Politics

Marine Le Pen welcomed as ‘state woman’ in EU trip as battle against Macron ramps up

Marine Le Pen 'challenger' discussed by Dr Niall McCrae

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The National Rally leader will meet with the leaders of 13 other conservative and far-right parties in Poland to show off with all the eurosceptic and anti-liberal European forces. The meeting, which follows a joint declaration signed by the parties over the summer, will seek to convince the Polish Law and Justice Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński to create a new major European alliance.

But more importantly, it will help Marine Le Pen present herself as an all-around international figure ready to challenge Emmanuel Macron’s position in the EU, ahead of the 2022 French elections.

The French far-right leader will be welcomed as a “state woman who does international diplomacy”, according to her party spokesperson.

The trip will also be seen in France as a power move by the National Rally leader against Eric Zemmour, the far-right political pundit who declared himself a candidate for the election earlier this week.

A former journalist who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred, he is the top contender to challenge Marine Le Pen, leader of the more established far-right National Rally, for a place in a second-round against President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Zemmour announced his candidacy for president on Tuesday with a video in which, to ominous music and footage of street violence, he said he wanted to save France from decadence and minorities that “oppress the majority”.

His candidacy turns the April 2022 election into a test of the endurance and limits of Europe’s far-right, which surged in the last decade but shows signs of reaching a ceiling as it pushes against boundaries of acceptable speech.

He said: “For a long time I was happy with the role of journalist, but I no longer trust that a politician will have the courage to save the country from the tragic fate that awaits it.

“That’s why I have decided to stand in the presidential election.”

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Mr Zemmour’s hardline criticism of Islam and immigration has drawn support both from Ms Le Pen’s voter base and from the mainstream conservative right but has also alienated some of the voters Le Pen had long sought to reassure.

As footage showed women with headscarves, Black men in the metro and CCTV footage of fights, he told voters on Tuesday that, watching movies, walking on the street or going to hospital: “You feel like you are no longer in the country you once knew, you are foreigners in your own country.”

He added: “We must give back the power to the people, take it back from minorities that oppress the majority.”

After a meteoric rise in opinion polls over the past weeks, with several surveys forecasting he would beat Le Pen to the election’s run-off round, his popularity has been slipping.

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Mr Zemmour led Ms Le Pen for a while in recent weeks, and the race for the number two spot is still neck-and-neck in some surveys.

But at this stage, most opinion polls forecast that Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen will face each other in the second round next April, which Macron would likely win in a repeat of the 2017 election.

A Harris Interactive poll published on Tuesday – with people surveyed before Zemmour confirmed his widely-expected candidacy – showed him down three to four percentage points at around 13 percent of voting intentions, pointing to the impact of various recent mishaps.

One of them happened last weekend when he was photographed giving the middle finger to a protester following a tumultuous campaign stop in Marseille.

He also sued gossip magazine Closer after it claimed he was expecting a baby with his chief political aide.

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