Marine Le Pen, the populist frontrunner in the first round of France’s upcoming presidential elections, struck a combative pose in a March 20th candidates’ debate, vowing to control immigration, tame the European Union (EU), and put France first.“The EU is locking us up,” she declared, making it clear she plans on being a national leader, not the governor of a European region in hock to the German chancellor.
“I want to be the president of the French republic, not the vice chancellor of Mrs Merkel,” she asserted.
“You, the French citizens, have the right to make up your own minds, to protect yourselves … from the sources of insecurity that come from opening up our borders.”
While stopping short of formally endorsing a French exit from the EU, Ms. Le Pen promised to “organise negotiations with Europe so that we can restore the liberties that you deserve. I will organise a referendum and there will be a national debate.”
Those negotiations would hinge principally on the bloc’s free movement regime and the borderless Schengen Area, which Ms. Le Pen sees as undermining French security.
“How can we know who’s coming or going? If they’re buying weapons in Belgium?” she asked, echoing former Interpol chief Robert Noble’s assessment of the EU migration regime as “an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the Continent and make their escape”.
“Radical Islamism should not be allowed in our country,” the Front National leader reiterated. “We need to protect our nation once again.”
Emmanuel Macron, a centre-left politician in the same vein as Tony Blair and Ms. Le Pen’s main rival, clashed with her over Islamism and the migrant crisis, accusing her of creating a divided society and claiming “asylum seekers are fighting for their freedoms and their lives”.
Leftist fringe candidates Benoît Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon also chimed in, with Hamon claiming: “We Europeans have not been as humanitarian as we should be”, and Mélenchon asserting that “people do not become migrants for their own pleasure”.
Ms. Le Pen maintained a robust stance throughout, insisting that “we simply can’t welcome them all” and reminding viewers that “we all know that in this flow of migrants are terrorists”.
She also refused to back down on Islamism, reiterating her belief that “the veil is for me an act of submission of the woman”, insisting radicals in the public sphere should be rooted out.
“We have to close certain mosques because the Islamic fundamentalists are everywhere. They’re in cultural associations and sports associations. We need to go after them and find them wherever they might be.”
On the economy, she maintained her previous support for “intelligent protectionism”.
“I didn’t want to intervene in this ultra-liberal free-for-all,” she said, as the other frontrunners squabbled over whether to reduce the 35-hour work week or scrap it entirely. “[But] I think that generally speaking the economic model that we have implemented for years has clearly shown its limits.”
“There needs to be economic patriotism which means that, for example, the state gives preference to French companies.”
Like U.S. President Donald J. Trump, she recommended that high taxes be imposed on companies moving factories abroad to low-wage economies.
“My task is not to protect jobs next door,” she pointed out.