French far-right leader Marine Le Pen launched a scathing attack on the European Union yesterday (1 May), urging voters to punish Brussels "gravediggers" at the European elections on 25 May.
Le Pen is seeking to capitalise on growing discontent over Socialist President François Hollande's handling of the economy and rising unemployment in France. In March's successful municipal elections, her anti-EU party secured power in ten town halls across the country.
Mainstream centre-left parties across the 28-nation European Union are facing a similar problem to France; a disenchanted working class increasingly drawn to political extremes after bearing the brunt of globalisation and the financial crisis.
"On 25 May, put an end to this system that despises you [...] turn your back on dishonour and capitulation," Le Pen, a fiery ex-lawyer, told thousands of supporters gathered in central Paris for the May Day holiday.
"No to Brussels, yes to France. Do not fall into the trap of abstention. Do not disappoint me, go and vote!"
Surveys in recent weeks put her National Front party in a straight fight with the mainstream conservative UMP for first place in the elections, with both parties outpacing the Socialists [read more].
French lawmakers voted on Tuesday for a €50 billion savings plan meant to help the euro zone's second-largest economy meet deficit-reduction targets. That vote saw a high abstention rate from parliament's Socialist majority, who fear the plan will hurt the country's poorest.
Aim to send ‘shock waves’
Between 5,000 and 20,000 people, the lowest figure given by police and the highest by organisers, attended the May Day rally. Le Pen launched the event by laying a wreath at a golden statue of medieval heroine Joan of Arc.
"We hope to come out top in these European elections which would obviously send out shock waves because it would call into question the whole structure of Europe," Le Pen told Reuters amid a flurry of French flags and chants of the national anthem.
Le Pen came third in the 2012 presidential election with about 18% of the vote. She has since sought to attract more voters by shifting from the National Front's traditional anti-immigration emphasis to leaving the euro and imposing protectionist barriers, to exploit discontent over the debt crisis in Europe and globalisation.
Thousands took part in a march headed up by Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie, the former leader and now "honorary president" of the party. The pair were joined by National Front mayors elected in municipal elections in March, when the party took a number of towns including Henin-Beaumont, Béziers and Fréjus [read more].
The National Front is among several anti-EU parties forecast to do well in the EU elections. Le Pen said her party's recent success was part of a popular movement sweeping through Europe.
"The reality is that Europeans are rising up against the European Union, they're rising up for their future, they're rising up for their freedom and obviously that can only encourage us," she said.