choice between those who were pro-globalisation and those who were not. “There is no right wing and no left wing any more,” she said. “There is only those who support globalisation and patriots.”