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Was Le Pen’s lift of Fillon’s speech plagiarism or flattery?

Alain Jocard, AFP | Marine Le Pen delivers a campaign speech in Villepinte, France, on May 1, 2017.

France’s far-right National Front has denied allegations that Marine Le Pen’s campaign speech on Monday was a rip-off of an address by centre-right politician François Fillon last month. It was a deliberate acknowledgment, the party claimed.


At a May Day speech in the northern Parisian suburb of Villepinte, Le Pen appeared to have a Melania Trump moment, when the wife of Republican candidate Donald Trump was accused of lifting portions of a Michelle Obama speech during the 2016 Republican convention.

A video clip posted on the Ridicule TV Twitter account late Monday featured Le Pen and Fillon in apparent lip-synch as they discoursed on the greatness of France - and its immense cultural contribution to civilisation.

For over a minute, Le Pen appears to have plagiarised from an April 15 speech by Fillon on his vision of French identity and nationhood.

The two speeches also referred to legions of non-French speakers across the globe, "waiting in lines at the Alliance Française in Shanghai, Tokyo, or Mexico”, as well as “for the French secondary school in Rabat or Rome”.

The two candidates also chose to pay tribute to the same historical figure, Georges Clemenceau, when they quoted France’s World War I-era prime minister, who famously said,

"Once a soldier of God, and now a soldier of Liberty, France will always be the soldier of the ideal."

The Fillon speech was delivered in the central French town of Puy-en-Velay while the centre-right Les Républicains candidate was on the campaign trail. Fillon was eliminated in the first round of the 2017 French presidential race.

According to the BuzzFeed news site, @ridiculetv is a pro-Fillon Twitter account.

The tweet promptly went viral with more than 9,300 retweets and 4,800 “likes” at the time of publication.

A 'small loan'

But faced with an apparently blatant case of plagiarism, senior National Front (FN) officials chose not to deny the cribbing, but to categorise it as a sort of verbal loan.

"It's not a plagiarism. It’s totally deliberate, a wink and a nod, a small loan," FN Secretary General Nicolas Bay told a French public radio station.

Louis Aliot, the party’s vice-president and Le Pen’s longtime partner, also described the cribbing as a “wink and a nod” to Fillon’s voters. "I think that with a part of the right, there is exactly the same vision of the identity of the nation and national independence," he said on French TV station LCI.

Imitation, it would seem, is the best sort of flattery in France’s right-wing ranks.

When questioned on French TV station France 2, Le Pen’s spokesman David Rachline decided to go on the offensive, accusing Le Pen’s rival, Emmanuel Macron, of being a political clone of French President François Hollande.

Macron was a former economy minister under the unpopular Hollande and drawing ties between the two French politicians has been a popular FN theme on the campaign trail.

"There is no theme reserved for this or that candidate...This wink, I think, was appreciated [by all], including Mr. Fillon’s voters," said Rachline. “The real plagiarism in reality is Emmanuel Macron who spends his time plagiarising Francois Hollande, since he is his heir… Macron proposes nothing but continuity,” he said. 

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