Marine Le Pen has spent years modifying her image and that of her party. Renaming it. Softening it. Taking it, publicly at least, away from the toxic impression of her father’s overtly xenophobic, anti-Semitic far-right Front National.
After winning a record number of seats in parliamentary elections in June, she reported warned her new MPs to be on their best behaviour as she continued her project of turning RN into a mainstream party.
However on Thursday a session in the French parliament was suspended after a RN MP yelled ‘go back to Africa’ as a black MP was speaking.
Gregoire de Fournas insisted that he shouted ils (they) should go back to Africa, referring to migrants who were the subject of a parliamentary question, and not il (he) should go back to Africa, referring to black MP Carlos Bilongo, who was asking it.
Either way, the comment was an embarrassment for the party, and amid the expressions of shock and solidarity with Bilongo were plenty of people commenting that this shows the true nature of the party.
Below Transport Minister Clément Beaune comments “the veneer is cracking. The far-right remains far-right, racist and brutal.”
— Clement Beaune (@CBeaune) November 3, 2022
So how extreme are Le Pen and her party?
In 2013, she warned that she would take journalists and media outlets who describe her party as far-right to court, calling the term “defamatory” and “insulting”. She even sued political rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon for calling her a fascist during the 2012 Presidential election. And lost.
The 2022 election campaign saw a major overhaul in her image – pastel-coloured outfits, Instagram posts about how much she loves her cats and even a softer speaking voice.
Her speeches focused far more on the cost of living than immigration, and she was rewarded with a second place in the presidential election (41 percent of the vote to Macron’s 58 percent), while in the parliamentary elections 89 RN MPs were elected to parliament – the party’s best ever result and one that makes them the third largest group in parliament.
But behind the public image, Le Pen’s manifesto laid out very different policies. A window into her ideology hidden in place sight.
Le Pen’s immigration policy would have involved rewriting all of France’s immigration laws to, as it says in her 2022 election manifesto, “preserve French people from migratory submersion”.
Within six months of election she intended to put an already-drafted bill on immigration and national identity to a referendum – sidestepping oversight from the Conseil Constitutionnel, which cannot examine a law adopted by referendum.
This bill was intended to, “modify a number of articles of our Constitution in order to integrate the migration issue into our supreme text but also to prevent supranational jurisdictions from forcing France to follow policies contrary to the will of the French people,” according to Le Pen’s election document.
Specifically, the bill would have removed key parts of the preamble to the Constitution of October 27 1946, which opens with a paragraph including the words, “the people of France proclaim anew that each human being, without distinction of race, religion or creed, possesses sacred and inalienable rights.”
It would have also altered articles in the 1958 Constitution.
Le Pen’s manifesto continued: “I will propose to the French people … to prohibit any form of settlement that aims to alter the identity of France (notably through family reunification, which will become a rare exception).”
Her proposed bill also aimed to enshrine in the Constitution the notion of “national priority”, and set up legal discrimination between French nationals and foreigners for jobs in the private sector, civil service, as well as access to social housing, healthcare and social benefits.
Le Pen vowed that she would impose fines on Muslim women who wear headscarves in public. Speaking to RTL radio, Le Pen said: “People will be given a fine in the same way that it is illegal to not wear your seatbelt.”
But, in February, she said in a debate on France 2: “I do not intend to attack Islam, which is a religion like any other. I want to preserve its freedom of organisation and worship.”
Why, then, target the head scarf? In planning to make wearing one a fineable offence, and in separate comments, she created a distinction between Muslim and other religious symbols – contrary to the country’s 1905 law on secularism and equality of religions.
Meanwhile, Renaud Labaye, her chief of staff, said. “We consider Islamism to not be a religion and that a person who wears the veil is an Islamist.”
Le Pen later denied he had said this.
Going back to her election manifesto, she argued Islamist groups seek, “to erect in our country a counter-model of society based on a totalitarian a totalitarian ideology”.
It went on: “I have tabled a bill aimed at combating Islamist ideologies, which are incompatible with our values, our history and our culture, and which stem from a totalitarian vision of social life.”
Didier Leschi, head of the French Office for Immigration and Integration, is on the record as saying that Le Pen’s bill was worded in such a manner that it should be considered “a totalitarian text”.
Law and order
Unsurprisingly, Le Pen’s manifesto was as big on law and order as it was on immigration – both key dog whistles of the far right. Quite often, the two are linked – particularly in relation to Islam.
In it, she said she wanted to increase the number of police officers, and arm municipal police in all towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants.
She intended to increase prison places, impose minimum sentencing for a range of crimes, preventing judges from using their judgement, and introduce ‘actual life sentences’, and abolish automatic reductions in sentencing.
And she has said that she would put the question of a return to the death penalty to a public vote – which would set France in direct opposition to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Protocol 13 of the ECHR.
During the Presidential election campaign, Le Pen confirmed that her government would not include a ministre déléguée for women’s rights and would replace it with a more junior secretary of State position.
She has long tried to obfuscate her position on certain rights for women, notably on abortion as she sought to modernise RN’s image, while holding on to its Catholic conservative fundamentalist base. But she has, in the past, criticised what she termed “comfort abortions”.
In her 2006 autobiography À contre flots, she laid down her thinking on abortion, claiming some women use it as “a form of contraception”, and calling for, “incentive measures, coupled with a real policy of information and prevention with adolescent girls” in order to better “fight against abortion”.
RN politicians in the National Assembly and at EU level have repeatedly voted against or abstained from voting whenever policies intended to improve women’s rights are put forward. As an MEP, Le Pen abstained or was absent 21 times, and voted against 17 texts promoting women’s rights.
The Osez le féminisme association placed both her and Zemmour in its misogynist category because of her position on abortion, IVF, and other laws on women’s rights.
#Feministometre #8mars #OsezLegalite2022 : Qui défend les droits des femmes ?
Nous avons analysé, comparé, décortiqué les programmes et des discours des https://t.co/IZu1vrm2kD pic.twitter.com/PMXTqTVVBr
— Osez le féminisme ! (@osezlefeminisme) March 7, 2022
Europe and the EU was noticeable by its absence in Le Pen’s manifesto. There was no mention of a “Frexit” vote, or a return to the franc as the currency of France. Those policies – previously loudly championed – were quietly dropped as she sought to make herself and RN more politically “acceptable”.
But the basis of her immigration policy – and the referendum she planned to hold – ran contrary to EU treaties to which France is a signatory. She claimed: “I inscribe the superiority of constitutional law over European law.”
According to her, the Union does not grant enough sovereignty to Member States. Brexit followers will recognise the tone and the words. She proposed, and trumpeted in the 2019 European elections, a “European Alliance of Nations”.
Jean-Louis Bourlanges, centrist deputy and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, retorted at the time: “If you affirm the superiority of national law over European law, you no longer have European law.
“Marine Le Pen has given up on an official exit from Europe, but her manifesto is, quite simply, incompatible with keeping France in the Union.”
And Le Pen reportedly said that, if elected, she would aim to “dismantle the EU from within”, and pull France out of Nato’s command structure.
It would have started with flags. One of her first acts, she said, would have been to remove the EU flag from the country’s official buildings – a symbolic act that would be the start of further destabilising efforts – in her manifesto, she even acknowledged her “deep and definitive difference of opinion with Berlin”, and said that she would “end the co-operation that began in 2017”.
“A person is judged by the company they keep”, goes the well-known idiom. As well as Russia and Putin, Le Pen has an affinity with nations governed by populist far-right politicians, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban – noted for his anti-LBTQ and anti-immigration policies.
She visited Orban in October 2021, and, after securing a €10.7 million loan from a Hungarian bank help to finance her election campaign earlier this year (having got the funds from Russia in 2017), released a video in support of the Hungarian leader earlier this year.
She also worked to create an ‘alliance’ of hard-right and far-right political groups in Europe, including the Italian Lega Nord, the Austrian FPÖ (the Freedom Party of Austria), the Czech SPD (Freedom and Direct Democracy party), the Dutch Party for Freedom and the Belgian Vlaams Belang.
On Thursday Jordan Bardella, Le Pen’s deputy and the man who seems set to be elected as president of the party, said that he “expects and wants” Le Pen to take another run as becoming president in the 2027 elections.
But the inconvenient truth is that, no matter how well she conceals it, Marine Le Pen – by her deeds and her actions, if not the words she carefully guards in the limelight – gives herself away as a die-hard politician of the far right.