PARIS — The final sprint is on in France, with five days to go until the first round of voting in presidential elections with an extra dose of global significance. Marine Le Pen, head of the ring-wing populist National Front (FN) party, is at or near the top of polls alongside centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, with conservative former Prime Minister François Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon close behind. The top two finishers Sunday will compete in a run-off round of voting on May 7. With the world still feeling the aftermath of surprise victories last year by Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum, there are ruminations that this election too could wind up seeing a majority of disillusioned voters choosing Le Pen.
Le Figaro sat down with Le Pen to discuss the end of the euro in France, Muslim voters, and her recipe to respond to globalization.
LE FIGARO: You are proposing leaving the euro single currency. The majority of French voters say they don't want this. What would you say to them?
MARINE LE PEN: I would first tell them that I am the only one who will ask them their opinion on the European Union, through a referendum. Once elected, I shall immediately begin negotiations. I shall ask for a meeting of heads of states, without the participation of EU bodies. Many European countries in the South and the East are waiting for France, a great and powerful country, to take the lead in forcing the EU to come to the negotiating table. I would also tell the French that leaving the euro will have no effect on their savings. On the contrary, the big danger for them is the current situation of a banking union linked to the euro, which means dipping into people's savings when there is a financial crisis. The French are overwhelmingly convinced that the euro is a burden. Returning to an adapted national currency will create millions of jobs and give us back our freedom.
If you are elected, interest rates will shoot up the day after.
No! There will be no sudden panic. I cannot stand it when the French are asked in all circumstances to make sacrifices before the state cuts back on its own wasteful expenditures.
But couldn't the markets still judge an increased risk for France?
You can make a thousand different hypotheses. Most are false. We saw the same thing with Brexit: apocalyptic predictions that sought to frighten voters, but which the facts then disproved.
How do you fight fundamentalism?
We need to implement certain measures immediately: like deporting foreigners in the (at-risk) S category, rescinding the memorandum of the current government on regularizing aliens, a moratorium on issuing certain certificates, freeze loans and state medical assistance to asylum seekers ... I also want to organize, as of September, a referendum to revise the Constitution to restore the authority of the new law on previous European treaties. We have to recover the initiative.
This is a referendum for or against unbridled globalization.
Do you not fear provoking the hostility of France's Muslims?
Not at all. If there is one thing French Muslims want, it is to be rid of the daily pressures imposed on them by Islamic fundamentalists.
The National Front's ideas are gaining ground, but strong hostilities remain, notably among senior civil servants. There was also the attempted arson outside your headquarters recently.
A sector of the extreme and non-democratic Left uses violence to express its refusal to submit to the will of the people. And if one or two diplomats don't want to continue working, well, they're welcome to leave.
The State of Israel, which hardly espouses far Left ideas, has strongly criticized your statements on the Vél d'Hiv Roundup of French Jews during World War II ...
The state of Israel is misled by what some supposedly representatives groups have said about me –– which are vile, baseless allegations.
Do you think France was better off before?
France will be better off tomorrow, if I am elected. This presidential race is virtually a referendum for or against unbridled globalization. Our values, codes, customs and lifestyle are being dissolved. When a country loses its identity, it no longer knows what it is or where it comes from, and what its real worth is. So it dissolves. I want to write into the constitution the idea of defending and promoting France's historical and cultural heritage, and give back to our country the status of a political power. That will be the launching pad for us to conquer the world anew! Yes, I for one want to set off to conquer the world! Relaunch ties with Africa, defend the French language abroad.
At a Le Pen rally on April 17 –– Photo: Official Facebook page
So you have a vision of France that is quite globalized.
You're mistaken. Globalization aims to wipe away borders in all areas. It is the elimination of frontiers, the disappearances of roots ... I am a candidate of limits and I shall be the president of limits. They are necessary at school to restore authority, to implement justice, against unhindered globalization and unfair international competition, and against abuses or excesses in tax evasion. There is no freedom without limits.
Some elements of your program appear very much left-wing, and others right-wing. How would you find a ruling majority?
I don't believe in the Left-Right divide. It is artificially maintained by those who wish to hold on to power. The real divide is between patriots and globalizers. On my side of the shore –– where the French nation is –– there are political officials I would sincerely like to have on our side, before the elections, between the first and second rounds or afterwards. I extend my hand to all those who hold dear our nation's sovereignty and identity.
Which candidate would you like to face in the second round?
Mr. Macron is unashamedly in favor of globalization, unlike Mr Fillon who is ashamed of the fact that he holds the same ideas. I would always prefer to face an open supporter of globalization. At least it makes things clear.
The mainstream left and right could always obstruct your election.
If we see a coalition of the Republicans and Socialists in the second round, a big globalizing party will come out of it, which at least will clarify things! The stakes of these presidential elections are civilization itself. The French sense it. And if Mr Fillon were to urge them to vote for Mr Macron, I am not so sure most of his voters would do as he says.
How do you feel just before this first round?
Calm and confident. I am confident of my team and trust the French people.
*Le Figaro journalists Fabrice Nodé-Langlois, Marc de Boni, Cécile Crouzel and Emmanuel Galiero also took part in this interview.