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26th Sep 2022

Interview

After France, the French far right is coming for Europe

  • 'I truly believe that I will be elected president this time. We (France) need to normalise our diplomatic relations with Russia, and not submit to EU diplomacy," Marine Le Pen says (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)
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This time there are two French far-right presidential candidates: Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. They both claim they will win the April election - even though the polls say otherwise.

However, the presidential race is not their last battle. In June, the French legislative elections are held and further ahead: the European parliamentary elections. The French far-right is now building momentum.

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  • 'I am the only candidate able to rally the republican voters and the National Rally voters, hence I will reach the second turn', Zemmour insists (Photo: Emma Sofia Deodorson)

EUobserver met both candidates. Marine Le Pen is relaxed in front of the foreign press. She has done this her whole life.

"This is my third personal presidential election but the seventh presidential campaign I have participated in," Marine Le Pen says, in reference to the four presidential elections her father Jean-Marie Le Pen participated in before she took over the leadership of what was then called the National Front.

They have since renamed the party in order to revamp the party's image and to distance from the anti-semitic and racist reputation her rabble-rousing father continues to uphold to this day, with a seemingly never ending stream of hate-speech convictions.

In 2015 the National Front that Jean-Marie Le Pen once founded became the Rassemblement National [National Rally], presided over by Marine Le Pen. The party's support has grown ever since. Even though her father has been expelled from the party and it needed to be rebranded, she is not ashamed of its past.

"The old name carries a glorious history that I do not deny but it was important to rally the voters and communicate what we are today," Marine Le Pen says with a confident nod.

Even when considering her loss - which was bigger than expected against Emmanuel Macron in 2017 - it was a great success in terms of voter support. Almost 34 percent of voters went for her in the second round, compared to the almost 18 percent which supported her father in 2002 against Jacques Chirac. It was, perhaps, her stance on the EU itself which saw her fall short.

"I truly believe that I will be elected president this time. This is not because I want to glorify myself but because I think the French people now see clearly what I stand for. I oppose the globalism of Emmanuel Macron, I am the candidate of the nation, " Le Pen says.

Nevertheless, Le Pen has faced criticism from within for ignoring her party's grassroots members, making the party too 'mainstream', dulling its extremist edge.

Now, the hard-right have another candidate to opt for: TV pundit Éric Zemmour, the far-right candidate who, just like Le Pen senior, does not mince his words.

When the EUobserver meets Zemmour, at an event for the Foreign Press Assocation, he is not as relaxed as his fellow female far-right counterpart and yet, he is the one who draws the most media attention.

He has just been convicted for hate speech - for the third time - only an hour before he walks into the conference room. He had said that unaccompanied foreign minors are "thieves, murderers, and rapists, that's all they are. We must send them back".

He has no intention to apologise.

"Unaccompanied minor migrants is not a race, to my knowledge, so it cannot be incitement to racial hatred" Zemmour says, adding that the judgement is "ideological". He continues: "They attack French citizens. The French, but also the minors themselves would be better off if they returned to their home countries"

This is what his supporters like: that he insists on his radical views. Like Le Pen, Zemmour claims he will "win the elections" - but not as convincingly. Sometimes he seems content with reaching the election's second round.

"I am the only candidate able to rally the republican voters and the National Rally voters, hence I will reach the second turn", he repeats.

Polls still suggest the second round will be a run-off between Macron and Le Pen, with no poll as yet indicating that that either far-right candidate could win against the president – who has yet to officially confirm he is running.

However, this is not all about the presidency. Immediately after the presidential elections, the French parliamentary elections will be held, where both Le Pen's National Rally and Eric Zemmour's newly-founded party Reconquête [Reconquest] will try to get as many seats as possible. And across these two parties, the French hard-right could now gain some real influence and purchase - if they maintain their current levels of support.

"I will definitely not quit politics. I think this is a matter of survival and the French people need me," Zemmour tells EUobserver.

Neither Zemmour nor Le Pen are openly 'Frexiteers' (France leaving the EU) - at least not anymore. They did perhaps both learn from Le Pen's defeat las time, when voters in 2017 recoiled in fear at that possibility.

EUobserver talks to both candidates off stage.

What will happen to France within the EU under your leadership?

"There are two European models to consider: The German one, that is trying to unify nations to such a degree that every people, every nation must submit to its sovereignty. Then there is a French model. I say "a model" and not "the model" since Macron has a totally different stance on this. My election will be very important, not only for France but for the whole of Europe. If Germany is the economic heart of Europe, France is its political heart. My goal is to give all European nationals the right to remain themselves," Le Pen says.

Zemmour: "I am not in favour of a 'Frexit' but I am not in favour of the United States of Europe either. My stance is to protect French sovereignty, because I think that you have to choose. You cannot have EU sovereignty and French sovereignty at the same time. I will protect French interests within the union, seeking alliances with other countries such as Italy, Greece, Poland, Hungary - especially regarding immigration"

Le Pen takes almost exactly the same position, even those alliances Zemmour mentioned.

"The European Union needs to become a union of nations and I learn a lot from countries such as Poland and Hungary in how they defend their interests. They have been remarkably able to do so, especially regarding immigration ", she says.

If you do not win the French election, what are your plans for the future?

"I will win, but - hypothetically - I would continue the battle for the French people, in France and in Europe," Le Pen says.

"I will not quit, this is a matter of survival. The French people face a 'replacement' and I will never cease to fight for our civilisation," says Zemmour.

How do you see Russia's possible military aggressions against Ukraine?

"I am a defender of a nation's right to defend its borders. I will just say what I always say: it is totally understandable that Russia does not want Americans or Nato at their border," Zemmour says

"We (France) need to normalise our diplomatic relations with Russia, and not submit to EU diplomacy," Le Pen says.

Neither of the pair want to talk too much about life after the French presidential race - but both are aware of the polls, and suggest they would open up to a possible future collaboration:

"What is important is France and the French people. Of course, I am open to rally with anyone who shares my vision" Le Pen says.

"Madame Le Pen and I share many ideas, that much I can say. I am looking forward to having her or any right-wing politician by my side, to save France," says Zemmour

If the two hard-right firebrands did team up, polling by ifop suggests they could count on the support of up to 30 percent of French voters.

Author bio

Emma Sofia Dedorson is a Paris-based journalist covering politics, culture and society in France, Spain and Italy.

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