France's Far-Right Candidate For President Is A Contender : Parallels France's far-right National Front party has never had a real chance at the presidency. But the rise of populist nationalism has encouraged the party's candidate, Marine Le Pen.
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France's Far-Right Candidate For President Is A Contender

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France's Far-Right Candidate For President Is A Contender

France's Far-Right Candidate For President Is A Contender

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/511736185/511745467" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

After the Brexit vote in Britain and President Trump's rise here, some see a populist movement spreading. And this week, we're introducing you to leaders in Europe who are part of it, like Marine Le Pen of France who thinks voter dissatisfaction might carry her to the French presidency this spring. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A confident Marine Le Pen strides into the room greeting reporters in her signature husky voice. In her new campaign headquarters, there's no sign of the party's provocative slogans like this is our country. The candidate takes a seat in front of a calming blue campaign poster that bears no mention of the National Front Party nor the Le Pen name. It says simply, in the name of the people, Marine - president.

LE PEN: (Through interpreter) This isn't just a slogan. It's a profession of my beliefs. I would never betray the people, and it is unbearable to see the people betrayed time and again by politicians who don't keep their promises and by the technocrats at the European Union.

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen says, as president, the first thing she'll do is seek a return of French sovereignty over its borders, currency and laws, if need be, with a referendum to leave the EU, which she calls an undemocratic organization that advances by threats and blackmail. She says Brexit and the election of Donald Trump show that the people are not going to lie back and take it anymore.

LE PEN: (Through interpreter) The people are rejecting so-called free trade and globalization that the elites presented as a positive thing, but it's actually causing massive migration and the collapse of industries.

BEARDSLEY: Since replacing her xenophobic, anti-Semitic father as leader of the National Front six years ago, the 48-year-old former trial lawyer and mother of three has worked to make the party more palatable to mainstream voters. Le Pen's strategy has paid off at the polls. The party has become one of the most successful in France, attracting younger voters and more women.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

BEARDSLEY: In the back streets of the Mediterranean city of Nice, bartender Arnaud Porte says working-class people in this city used to vote left. Now, he says, Nice will probably go with Le Pen but not him.

ARNAUD PORTE: (Through interpreter) I'm very frustrated that people are voting Le Pen. They are not thinking farther than the tip of their noses. Getting out of Europe, closing borders - these things could have disastrous effects down the road. We are not North Korea. It's pure populism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LE PEN: Merci.

(APPLAUSE)

LE PEN: Merci, mes amis.

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen made a big splash last weekend at a rally for European far-right parties in Koblenz, Germany. She told the crowd, if elected, she would end illegal and legal immigration to France.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LE PEN: (Through interpreter) Immigration has a huge cost on social programs, and it lowers salaries and drives up unemployment. It's also a source of insecurity. We know there are terrorists hiding among the waves of migrants. So how much longer are we going to continue on like this?

(APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: But not everything is going Le Pen's way. She's had to adapt her campaign to some unforeseen events. Unpopular socialist President Francois Hollande is no longer running. And a social conservative, Francois Fillon, is the surprise choice as presidential candidate of the mainstream right. Fillon's support of traditional Catholic values could attract many of the voters Le Pen had been counting on. Jean-Yves Camus, with the French Institute for Strategic and International Affairs, says Le Pen is now adopting Trump's tactics.

JEAN-YVES CAMUS: She's going to the left on the economy and social issues. That is, explaining to the workers that globalization is bad, that the EU is bad.

BEARDSLEY: Because, Le Pen says, they hurt the rights of hardworking people. Camus says except for immigration, the far right and far left have nearly identical platforms. Le Pen says the labels left and right don't mean anything anymore. Today's split is between those who support global organizations and open borders and those who want strong nation states.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I see the great return of sovereign nations with their borders, protections and patriotism," she says. For Marine Le Pen, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump herald the beginning of a new era. French voters will decide if that's true when they go to the polls in April. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "REEL LIFE")

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