Robert Harneis – TDO – In a major speech in Lyon, Marine Le Pen launched her presidential program with 144 proposals. She sought to link the two themes that bring the most support to her party, the attack on globalism together with the attack on uncontrolled immigration and Islamic fundamentalism. In a bid to widen her electoral appeal she has toned down some of her rhetoric but has changed none of her main policies. She was speaking to a major rally of party militants who regularly interrupted her with applause and chants of ‘on est chez nous’ ‘this is our country’.
An interesting new development is her increasing reference to the great 17th century leader Cardinal Richelieu ‘whose only real religion was the greatness of France’ alongside the more obvious de Gaulle. Richelieu did not subscribe to Bismarck’s much quoted view ‘politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the second best’ but rather the more pro-active ‘politics is about making what is necessary possible.’ ‘La politique consiste à rendre possible ce qui est nécessaire’.
If elected President she will order the building of France’s long postponed second nuclear aircraft carrier to be named the ‘Richelieu’ alongside the existing ‘Charles de Gaulle. It is significant that it was Richelieu who tamed the turbulent Protestant religious minority in France that represented a state within the state. Obvious symbolism apart, this will remedy the situation where for long periods France has no aircraft carrier available because of essential maintenance.
Whilst she is adamant that the Euro as it exists today must go, if France is to prosper, she emphasized it less, and including it in a call for a return of French sovereignty – ‘monetary, legislative, territorial and economic’. She has spoken of a return to the ECU – individual currencies alongside a European currency. Polls indicate that a large percentage of voters are nervous about leaving the Euro especially the elderly who remember the instability of the old French Franc. The European Union will have six months to agree to a negotiated loose confederation of states, otherwise she will call a referendum to authorize her to take France out of the union.
Inevitably the list of commitments has been criticized but it is a well-aimed combination of major reforms, with specific measures called for by militants. It varies from the revolutionary to the parochial - leaving the NATO military committee placed at a discrete number 118, the introduction of school uniforms, taxing imports and the job contracts of foreigner workers, lowering the retirement age for those with 40 years of contributions and increasing several welfare benefits, while lowering income tax.
The manifesto also includes limiting certain services, including free education, to French citizens only, hiring 15,000 police and adding 40,000 prison places.
There are no less than 20 commitments to increase public spending. It is a clear revolt against the constraints of austerity politics. The knee jerk reaction of orthodox commentators is to suggest that the proposals are a not very seriously thought out attempt to win votes. However, there is increasing support for her ideas from leading economists with no less than four Nobel prize winners calling for an end to the EU currency, at least in its present rigid form. Le Pen has called regularly for a return to the Ecu that preceded the Euro with a common currency for Europe but separate monies for the individual states. Mainstream commentators and political rivals are used to the present system and the idea that ‘there is no alternative’, the famous TINA. This has led to a failure to consider that a return to a separate national currency opens up all sorts of economic possibilities that remain closed as long as France remains tied to an exchange rate this is 20% over valued against Germany. British experience supports this view.
Le Pen faces two challenges in breaking the 50% barrier and winning the presidency. First, she must dispel voter suspicion of the National Front’s association with racism and extremism generally. She has done much to achieve this already but many voters, especially the older ones, remain skeptical. Secondly, she must win the political arguments with her opponents as Trump did.
She has made a start by publishing her electoral commitments and particularly by following this up with a document that costs them. She did this with some hesitation but realized it was essential. She has now thrown down the gauntlet to the ‘parties of government’ and their candidates. Centre left Emmanuel Macron who is doing very well in the polls attacked her proposal to leave Europe, which for him represents ’peace, prosperity and progress’ as a betrayal of French values. On the contrary many voters of all parties are inclined to believe that in reality Europe stands for insecurity, unemployment, poverty and economic stagnation. Whoever wants to beat Marine Le Pen on May 7th will have to convince enough voters that this is not so.