PARIS (Reuters) - France’s far-right leader fired broadsides at the European Union and the euro currency on Friday, marking out Europe as a major plank in her programme as the battle lines took shape in the campaign for the presidential election in spring.
Marine Le Pen, head of the anti-EU, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) and seen by pollsters as highly likely to make a two-person runoff vote in May, also railed against French bankers for refusing her campaign funds and voiced admiration for Russia which she saw as a natural ally to defeat Islamist militancy.
Her appearance before foreign media came a day after an Elabe poll showed she and conservative front-runner Francois Fillon may have lost some ground to independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, after enjoying a big lead since well before the new year.
Le Pen, with an eye to picking up support if she reaches the second round, has sought to improve her party’s image and broaden its appeal since she took over from her father, founder Jean-Marie. He was regularly accused of fomenting xenophobia and racism.
But on Friday she showed no signs of retreating from her core anti-establishment programme which some say could translate into another populist upset following last June’s Brexit vote in Britain and the U.S. election of Donald Trump.
Denouncing EU officials for “profoundly anti-democratic” behaviour and for coercing EU members such as Greece and Portugal into toeing the common economic policy line, she said she would seek immediate negotiations with the EU on the issue of national sovereignty if elected.
She argued vehemently that the common euro currency had damaged France since its adoption in 1999 in place of the franc, along with many other EU members who also gave up their national currencies.
“The euro is without a shadow of a doubt one of the reasons for a de-industrialisation of our country and the mass unemployment that we are undergoing for the simple reason that the euro is at the origin of a loss of competitiveness,” she said.
“It is important that France recovers its national currency,” she said, repeating that she would also agree to the ecu unit of account returning as a common currency framework along with a new national currency.
Le Pen, 48, who draws inspiration from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, is alone among French presidential contenders in wanting to quit the EU, which she portrays as a threat to French nationhood.
But the question of Europe and the euro overlaps with other major issues of employment, immigration and national security which confront Fillon, Macron and former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls, another presidential hopeful.
Questioned over the FN’s financing problems, Le Pen rounded on French bankers whom she said had denied any financing purely for political reasons, forcing the party to seek loans from foreign banks.
“It is an absolute scandal ... it is profoundly unjust,” she said, repeating that the FN would seek financing abroad.
Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Callus and Janet Lawrence