France’s far-right National Front party is hoping to ride of the waves of the UK's Brexit and Donald Trump’s populist victory to the halls of power.
In the latest presidential election polls posted this week, National Front leader Marine Le Pen has emerged as one of the country’s leading politicians, surpassing even center-right challenger and former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
“The far-right leader had 29 per cent of the vote when pitted against Les Républicains’ former president, who was eight points behind, and held a 15-point lead over the Parti de Gauche’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the poll released by Ipsos,” reports The Independent.
With socialist President Francois Hollande suffering from incredibly low-approval ratings, Le Pen appears to have a viable path forward to secure the presidency.
The mainstream French press is already reeling from the latest polling numbers, suggesting that the French Republic is headed for doom.
But outside of the media offices of Paris, everyday people have a much different view of the ever-popular far-right party and its outspoken, albeit controversial, female leader.
Here are 7 things you need to know about the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.
1. Marine Le Pen is the daughter of longtime National Front leader, Jean Marie Le Pen, a fiery politician known for his off-color, Neo-Nazi dogwhistle remarks about Jews and other minorities. The elder Le Pen was kicked out of the party after quipping that the Holocaust was merely a minor “detail in the history of World War II.”
2. Le Pen has worked to rehabilitate the once-radical image of the National Front, bringing the party into the mainstream. For decades, the National Front was relegated to sidelines, operating as a fringe xenophobic group attractive to only the most hardened ethno-nationalists. But the younger Le Pen has made major strides in softening the party’s image and expanding its appeal beyond its core constituency. While its core constituency is still largely comprised of xenophobic and sometimes even racist elements, the party has successfully expanded the tent to include Euroskeptics, labor unions, and working class constituents. In an effort to expedite the “de-demonization of the Front National," Marine Le Pen voiced her strong opposition to her father’s Holocaust denial, arguing that the genocide marked “the height of barbarism.” In addition, Le Pen has led the party into accepting more progressive stances on social issues, including the toleration of civil unions for same-sex couples.
3. Le Pen is strongly opposed to the European Union, calling it a strain on the sovereignty of France. Le Pen has even pushed for France to adopt its own currency, separate from the euro. Echoing many of the same sentiments about the EU as the UK’s Ukip party, the National Front is deeply suspicious of Brussels.
4. Le Pen ran for president once before. In 2012, the rising star of the National Front ran for president, electrifying unprecedented support for the once-fringe political party. In some districts, she polled at 20%-plus, sowing the seeds for a run in 2016.
5. Le Pen is strongly against illegal immigration (and immigration for that matter). Advocating for a moratorium on immigrants crossing into France, Le Pen believes that France needs to fix its own house before bowing to European Union bureaucrats and absorbing thousands of immigrants from predominately Islamic countries like Syria. Le Pen’s opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel stems largely from the National Front’s concern about Merkel’s Europe-wide refugee program.
“The far-right leader had 29 per cent of the vote when pitted against Les Républicains’ former president, who was eight points behind, and held a 15-point lead over the Parti de Gauche’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon ..."
6. Le Pen strongly believes in a secular French Republic. The far-right leader’s stance on the separation of church and state is unapologetic. As a result, she has called for all immigrants, especially refugees, to accept the social norms of French society and assimilate accordingly. Le Pen has pushed for the controversial “burkini” ban, suggesting that such regressive Islamic veiling is antithetical to the secularism modern France was built upon.
7. Le Pen wants to reexamine France’s geostrategic relationships with the United States and Russia. Le Pen has openly admitted that she’s open to a friendlier relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an extension of her anti-European sentiments. She believes that France has long taken cues from Washington, often against its own self-interests, and therefore can benefit from expanding its ties outside of the West.