Le Pen is one of the front-runners, with her chances helped by a scandal surrounding a top opponent
On some issues Le Pen parallels US President Donald Trump
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far right National Front party, officially launched her presidential campaign Sunday with a speech attacking globalization and the dangers of immigration.
At a rally in Lyon, Le Pen told a crowd of thousands she favors a return to the French franc currency, wants France out of NATO and promised a referendum on remaining in the European Union – à la Brexit.
“What is at stake in this election … is whether France can still be a free nation,” Le Pen said. “The divide is not between the left and right anymore but between patriots and globalists!”
Le Pen promised to protect French traditions and national character, which she said are under siege from immigrants who have flooded the nation.
“Those who came to France came to find France, not to turn it into their country of origin,” she said. “If that’s what they wanted they should’ve stayed in their country.”
She said immigrants want to alter the secular nature of French society and instill their own traditions, especially by insisting on religious practices in the workplace.
“There is not and there will not be any other laws and values in France other than French laws,” she said. “We will not be going back, no withdrawing. No compromises!”
Parallels to Trump
The first round of the election will be held April 23, with a runoff May 7 if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
Le Pen is one of the front-runners and her chances of winning are aided by a scandal that has ensnared a top opponent, Republican Party candidate Francois Fillon. Magazines in France reported that his wife and two of his adult children were given no-show jobs that earned them nearly €1 million ($1.08 million).
An independent centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, also is in the running.
On some issues Le Pen parallels US President Donald Trump, another anti-globalist, especially in his stance on limiting immigration and fighting “radical Islam.” She has praised Trump’s action on immigration and said his election “shows that people are taking their future back.”
The immigration issue is sensitive in France, which is home to a large number of immigrants from the Mideast and has suffered several deadly terrorist attacks.
In an interview with CNN, she said France is “being attacked by radical Islam.”
“Clearly French values are being attacked as are the values of other countries and I worry other countries will be affected in the future,” she said
Le Pen doesn’t want to build a wall along French borders but said she wants to slash legal immigration from 200,000 to 10,000 “entries” per year in France. She also wants to see immigrants’ access to public services limited.
Le Pen said the EU referendum would be called within six months of her election.
“Everyone understands the European Union is a failure,” she said in her Sunday speech. “It has not kept any of its promises, in particular about prosperity, security and worst of all has put us under a guardianship.”
At a meeting of Europe’s nationalist parties last month, she described the EU as a monstrous “chimera” and an “anti-democratic oligarchy” that France needed to leave.
Internationally, Le Pen, 48, wants closer ties with Russia and she has been criticized for taking a loan from a Russian bank. In an interview with CNN last year, Le Pen said she was left with no choice after being turned down by French banks.
Father founded party
Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the National Front in 1972. Over the years she has risen in power and changed the party’s racist and anti-Semitic image.
As she rose through the ranks – becoming vice president, a member of the European Parliament and then a member of Parliament in France – she tried to soften the National Front’s image. She took over as president in 2011 and in 2013 her father was expelled from the National Front after repeating a claim that the Nazi gas chambers had been but a detail of history.
Marine Le Pen ran for president in 2012 but lost.
In her Sunday speech, she said France will follow the anti-globalization trend evidenced by the Brexit vote and Trump’s election.
“The nations have shown us the waking up of a people,” she said. “The waking up of a people is historic. It shows the end of a cycle. History has turned.”
CNN’s Melissa Bell contributed to this report.