Far-right leader Marine Le Pen
slammed rival candidates on Sunday, calling them servants of the the banking and finance industries in a key election campaign speech in the northern city of Lille, only nine weeks ahead of presidential elections in France.
“There is no left, there is no right, just two candidates who represent the interests of financial markets and the banks,” Le Pen said in reference to incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy
and Socialist Party candidate François Hollande.
With roughly 15% of voter intentions, according to opinion polls, the National Front candidate is in third place and battling to pull closer to leading candidates Sarkozy and Hollande.
Le Pen's speech packed the 1,500-seat auditorium in the northern city of Lille, where her party's two-day presidential convention has been organised ahead of the April 22 first-round poll.
In an hour-long address, the far-right candidate took aim at the globalised economy and immigration, claiming they're having a ravaging effect on France.
“We need to resist the free market policies that threaten our economy, and yes, even our identity,” Le Pen told cheering supporters. "And those princes of the finance and banking world who are nothing more than a global mafia and exploit man with no-one controlling them, ” the 43-year-old former lawyer added, once again infusing her speech with language more characteristic of the left than of the right.
“Patriots of the world, unite!” Le Pen clamoured at one point in her speech, and later argued that the human person needed to be “placed at the centre of the economy.”
Le Pen also announced a raft of policies in January aimed to balance France's books, including taxing imports, tapping the central bank for cheap loans instead of debt markets, and giving French citizens priority over foreigners for jobs.
Her anti-euro and protectionist stance has struck a chord here, especially among working class voters disillusioned by economic hardship since the start of the global financial crisis.
Taking on Merkel
Le Pen began her speech by mentioning the economic woes of France's north. The region surrounding the city of Lille has suffered from chronic unemployment for decades, ever since the decline of its once-important coal and textile industries.
She said she had personally travelled through the “industrial graveyard” that could be seen in the abandoned factories in the outskirts of the city. “They are a sad reminder of our glorious past,” Le Pen claimed.
FRANCE 2012: THE ELECTION BLOG
However, she quickly turned her attention to the EU policies she said were stealing France's sovereignty and threatening to cripple the country's economy. “Brussels is destroying Greece. It will next ravage Italy and Spain, and eventually... us.”
The far-right leader slammed Sarkozy for his involvement and interest in the European Union, and on two occasions criticized German Chancelor Angela Merkel, telling the leader to stop meddling in France's affairs after Merkel's January announcement that she would be personally endorsing Sarkozy's re-election bid.
Le Pen also criticised what she called the EU's “pourous borders” but spent little time discussing the issue of immigration -- a traditionally key campaign issue for the National Front, along with insecurity -- and preferring instead to focus on the 'deadly' effects of high finance.
Le Pen vs Sarkozy
Sarkozy’s victory in 2007 was in part due to his ability to siphon votes from the far-right party -- a strategy that Le Pen is hoping to counter in 2012.
"Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to renew 2007 by encroaching on our turf," Nicolas Bay, Le Pen's adviser on immigration issues, told reporters in Lille. "That means we have to go on the offensive, as we have no intention of letting him do it again."
The two candidates have been trying to lure voters with their anti-immigration rhetoric. Sarkozy has vowed to limit immigration, setting himself the goal of cutting legal migration to France to 150,000 people a year, having already cut the quota to 180,000 from 200,000 in past years.
In a bid to draw more far-right voters, he also proposed a referendum on battling illegal immigration, something the far-right has been championing for several years.
For Le Pen, Sarkozy’s immigration and security policies are only a ploy for electoral gain. After two days of avoiding too much focus on immigration, she naturally and effortlessly returned to controversial anti-immigration territory by claiming she had proof that all meat in Paris was Halal.
According to Bay, speaking to the public on such issues such as halal meat is important for they show the influence of Muslim values in local policies and the danger that they pose to France’s secular tradition.