Le Pen launches campaign with swipe at ‘authoritarian’ EU

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French far-right leader Marine Le Pen vowed on Sunday to wrest back powers from an “intrusive and authoritarian” bureaucracy in Brussels as she kicked off her party’s European election campaign as clear frontrunner in polls.

At a rally attended by about 8,000 activists in Marseille, Le Pen shared the spotlight with her 28-year old protégé Jordan Bardella, a popular figure who heads her Rassemblement National (RN) party and will lead its list for the June vote. 

“I call on the French people to transform their indignation into action,” Le Pen said, hitting out at EU curbs on combustion engine cars and other environmental rules. “Nations must take back the power that the EU has confiscated from them.”

Polls suggest the RN will emerge as the biggest French party, as it did in 2019, but this time potentially by a much larger margin, with as much as 30 per cent of the vote. That would be well ahead of president Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance on 18 per cent, according to a February poll by BVA. 

If the RN were to win by a big margin, it would be a blow to Macron both domestically, as he seeks to prevent Le Pen from succeeding him when his final term ends in 2027, and abroad by hampering his push for a stronger, more powerful EU. 

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A staunch pro-European, Macron has long argued that the EU needs to become more of a geopolitical power to prevent the continent being marginalised economically by the US and China or threatened by a belligerent Russia. 

Le Pen and Bardella in contrast on Sunday laid out a sceptical, populist view of the EU, arguing that nations must resist the creep towards a “EU superstate” that was seizing policymaking power on immigration, health, diplomacy, taxation and defence.

But Bardella took pains to emphasise that the RN does not support France leaving the EU — an idea it had flirted with in the past and Macron’s camp accused it of still holding. Instead he stressed the need for change from within with the help of far-right or nationalist parties rising in popularity across the region.

The stance was symbolised by Bardella’s new campaign slogan “France is back, Europe lives again”, featuring him against a sky blue background. 

Bardella denied that the RN advocated for a “hidden Frexit” by saying that its ideas were on the march in Italy, Sweden, Hungary, and elsewhere. “You don’t get up from the game table when you are winning,” he said ironically.

Jordan Bardella delivers a speech during a political rally to launch the party’s campaign for the European elections,
Jordan Bardella delivers a speech during a political rally to launch the party’s campaign for the European elections, © REUTERS

EU elections in France tended to be plagued by high abstention since people did not think the vote would affect their lives, while those who did turn out often use their votes to express discontent with government, said Brice Teinturier, a pollster at Ipsos.

“Macron’s centrist alliance is pretty much the only big pro-European political force left standing in France,” he said. “If the RN does well, it will give them momentum going into 2027.”  

The Le Pen-Bardella duo has been positioning themselves as a “ticket” to lead France in 2027 with Le Pen as a would-be president and Bardella as prime minister.

Macron has tasked his young prime minister Gabriel Attal with narrowing the polling gap with the RN to prevent a loss in the June vote. The president this week selected a little-known MEP named Valérie Hayer to head his alliance’s campaign list. They will hold their first campaign rally in Lille on March 9.

In recent weeks, the RN has been surfing on farmers’ protests that have exploded in France over low incomes, high taxes and what farmers call suffocating red tape from Brussels, with Bardella slamming Macron for sacrificing farmers in favour of the EU’s green agenda.

Macron’s camp has instead sought to refocus the debate on the RN’s historically pro-Russia stance and ambivalence about helping Ukraine win the war. “There is reason to wonder whether Vladimir Putin’s troops are not already in our country — I am talking about you and your troops, Madame Le Pen,” Attal told the RN leader on the parliament floor.


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