France's Le Pen Starts EU Campaign, Promising a Win for ‘Patriots’
(Bloomberg) -- France’s anti-immigration leader Marine Le Pen launched her party’s campaign for the May European Union Parliament election, saying she and her allies want the EU to return more power to nations and the “people.’’
“The European Union as it stands is a menace to our identity and to our security,’’ she said Sunday in a 45-minute speech in front of a packed assembly hall in Paris. “It’s because we are European that we oppose the European Union. It is the nations that will save Europe.’’
Normally ignored by voters because of the EU Parliament’s limited powers, the May 26 election is shaping up as a struggle between two visions of Europe. One is greater EU integration pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron, the other a return of powers to countries demanded by nationalist parties that have made gains in recent elections in Italy, Germany, Sweden, Poland and Hungary.
Le Pen called it a battle between “globalists and patriots,’’ and called for a “European alliance of nations.’’
While EU elections don’t directly impact domestic policy making, they’ll be France’s first national vote since Macron’s 2017 victory. The judgment that emerges could affect his ability to push through reforms during the remaining three years of his term. Macron’s approval ratings have inched up in recent weeks, but are still well below 30 percent, hurt by decisions on taxes and labor law that were seen as favoring the wealthy.
Le Pen reiterated her usual criticisms of elites that she said had imposed free trade and multi-culturalism, though much of the speech was taken up with slamming Macron, whose presidency in recent months has been hit by protests led by the so-called “Yellow Vest’’ movement.
“The 26th of May 2019 offers the chance to unwind the political crisis caused by a president whose views derange, whose policies are worrying, and whose leadership is incompetent,’’ she said. “He’s the head of a caste that tries to divide the French against each other.’’
She said the EU should concentrate on mobilizing European nations to deal with challenges of the future, such as climate change and artificial intelligence.
Le Pen changed the name of her party to “National Rally’’ from “National Front’’ after losing the presidential run-off to Macron in 2017. She’s sought to ditch the racism and anti-Semitism that marked the movement under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whom she has expelled from the party. One of the 12 National Rally members running in the EU vote is a black woman.
Each EU country chooses how to elect its members of the EU parliament. France’s deputies will be chosen by proportional representation from one national vote. Once elected to the Brussels and Strasbourg-based parliament, deputies chose what caucuses they want to join.
National Rally is the first French party to launch its campaign. While polling has been limited, most have shown National Rally winning just above 20 percent of the vote, slightly ahead of Macron’s movement, with all the other parties far behind. At the end of Le Pen’s speech, the crowd broke into chants of “we will win’’ and “Macron resign.”
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