PARIS (AP) — France — as envisioned by far-right leader Marine Le Pen — should be its own master & have no globalization issues, European Union membership or open borders.
It would join the United States & Russia in a global battle against Islamic militants. Francs, not euros, would fill the pockets of French citizens. Borders would be so secure that illegal immigration would no longer fuel fears of terror attacks or drain public coffers.
It's a vision that holds increasing appeal for voters once put off by the image of Le Pen's anti-immigration party as a sanctuary for racists & anti-Semites. It has made Le Pen a leading candidate in France's presidential election this spring.
p>A series of deadly extremist attacks, 10 percent unemployment & frustration with mainstream politics in France have helped make the party she has worked to detoxify a potentially viable alternative.
Early polls place her as one of the top two contenders. The other is former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a conservative who would slash the ranks of civil servants & trim state-funded health care — an untouchable area for Le Pen, whose campaign slogan is "In the Name of the People."
Le Pen believes her chance of victory has been bolstered by Britain's decision to leave the European Union & by Donald Trump's U.S. presidential victory. She speaks with confidence of winning, saying "I will" alter France.
FILE – In this Dec. 23, 2016 file photo, a journalist holds a poster with portraits of Russian Presi …
"This page in the history of the world is turning. We will donate back to nations reasoned protectionism, economic & cultural patriotism," she said.
On Thursday, Le Pen showed up at Trump Tower in New York & was seen sipping coffee in a basement coffee shop, leading to speculation she was looking to create a bond with the U.S. president-elect. However, no such meeting was on his agenda.
Like Trump, Le Pen, 48, a mother of three & lawyer by training, envisions improved relations with Russia, which she & other National Front officials have visited. But she takes it further.
"I want an alliance to emerge between France, the United States & Russia to fight Islamic fundamentalism, because it's a gigantic danger weighing on our democracies," she said last week. "Terrorism is a pistol in the hand of the guilty" & she says only an alliance can defeat it.
For Le Pen & her supporters, "massive migration," notably from Muslim North Africa, is supplanting French civilization & is at the root of many France's modern woes. "On est chez nous" ("We're in our land") is a mantra at National Front rallies.
FILE – In this Dec. 14, 2016 file photo, migrants walk in a makeshift camp in Saint Denis, outside P …
Le Pen insists she has no problem with followers of Islam, yet wants people who espouse radical political ideas in the guise of religion to be put on trial & expelled before they install Sharia, or Islamic law, in France.
Traditional Muslim dress, which many in France consider a gateway to radicalization, could disappear from public view should Le Pen win the presidency. The National Front's No. 2, Florian Philippot, says Le Pen's platform calls for extending a 2004 law banning "ostensible" religious symbols like Muslim headscarves from French classrooms to include the streets.
Le Pen took over leadership of the National Front in 2011 from her father, party co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her make-over included sidelining him. His party membership was revoked last year after he repeated an anti-Semitic reference that had drawn a court conviction.
But the slogan "French First" — coined by the elder Le Pen in 1985 — remains alive under Marine Le Pen.
Newcomers to France would have to spend several years paying a stipend before availing themselves of free school & health care, Le Pen has said, benefits she considers a draw for immigrants. A National Front statement this month linked a lack of shelter for French homeless with the "massive migrant flux."
French National Front leader Marine Le Pen meets with colleagues in a cafe in Trump Tower in New Yor …
Nonna Mayer, a leading expert on the party, said Le Pen has "gone half-way in changing the party," ridding it of its long-time anti-Semitic image yet making Islam the enemy.
"At the heart of the party of Marine Le Pen … there is something which is not really compatible with the values of democracy," she said. "It's the idea that one must keep housing, social benefits, family stipends, employment to the French."
Le Pen emphatically rejects the label of extremist, proudly calling herself "a patriot." The words "democracy" & "democratic" roll off her tongue.
Yet her entourage includes one-time members of an extreme-right movement once noted for its violence. A former leader of the hard-core Identity Bloc in Nice, Philippe Vardon, joined National Front ranks & quickly won a councilor spot.
Under Le Pen, the National Front was France's huge winner in 2014 European Parliament election, taking more seats than any other French party. But she wants to do away with the 28-nation EU, which she claims has stolen national sovereignty, & ditch the euro currency, which she describes as a "knife in the ribs" of nations, ruining economies.
Her EU exit formula is "very simple:" Try immediately to negotiate a return of borders, national currency & "economic patriotism" to protect French jobs & industry & allow the French to pass laws unadulterated by directives from Brussels.
Six months later, she would call a referendum & counsel remaining in a "new Europe" if negotiations are fruitful, or advise bailing out as Britain has done.
"My program cannot be put into place if we remain subjugated by European diktats," she said. "I see the grand return of nationalism."
Le Pen is expected to present her full presidential agenda during a Feb. 4-5 convention. But she set the tone with her New Year's greeting, a "wish of combat" to defeat political adversaries that she contends represent the interests of banks, finance & the media.
Politics & GovernmentMarine Le PenNational FrontEuropean UnionLe Pen
Source: “Associated Press”