The background remains the same but the forms have changed. Marine Le Pen smiles a lot more in interviews. She talks about the purebred cats that she breeds on her property in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, on the outskirts of Paris. She gets emotional when asked about her niece, Marion Maréchal, who has decided to support the other far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour. For these elections, the president of the National Association (AN) seems to have learned the lessons of her defeat in 2017, she has let her rivals wear out and has opted for a less aggressive message, although maintaining a practically unchanged far-right program.
And the dynamics of the end of the campaign, when the first round of this Sunday approaches, seems to prove him right: in recent weeks he has consolidated himself in second place, five points above his main rival to qualify for the position that allows him to pass on the second lap, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, according to the latest Ipsos barometer. Another novelty: for the first time, Le Pen would be the candidate who would achieve the best result in a hypothetical duel with Emmanuel Macron in the second round, between 45% and 47% of voting intentions. Although no poll gives her as the winner, she is cutting ground on the current president in all of them. Five years ago the polls gave him ten points less in the same stretch of the campaign.RELATED
If these results are confirmed, it would mean a new step in the “desmonization” strategy (in French diabolisation) of the Lepenista party, started in 2011 when it took control of the National Front (which became the National Group in 2018). In this last phase, Éric Zemmour has played a fundamental role. The rhetoric of the extertullian – even more aggressive against Islam and immigration – together with the hardening of the speech of the moderate right, have helped to normalize the image of Le Pen before a part of the voters. “The transformation of the media landscape also favors this normalization”, he summed up a few days ago an analysis carried out by researchers from the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. “The offensive led by Vincent Bolloré, with the purchase of CNews and Europe 1, has given a platform to conservative and/or radical identitarian commentators,” he indicated.
Furthermore, if Zemmour’s candidacy has been able to partially divide the far-right vote, it has also absorbed a large number of voters from the Gaullist right: according to the Ipsos barometer, 14% of Fillon’s voters in 2017 will now vote for Zemmour. After a campaign that has clearly gone from more to less, the polls today place Valérie Pécresse below 10% of the votes, less than half of what François Fillon did in 2017, on which multiple accusations of corruption.
Zemmour’s candidacy also means that Le Pen has a reserve of votes for the second round. According to Ipsos, eight out of ten voters for the former columnist for The Figaro they will go to Le Pen. Those votes, together with the lack of mobilization of left-wing voters (it would be the second time in a row that there is not a progressive candidate among the finalists) are the elements he has to surprise and beat Macron at the last moment.
The invasion of Ukraine could have been a blow to his campaign, given Le Pen’s ties to Vladimir Putin. His party is still paying off a €9.4 million loan from a Russian bank and had to withdraw an election brochure that included a photo of Le Pen shaking hands with Putin during a trip in 2017. But once again, Zemmour acted as an unwitting ally. Shortly after the attack, Marine Le Pen reacted quickly, opting for a short sentence (still blaming NATO) and has kept a low profile on the issue ever since. Meanwhile, Zemmour – although he also condemned the aggression – focused the criticism by questioning the actions of the West and opposing the reception of Ukrainian refugees.
One of Le Pen’s strategies to avoid talking about Russia has been to reinforce her discourse on purchasing power. Since the end of last year he had geared the campaign toward workers, primarily to attract those with the lowest wages. In addition to “giving France back to the French”, he also promises to “give the French their money back”. To do this, he proposes lowering VAT from 20% to 5.5% on gas, fuel and electricity, a measure whose cost is estimated at 12,000 million euros a year. From a liberalism opposed to almost any taxation, in the times of Jean-Marie Le Pen, this decade has passed to measures aimed at taxing “financial wealth” and policies in favor of purchasing power, although without ever going into too many details.
“Today all those who are to the right of Mélenchon are considered extreme right”, he was outraged a few months ago on the microphones of France Info. “I can’t stand that extreme right accusation, it’s beyond me”. Despite these protests, the truth is that the core of his program remains largely unchanged from the years of the National Front. He has repeated on several occasions that his first measure if he becomes president will be to submit to a referendum a bill, which the party has already drafted, on immigration and identity.
The “national preference” continues to be the cornerstone of the project: to establish legal discrimination between nationals and foreigners in access to employment, public administration, social housing or aid. Contrary to the international commitments signed by France, it proposes restricting arrivals related to the right of asylum by 75%, as well as suppressing naturalization by marriage and the right of citizenship for children of foreign parents born in France.
In social matters, the National Association withdrew the death penalty from its program in 2017, to which Le Pen has always been favorable (“unless the French reestablish it through a popular initiative referendum,” he clarifies). The candidate has denounced on several occasions the generalization of what she considers “abortions for convenience” and has asked that the voluntary interruption of pregnancy cease to be part of the interventions whose cost is reimbursed by the social security system.
He has defended on several occasions that the rights of homosexuals “are not respected in a series of outlaw areas in France”, referring to popular neighborhoods with a Muslim majority. However, his party defends eliminating subsidies to associations “very oriented to coexistence and discrimination”, targeting NGOs that work to raise awareness about gender equality, fight against racism and homophobia or assist immigrants.
In the international arena, Marine Le Pen seems to have renounced leaving the European Union and the euro, which she still defended in 2017. However, she does plan to “renegotiate many of the directives or even the treaties themselves” of the EU, to apply measures such as restricting European citizens’ access to social rights. All this would automatically translate into a confrontation with Brussels and sanction procedures such as those that have been opened against Poland and Hungary. Very critical of the Paris-Berlin axis, Le Pen is much closer to Viktor Orbán, who received her in Budapest in October 2021 and with whom she met again in Madrid last January.
A multitude of unknowns remain to be resolved in the two electoral appointments – this Sunday and April 24 – that will mark the election of the French president, from the levels of abstention to the firmness of the Republican front against the extreme right. If they qualify for the second round, the campaign between the two votes will be fundamental: in 2017, Marine Le Pen lost six points and remained at 33.9% after a highly criticized performance in the televised debate. The support of Zemmour and Marion Marechal must also be finalized, which will form part of a broader negotiation in which the organization of their parties for the future will be defined. At the moment Zemmour is already holding out his hand: “Marine and I are not angry, we are simply rivals”.