National Front's Marine Le Pen takes lead in new opinion poll
National Front leader Marine Le Pen has edged ahead of conservative rival and former frontrunner François Fillon of Les Républicains party, a major poll released on Thursday showed.
According to French daily newspaper Le Monde, Le Pen now commands between 25 and 26 percent support among likely voters compared to 23-25 percent for Fillon, who held a three-point lead over Le Pen in December with 28 percent support.
Independent Emmanuel Macron has risen to third place with the support of 17-20 percent, depending on which other candidates choose to run.
The survey was conducted by Ipsos Sopra Steria for Sciences Po university Research Centre (Cevipof) and Le Monde.
The report did not include a prediction for who would win the second round on May 7. Most previous polls have predicted that both Fillon and Le Pen would advance to the second round but foresee an eventual victory for Fillon.
Le Pen is hoping to ride the same wave of populist sentiment and anti-immigrant anxiety that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House.
The National Front (FN) leader has said the children of illegal immigrants should not have access to French public schools and has been a sharp critic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy, which allowed 890,000 people from mostly war-torn countries to seek refuge in Germany in 2015 alone.
Le Pen has said France was simply not capable of handling any more arrivals. “We cannot take care of hundreds of thousands of people arriving here, because our first obligation is to protect the French people,” she said in a BBC interview in November.
She also wants France to leave the euro single currency and hold a Brexit-style referendum on leaving the European Union.
Le Pen said last week that she would like to see the production of French vehicles and other industrial goods return to France, just as Trump has said he hopes to do in the United States.
Trump has also threatened to slap tariffs on cars made abroad, saying the practice costs American jobs. He has praised Ford Motor Company's decision to scrap a plan to build a plant in Mexico and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' plans to create 2,000 jobs at its US factories.
Asked whether she would like to see the same thing happen with French manufacturers, such as Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroën, Le Pen said: "He (Trump) is putting in place measures I have been demanding for years."
Speaking on France 2 Television, she described the policy as "economic patriotism [and] intelligent protectionism".
"I don't mind explaining to French companies that they cannot escape tax that they should be paying in France, that they cannot go offshore without suffering the consequences ... A choice has to be made, a choice of patriotism."
Le Pen told a meeting with the Anglo-American Press Association earlier this month that she supported Trump’s presidential bid because his proposals were good for France.
“He is against TAFTA, and I am delighted because it’s very bad for France,” she said, referring to faltering negotiations to establish a free-trade across Europe and North America that would be known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Area.
Le Pen also said that Trump appeared to be less inclined than his predecessors to deploy troops around the world.
It is the National Front’s dealings with Russia that have raised the most concern, however. The party received a €9 million loan from a Russian bank in late 2014, sparking outrage at the European Parliament, after French banks refused to lend. The FN also broke with most of Europe in hailing Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier that year. Le Pen regularly praises Putin as a like-minded “patriot” and a bulwark against enroachments on "traditional" European values.
“Is Putin making decisions that weaken France or that go against French interests? So far, no – so why should I be against him?” she asked.
Le Pen has also accused NATO of having lost its raison d’être and denies that Moscow poses any threat to Europe.
“NATO continues to exist even though the danger for which it was created no longer exists,” Le Pen told the BBC.
“What is NATO protecting us against, exactly? Against a military attack from Russia? … In fact, NATO today has become a tool to ensure that its member countries comply with the will of the United States.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)
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