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Far-right populist Marine Le Pen formally launches bid to make France great again

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen attacked both Islamic fundamentalism and globalization in her formal announcement for France's presidency on Sunday.

Far-right leader presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gestures as she speaks during a conference in Lyon, France, Sunday.
Michel Euler/AP | Caption

Marine Le Pen formally announced her bid for France's presidency Sunday, calling on voters to join her in fighting the "two totalitarianisms" of globalization and Islamic fundamentalism.

The far-right populist candidate from the National Front party, who is running under the slogan "In the Name of the People," outlined some of the 144 "commitments" she has promised to fulfill if elected president, including plans to control France's borders, readopt the old French franc as the national currency, and leave the European Union. 

"We are at a crossroad .... This election is a choice of civilization," Ms. Le Pen said in her speech, painting a bleak picture of a future in which France has lost its French identity. "Will they even speak our French language?" 

Her remarks against Muslim immigration were met with cheers and chants of "On est chez nous," meaning "We are in our land," from the crowd of roughly 5,000. 

"We do not want to live under the rule or threat of Islamic fundamentalism," she said. "They are looking to impose on us gender discrimination in public places, full body veils or not, prayer rooms in the workplace, prayers in the streets, huge mosques ... or the submission of women."

For decades, the National Front party, founded by Le Pen's father, was considered a fringe group with a small base of core supporters, as Weston Williams reported for The Christian Science Monitor last month. Today, France's high unemployment rate and widespread disgust with politics, combined with efforts by Ms. Le Pen to make the party more palatable to mainstream voters, have resulted in a surge in support for the National Front and Le Pen, a leader in early polls for France's two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7: 

If Le Pen were to become president of France, the impact of her victory would likely be felt far beyond France itself. She is running on a strongly anti-euro platform that could lead France to abandon the currency and return to the franc, a move that could significantly damage the shared economy of the Eurozone and significantly weaken the European Union as a world power. But in France, along with the rest of Europe, economic woes and dissatisfaction with the status quo have caused many to turn away from traditional parties and appear willing to gamble that life may be better under a different and radical kind of leadership — the kind that Le Pen and the National Front say they can deliver.

"The context has changed," Robert Rohrschneider, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas, told the Monitor. "Immigration and opposition to integration have risen to historically high levels. Additionally, Brexit provided a boost for nationalist movements in Europe, as did the election of president-elect [at the time of this writing] Trump."

The inauguration of President Trump in the United States last month marked a turning point for far-right Europeans, many of whom are hopeful that his presidency will "[power] the transatlantic tidal wave of populism to both shores," as Sara Miller Llana reported for the Monitor. 

"The entire world – it's true for Brexit, it's true for Mr. Trump – is becoming conscious of what we've been saying for years," said Le Pen in a television interview, as reported by the Associated Press. 

But the Republican business mogul's White House victory may ultimately not have as much influence on the French election as some hope: 

Here in France, the leader of the far-right National Front (FN), Marine Le Pen, was in fact one of the first foreign politicians to congratulate Mr. Trump on election night. Last week she was photographed inside Trump Tower. She followed in the footsteps of Nigel Farage, another of Europe’s leading populists who led the Brexit charge and posed with Trump outside the gilded elevators of his New York City base after he swept the presidency.

The only problem? An ambivalence about Mr. Trump among actual far-right supporters in Europe. Their version of nationalism is often infused with anti-Americanism, and might collide with the tactical goals of far-right leadership in Europe. Though Le Pen and others may view Trump as a potential ally in defying globalism and Europeanism, the rank and file still see him as a prototypical boorish American.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.