Expert: Front National claims EU ‘threatens France’s roots’

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New Front National leader Marine Le Pen will campaign against Brussels as a threat to French independence, heritage and jobs, Sylvain Crépon, a researcher at Nanterre University and an expert on the far right, told in an interview.

On 16 January Marine Le Pen took over the leadership of the Front National from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had run the party since 1972. He famously came second in the French presidential elections in 2002.

Sylvain Crépon is a French sociologist and a researcher at the Université Paris Ouest in Nanterre.

He was speaking to EURACTIV France's Camille Cerise Gessant.

Is Marine Le Pen, who was elected as president of the Front National on 16 January 2011, more anti-EU than her father?

It's a bit early to tell. But her inaugural speech did not reveal whether Marine Le Pen is more Europhobic or anti-EU than her father.

The European Union is a long-standing issue for the Front National (FN). Since its electoral rise in the 1980s, the party has consistently opposed European integration. For them, the EU constitutes a threat to France's independence.

The more European integration grows, the more the FN sees the EU as a way of making the nation disappear, making it weaker within a political entity that is abstract and disconnected from the national perspective.

What are Marine Le Pen's main criticisms of the EU?

For Jean-Marie Le Pen, and now Marine, the euro represents a loss of sovereignty for France. Marine Le Pen says, for example, that if she is elected [as president in 2012], one of her first actions will be to leave the euro.

Leaving the EU, leaving Schengen, reinforcing border controls, taxing foreign products – which goes hand-in-hand with globalisation – are also goals for the party. For the FN, the Union is primarily an economic enterprise that aims to liberalise the economy and threaten the spirituality of nations.

Within the FN, leaving the EU is not purely a political, economic or technical debate. It's an ideological debate linked to the original idea of the party: nationalism and defending sovereignty. The attachment to France is truly carnal, truly spiritual. And European integration threatens these roots, this cultural heritage.

What was the key element in her inaugural speech?

Marine Le Pen's speech is almost anti-capitalist, it's striking.

The far right was formed on the basis of defending borders, sovereignty and even superiority. One must have this in mind when trying to understand the mistrust that the FN has towards the European Union. Moreover, the Union is considered by the FN as a symbol of economic liberalisation.

This theme will be highlighted with Marine Le Pen. Her mistrust relating to the threat of economic materialism is significant. For her, the EU is turning us solely into consumers and diverts us from what should be our essence.

So for the new leader of the FN, Brussels is responsible for all of France's ills?

Partially. There is also NATO, the UN, the IMF. All supranational bodies are a threat.

Does Marine Le Pen make a distinction between European and non-European immigration?

Initially, the FN rejected all immigration, whether it was African or Portuguese, Spanish, Italian. But since the 1990s, the European immigrant has become "Franco-compatible". According to FN activists with non-French European origins, there is a cultural compatibility between their origins and France in terms of religion, ethnicity. Marine Le Pen reflected this in her speech.

For the FN, is attacking the EU a way of widening its appeal to voters?

When Marine Le Pen denounces relocations or the porosity of European borders, she presents the EU as a threat to jobs, to the most disadvantaged. There is an electoral strategy behind it, but it's not pure opportunism detached from conviction.

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