Coming third after Hollande and Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential vote, Marine Le Pen and her Front National party are definitely a rising force in French politics. We talk to her about immigration and the lack of integration, EU austerity troubles, France's national priorities and of how much of a private life should spill into the public. And we get some uncommonly frank answers.
Sophie Shevardnadze: The European Parliament committee almost unanimously voted to lift your immunity, because of alleged racist statements you made three years ago. Why now? And why is the Parliament so united in this question?
Marine Le Pen: The truth is that censorship reigns in France, and we are hunted down in all circumstances because we express an opinion that is different from the one-way track of thinking developed by the European Union, but also by the Socialist party and the right-wing parties in France. I’m being hunted down for saying I think it’s not normal that prayers should be allowed to take place right in the middle of the street, blocking traffic… it was a territorial occupation that is unacceptable, it’s the law and yet I’m being hunted down for having said this. It’s not a big deal, it’s a source of pride for me to be hunted down by the system.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Do you feel less secure because of that?
Marine Le Pen: No, I don’t feel any less safe, but still, it shows that although France spends a lot of time preaching freedom to the entire world, it should probably deal with its own issues first.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Does that mean that your attempt to fight the EU system from within as you said you were doing has failed?
Marine Le Pen: No I don’t think so, I think next year’s European elections are going to be a huge upheaval, because patriotic parties like my own are growing in popularity in all countries across Europe, all peoples are starting to reject the European Union, which is a deeply undemocratic system that has failed, and I think the majority in the European Parliament can change next year, and it’s true that it will be a change in direction, which I think will be a good thing.
Sophie Shevardnadze: So your own popularity continues to grow… I grew up in Paris and I remember when I was a child, the National Front was really a marginal party that didn’t have much support, and now it really has become the thing, France’s third biggest party. Why do you think you’ve become so popular now?
Marine Le Pen: The third…maybe even the second. Maybe even when the European elections come around, the number one party. I think we really are moving towards taking power, that’s what I want, you know, I’m not here as a bystander, I’m here to come into power and apply the ideas that are mine and that I can see are already being applied in other countries around the world. I think it’s just a matter of it all coming together…a lot of French people are starting to realise that everything the National Front predicted came true, on the subject of the risks with immigration, on the economic model that has been imported from and imposed by the United States, meaning the ultra-liberal model, which destroys economies and denies the people the riches that they themselves have created, and denies nations their sovereignty. There you are. And so consequently, with each passing day, realizing that the National Front’s predictions were correct, more and more French people are taking an interest in the solutions and adhering to the solutions we offer.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Having said that, your opponents say ‘Oh, Marine Le Pen is popular now, because of the European Union’s problems, not because she’s actually contributed to anything positive, any positive changes in France’…
Marine Le Pen: Yes of course, but that’s not true, and they know that, because in the partial legislative election we’ve just had, the National Front came second, so we’re not just a protest party against the establishment anymore, we’re a real party, of people who vote for the National Front so that we apply our ideas, so that we win elections, not just to show their discontent or despair, as our political opponents would have it.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Are you going to run for president in the next election?
Marine Le Pen: Yes, I mean if first of all if National Front party members trust me enough to invest in me as a presidential candidate… And I think we’re going to take power. I think we’ll make it in the next ten years, tops. Which means that might be in 2017 or it might be the next time. But the system thought up by the Union for a Popular Movement and the Socialist Party, the established system, is clearly collapsing, and I spend my whole life working on what happens the next day, by which I mean on rebuilding a system that is respectful of democracy, respectful of justice, respectful of sovereignty, meaning the freedom of the people.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Hollande likes to say things are going a bit better than under Sarkozy, because things back then were so bad, that he can only make a bit of a progress…
Marine Le Pen: No, the reality is that things are getting worse and worse, and these two movements managed to turn one of the world’s richest countries, France, into a bankrupt country, with a rocketing unemployment rate, with poverty that continues to rise, with a real feeling of despair, and with a culture that is collapsing, because it’s important to talk about that – in life, there’s not just the material aspect. There’s also the feeling of belonging to a people, a desire to defend one’s culture, to defend one’s identity, an identity that is so respected across the world, French identity and culture, respected everywhere except by the French elite.
Sophie Shevardnadze: So you say France would be much better off without the European Union. I saw the latest survey, and it’s true that 60% of French people think the EU is heading in the wrong direction. Yet only 34% will vote for France’s exit from the EU. What do you make of these figures?
Marine Le Pen: Well, first you need to understand that there’s no debate in France. Defending the European Union and the Euro, the single currency that was imposed on us, almost feels like defending a religion. Meaning there’s no exchange of arguments, and to be against the Euro is a sort of blasphemy. So I’m asking for a referendum, because surveys are great, but I remember when we were asked our thoughts on the European constitution, and the surveys said that a vast majority of French people were FOR this constitution, and actually 55% voted against it. So we need to organize a debate, we need a referendum, and to ask the French what they think: about throwing open the borders with Schengen, about this currency that destroyed our economy, about European directives taking precedence over our own constitution, which is a manifestation of the sovereign people. These are real questions that have not yet been asked in France. And I’m convinced that if they had been asked, the French would make the decision to take back their freedom.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Imagine you’re the president, you have the referendum, and it turns out that most French people want to stay in the European Union. Would you change your policy on exiting the European Union?
Marine Le Pen: In those conditions I would try to negotiate, you know I am infinitely respectful of the desires of the people. I think the only sovereign here is the people. Consequently, if I hold a referendum and the people don’t follow me, then of course I will submit to the people’s decision, but I would try to defend France’s interests within the EU, because today, France’s interests are not being looked after, we submit to the demands of Germany, a country that defends its own interests. We can’t begrudge them that, but our interests and theirs are contradictory.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Would you still like France to leave Schengen?
Marine Le Pen: Yes, of course. Of course. I think the number one right for a country is the right to decide who can enter and remain on your territory. And yet today we have no borders, we are subject to absolutely massive levels of immigration, which is utterly destructive, including to national cohesion and our ability to live side-by-side. The immigration comes from Africa, from North Africa, it’s been going on for quite a long time, but now it is….how can I put it…accompanied by a new type of mass immigration, which is immigration by the Roma, coming from Eastern Europe, and we can no longer face the situation. We need now to be reasonable, and get our borders back.
Sophie Shevardnadze: So you mean police borders and check-points like before?
Marine Le Pen: Like before, yes. Yes, I think freedom for a people comes from control over its borders, not just in terms of human traffic by the way, but also in terms of capital flow, and also products. We are not a hotel full of open doors where everybody can come and do whatever he likes, sell whatever he likes. There you go, I think preserving and protecting France’s interests begins with control. That doesn’t mean we close the borders, it means we control the borders. We open them if we want to open them, and we close them if we want to close them, and in that way we can protect the economy and the well-being of our country.
Sophie Shevardnadze: I was thinking, even if the European community or the EU ceased to exist, globalization is something much bigger and deeper and wider than us. It’s an irreversible process. So isn’t it a bit like going against the flow of things?
Marine Le Pen: No, I don’t agree! Globalization is a fact, but nobody ever said it was something we couldn’t monitor. All the countries in the world, apart from the EU, defend themselves against globalization, they try to keep it in check, they control it, they put quotas on imports, they put custom duties on things to defend their products and the economic sectors that are essential to their independence. We’re the only ones who don’t do it, and so consequently it’s not about denying that globalization is happening, it’s about getting France into a position where it can defend itself against globalization, and to set some playing rules. There’s not a single game in the world that doesn’t have rules. And today, globalization in the EU is completely deregulated, and yet again, we see the consequences are catastrophic.
Sophie Shevardnadze: And do you know already who will be allowed to enter France and who will not, because there are many immigrants right now who are in there and illegal?
Marine Le Pen: Well, this is my principle, I want to radically change the immigration policy in France. I want to suppress the jus soli. I believe that nationality should be inherited or deserved. So, we don’t automatically become French just like that. That comes first. Secondly, I would implement a small immigration deterrent, because France grants a series of social aids that are detrimental to its own citizens. It means that today there are even illegal immigrants who benefit from larger social aid that some French citizens can’t obtain. All of this draws people in. So, if we get rid of what I call “the immigration magnets” and then in a logical and humane way tell people “You’re here legally, then there’s no problem, you belong here in France. On the contrary, if you have been unemployed for six months, it’s because there is no work for you, and therefore we’re forced to ask you to return to your own country.” So honestly that’s on the whole, if you will, a sensible reasonable plan that is already used in several countries around the world, except here in France, where for ideological reasons, if you will, we have subjected ourselves to massive immigration for over thirty years and of course you know the consequences of that.
Sophie Shevardnadze: I understand that you would not let more of them in, but what do you do with those who are already in France? Put them on a plane?
Marine Le Pen: But, if they’re here legally and they have a job, then there’s no problem, well, there is no issue in particular. However, if they’re unemployed, we’ll just tell them “Look here, we can no longer meet your needs. There are no job prospects here for you. And we have implemented the national priority policy.” The national priority policy is meant to give priority to French nationals of the same skill level to access positions and obtain housing in France. This is what I call a small deterrent. From the moment immigrants have no further interest in coming to France, then they’ll stop coming.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Immigration is also a huge issue in Russia. We talk about it all the time, and we say “We have to have more restrictions.” But then here’s the question “Who would work in places at very low salaries that Russians would never want to work at?” Same thing in France, no?
Marine Le Pen: Yes, I understand perfectly, because it’s a measure that we have been using since the 1970s but that was imposed by the big companies. The real question is “Why is there no one willing to work in these places?” Is it because they’re underpaid, and given the difficulty of these jobs their salary should be higher than those given today? It’s mostly due to the decline of the West, where intellectuals have been encouraged more than labourers and working with your hands is seen as something that’s degrading. I don’t believe that. I think that manual labor should be valued once again, because we need a balance between manual and intellectual work, and I’m convinced that if we had not given in to the demands of the large companies which always seek to keep lowering salaries, then there would have been Russians in Russia and French people in France willing to accept jobs known to be harder, but for which the salary is more than enough to compensate.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Is immigration for you more of a cultural or economic issue?
Marine Le Pen: Both. Both, because the bulk, the importance of immigration, its brutal quality, it’s all at the core of the history of immigration that has brought to France ten million immigrants in thirty years. Now, remember we have a population of 65 million, which is considerable. However, we have no jobs for them, so these people that arrive can’t work, since there is none. And this happens, because they are people, they’re not products, so they come with their culture, their religion, their traditions and customs, and instead of telling them “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, meaning “When in France, live like the French”, our government one after another has told them “Stay just as you are, it’s your right, it’s your human right”, instead of imposing our culture onto them. So there is a shock, at some point a conflict, because the French want to preserve their way of life and do not want to adopt the cultures, traditions and customs of these foreigners.
Sophie Shevardnadze: I know there is a serious economic crisis in France at the moment. You have often said that the austerity measures have only worsened things. But wasn’t France’s economy drowning even before these measures were put into place? And doesn’t France have a 100% debt to pay anyway?
Marine Le Pen: What I’m saying is that the austerity measures are a remedy that actually kills the patient. There you go, it’s like that. The patient is sick and we are about to give him a fatal remedy or in a way bleed him. But it’s a major error, because all the measures we take now are meant to raise taxes and lower earnings, and all this slows down the economy. More taxes constrict the economy and so there is less development, less public revenue for the state, higher deficits and higher debts. And so we come full circle with more taxes. This is a vicious cycle that will end by effectively ruining the French economy.
Sophie Shevardnadze: But austerity measures is not the only thing annoying the French. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the law passed by the Parliament allowing same-sex marriages and the adoption of children by homosexual couples. The law is now passed, it has now come into force and the protests are over. Is that it?
Marine Le Pen: Well, no, it has not completely calmed down. Now the French nation must vote better people into office, people who have taken a vow to review that law on gay marriage and adoption. Or, in the case of the UMP we can see all the cynicism of the French Right, they’ve protested and made big speeches, but when the law was voted on, they did not do much to change it. I think if that’s the will of the people, then we should go back over that law and it’s something that I have promised to do.
Sophie Shevardnadze: So, if you’re elected president, you would change that law?
Marine Le Pen: Of course, I would go back on that authorisation.
Sophie Shevardnadze: It seems also to be the trend in Russia. The Russian Parliament is passing a law not only forbidding gay couples from adopting children but also a law against gay propaganda – whatever that means. How are you going to defend both the traditional values and the rights of the gay people?
Marine Le Pen: Well, listen, we’re going in the right direction. This means that intimacy should remain intimate. A person’s sexual life and choice belong in this sphere of intimacy. However, the fact that these should be the subject of a propaganda campaign makes no sense. I mean, it pertains to intimacy, individuals and what happens in their homes. People are free to do what they want morally as long as it doesn’t contradict the law. But to publicize it in schools, as is the case in France? Gender theory comes straight from the United States as many questionable things do, in any case. Today the main teacher’s syndicate in France insists that we teach children of 6 a book called “Dad wears a dress”. But honestly, we can see parents asking themselves “What is this absurdity?” So, let us review everything that pertains to the freedom of morals, sexuality and therefore the private life. It’s none of the public’s concern. Seen like that, it’s simple right? And in this way, everybody can live happily.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Could a gay man who is discreet about his sexuality be part of your cabinet?
Marine Le Pen: That is the case. I have homosexuals all around me. It poses no problem for me. But they do not make a show of their sexuality or any propaganda and they don’t try to convince anyone, because they are aware, and legitimately so, that all this pertains to a person’s private and intimate life and not to political life.
Sophie Shevardnadze: There’s a lot of discussion about international intervention into local conflicts. I know you expressed support for Mali interventions, while saying that Libya has been a catastrophe. Now we may be looking at some sort of intervention in Syria. How do you judge which intervention in which country is justified?
Marine Le Pen: Well the situation is very straight-forward. In Mali, first of all there’s been cooperation between France and Mali for many years now, and it’s the legitimate government in Mali that asked us to intervene, faced with the rise in power of Islamist terrorist groups that were aggressive and even assassinating people there. Consequently, in those conditions we find ourselves in a situation that we know from before, where a friendly country asks you to come and help because it is the subject of aggression. Right, so we went to help. What is incoherent in the behaviour of French leaders, is that they fight the Islamists in Mali, but support them in Libya, and in Syria! That’s what’s completely incoherent! I’m completely coherent, I consider that the danger of Islamic fundamentalists absolutely terrifying and I think that yet again we have totalitarianism in the 21st century, there was communism and Nazism in the 20th century, and now there’s Islamism and globalism.That’s the totalitarianism of religion on one hand, and of trade on the other. And so I fight it. But I fight it everywhere. In Mali, in Libya, in Syria.
Sophie Shevardnadze: And now Hollande and Cameron are presenting a united front against the EU’s desire to stop arms getting to the rebels in Syria. Is that a step towards intervention, and what would the consequences be for France?
Marine Le Pen: No I don’t think it’s a step towards intervention, for a simple reason actually: French leaders did such a bad job that I don’t even think the French army has the capacity to intervene alone, particularly in Libya, especially since they’ve just intervened alone in Mali in conditions that were already technically difficult. And France only intervened in Libya because the US gave support in the form of infrastructure. Which is a shame by the way, and we need to change that. And so I don’t think there’ll be an intervention, but still I think that French leaders are under the influence of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who are pulling the strings far behind the scenes, and who are providing weapons and assisting Islamic fundamentalists across the world. And we must denounce that, which is what I’m trying to do in my own country.