The leader of the anti-immigration French National Front party Marine Le Pen kicked off her presidential campaign on Saturday by echoing many of the same vows that brought Trump to power in the US, hoping promises to shield voters from globalization, promote protectionism, leave the Eurozone, slap taxes on imports and on the job contracts of foreigners, lower the retirement age, increasing welfare benefits and boost defense spending push her above her competitors at a time of sweeping political turmoil in France.
According to opinion polls - which have recently shown their utter irrelevance in the age of Brexit and Trump - the 48-year old daughter of National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen has a solid lead in the first round on April 23 but then losing the May 7 run-off to a mainstream candidate, who after last week's fireworks may no longer be her main challenger Francois Fillon, thanks to a corruption scandal.
And in the most unpredictable election race France has known in decades, the FN hopes a two-day rally in Lyon where Le Pen is spelling out her electoral platform, will help convince voters to back her. "The aim of this programme is first of all to give France its freedom back and give the people a voice," Le Pen said in the introduction to the manifesto.
In 144 "commitments", Le Pen proposes leaving the euro zone, taxes on the job contracts of foreigners, lowering the retirement age and increasing several welfare benefits while lowering payroll tax for small firms and income tax, according to a Reuters brief. The manifesto also foresees reserving certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only, hiring 15,000 police, building more prisons, curbing migration and leaving NATO's integrated command.
In short, Le Pen's manifesto looks suspiciously like a fusion of the campaign promises of Trump and Brexiteers, rolled into one. And just like Trump's economic vision, Le Pen's electoral manifesto is short on macro-economic details and gives no public deficit or debt targets, except for an increase in defense and research spending. It also does not explain how a Le Pen government would balance raising welfare benefits while cutting taxes.
On the topic of Frexit, the FN said it would combine leaving the euro with unorthodox policies including money printing, currency intervention and import taxes, Jean Messiha, who has overseen the drafting of Le Pen's manifesto, told Reuters ahead of the rally.
Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European centrist candidate whom polls say is likely to be Le Pen's opponent in the presidential election run-off, will also hold a rally in Lyon on Saturday to propose a radically different platform.
Meanwhile, Le Pen's FN hopes to buoy the same populist wave that led to Brexit and Trump, to a victory in the presidential elections. "We were told Donald Trump would never win in the United States against the media, against the establishment, but he won... We were told Marine Le Pen would not win the presidential election, but on May 7 she will win," Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a top FN official, told several hundred party officials and members.
If elected, Le Pen says she would immediately seek an overhaul of the European Union that would reduce it to a very loose cooperative of nations with no single currency and no border-free area. If, as is likely, France's EU partners refuse to agree to this, she will call a referendum to leave the EU.
"This presidential election puts two opposite proposals," Le Pen said. "The 'globalist' choice backed by all my opponents ... and the 'patriotic' choice which I personify." The same pitch was used twice in 2016, and on both occasions led to a stunning outcome. Will Le Pen make it three out of three?
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Here are the main proposals from Le Pen's manifesto, courtesy of Reuters:
6 MONTHS TO RENEGOTIATE THE EU OR GO FOR "FREXIT"
- Election to be immediately followed by six months of talks with EU partners with the aim to radically change France's membership and turn the bloc into a loose cooperative of countries: no more euro, border-free area, EU budget rules or pre-eminence of EU law.
- Referendum on EU membership at the end of the 6 months. Le Pen to recommend leaving if does not manage to radically change the bloc. Most likely scenario is therefore "Frexit."
LEAVE THE EURO
- The manifesto gives no details but a top FN official said would go together with: re-denominating the debt stock in the new currency, having the central bank defend that new currency and giving the government the right to order the central bank to buy its bonds.
- Would be accompanied by some form of loose monetary cooperation which could for instance manage exchange rate fluctuations.
- Public procurement to be open only to French firms as long as the price difference is not too big.
- "Intelligent protectionism": Le Pen's adviser Jean Messiha told Reuters the FN wants to force retailers to hold a certain percentage of French goods on their shelves.
- To rebuild France's industrial base, sellers of imported goods would not be allowed to pass on all of the value-added sales tax to consumers as they do now, Messiha said.
- Reject international trade treaties
LOWER TAXES, BETTER WELFARE
- 10 percent cut to income tax on three lowest revenue bands
- Cut payroll tax for very small and medium-sized businesses and lower the corporate tax rate for SMEs.
- Lower retirement age to 60 from the current 62, increase aids to the poorest of the elderly. Give child benefits to all without conditions of resources. Cut by 5 percent the regulated price of gas and electricity.
- Allow each parent to give each of their children 100,000 euros tax-free every five years.
- Keep the working week to 35 hours, make overtime tax-free.
- Reserving certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only, which would be put to voters via referendum.
- Employers who hire foreigners to pay a tax worth 10 percent of the salary paid to those people, Le Pen's deputy Florian Philippot said.
- Hire 15,000 police, build jails to make room for another 40,000 inmates.
- Automatically expel foreigners who have been condemned in court. Also expel all foreigners that are monitored by intelligence services for links with radical Islam. Close all mosques suspected of links with radical Islam.
- Leave NATO's integrated command, boost defence spending.
- Make it impossible for undocumented migrants to legalise their stay in France.
- Curb asylum to requests made abroad, in French consulates.
- Make it much harder to become a French citizen -- being born in France would give no right to citizenship anymore.
- Curb migration to a net 10,000 people per year.
- Stop giving free basic healthcare to illegal migrants.
- Allow referendums to be organised on issues called for by 500,000 citizens.
- Cut the number of lawmakers by nearly half.
For those unfamiliar with the key players in the French election in April/May, the following link has a useful Reuters infographic.