French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is almost level with incumbent Emmanuel Macron in the opinion polls ahead of next year’s presidential election, has said she would form a government of national unity if elected and would draw support from voters of left and right, just as the UK’s Boris Johnson has done.
Asked about her likely choice of finance minister given her lack of credibility at home and abroad in economic policy, Le Pen said she had yet to choose “because I want to put in place a government of national unity and therefore the ministers in my cabinet would not necessarily all come from the Rassemblement National”.
Le Pen has steadily “detoxified” the extreme-right RN, previously called the Front National, since taking over the leadership from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen a decade ago. Recent polls have put her within a few percentage points of Macron in a putative second-round runoff between the two in April 2022.
Her newfound popularity would make it easier for her to choose ministers for a future government, Le Pen said in a video meeting with the Anglo-American Press Association. “Since I’ve been put at 47 or 48 per cent in the second round, lots of people have found my phone number.”
Under the French system, in order for Le Pen to be able to select her own cabinet, the RN would have to win parliamentary elections following the presidential poll.
Le Pen positioned herself firmly alongside Johnson and the UK’s Brexiters — and by implication former US president Donald Trump — as a nationalist pitted against the forces of globalisation.
“There’s no more split between left and right, there’s a split between the globalists and the nationalists,” she said, adding that she stood for “regulating globalisation”, “controlling borders” and “protecting citizens by using the tools of the sovereign nation state”, whereas Macron was “unashamedly a champion of the internationalist model, in other words deregulation and the death of the DNA of nations”.
The RN has substantial support in northern France in post-industrial areas once controlled by the French Communist party. Referring to the UK Conservatives’ success in former Labour seats in the north of England, Le Pen said: “A whole section of the left voted for Mr Johnson [in December 2019] when before they could never have voted for a candidate like him. Why? Again because these leftwing voters saw Johnson as the candidate capable of controlling globalisation who would stop them becoming the systematic losers from globalisation.
“That’s why we find ourselves in the second round [of the French election] according to the opinion polls. We have, I have, people on my side who come from the right and from the left, and the same is true for Emmanuel Macron.”
The most prominent campaign issue for the RN has always been immigration, and Le Pen said she would hold a referendum within six months of becoming president on a new law with proposals that would “radically change our approach to immigration”.
Criminals and Islamists would be sent back to their countries of origin, as would workers who had not held a job for a certain period of time, and there would be no automatic French nationality for those born in France. The right to come to France because of family ties would end, and asylum rules would be tightened. “You either inherit or merit French nationality,” she said.
Le Pen denied that she was “extreme right”, which she called a pejorative term used by the RN’s enemies to undermine the party’s credibility. She said the vast majority of the French supported “reasonable” and “common sense” ideas such as stopping uncontrolled immigration and obliging people to respect the law and the values of the French republic.
“I am not extreme,” she said. “What’s more, a good part of what I am proposing is already enforced in many countries around the world, including in some cases in the US and Great Britain.”
Le Pen defended her decision to soften her party’s previous hostility to the EU and the euro, arguing that it was not the RN that had changed but the EU, by becoming more of an alliance of nation states and less of a union with an “anti-democratic” way of operating.
But she compared the handling of Covid-19 vaccinations by the EU, which organised joint procurement for all its members, unfavourably with the performance of the UK. “The EU has completely failed even though we were told that we were stronger as 27 together. The truth is that that was wrong and the solution lies in the nation state.”