Marine Le Pen has formally launched her presidential campaign, promising to put France first by freeing it it from the “tyrannies” of globalisation, Islamic fundamentalism and the European Union.
As the most unpredictable election in decades picked up pace, Le Pen, leader of the nationalist Front National, and far-left independent rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both staged major rallies in Lyon on Sunday – a day after the new frontrunner, centrist Emmanuel Macron, drew large crowds in the same city.
The election has been thrown open since allegations that the longstanding centre-right favourite, François Fillon, paid his wife and children close to €1m of public money for parliamentary assistance jobs that investigators suspect she did not do.
Opinion polls have consistently predicted Le Pen will win the first round of the two-stage contest in April but be defeated in the 7 May run-off by a mainstream candidate. With support for Fillon plunging, two polls last week suggested that could be Macron.
“What is at stake in this election is the continuity of France as a free nation, our existence as a people,” Le Pen, daughter of the Front National founder, Jean-Marie, told cheering supporters at the Lyon congress centre.
“The French have been dispossessed of their patriotism. They are suffering in silence from not being allowed to love their country … The divide is no longer between the left and the right, but between the patriots and the globalists.”
Rehearsing themes familiar from the successful Donald Trump and Brexit campaigns, Le Pen said the momentum was clearly now on her side. From the US to Italy and Austria to the UK, she said: “The people are waking – the tide of history has turned.”
She was speaking at the end of a two-day event with party militants during which the anti-immigration, anti-EU Front National unveiled its election campaign platform consisting of 144 “commitments” to the French people.
Published on Saturday, the document, notably short on macro-economic and practical detail, pledges to take France out of the eurozone and – unless the EU agrees to revert to a loose coalition of nations with neither a single currency nor a border-free area – to hold a referendum on France’s EU membership.
An FN government would tax imports and foreigners’ job contracts, lower the retirement age, raise welfare benefits and cut income tax while curbing migration, slashing crime rates, expelling illegal migrants and hiring 15,000 new police officers. It would also reserve free education for French nationals, and enforce a “French first” policy in social housing and employment.