Marine Le Pen: “Who stole all that money?”

Screen capture of the April 10th debate Des Paroles et Des Actes

Screen capture of the April 10th debate Des Paroles et Des Actes

This is usually material for our Marine’s Gems/Perles de Marine section, but it was too good not to write a blog post. 

On April 10th, far-right leader Marine Le Pen participated in Des Paroles et des Actes, one of the most prominent TV debate shows in France. The least that can be said is that Le Pen made an impression on the public.

Why is it important for us? She talked a lot about Europe, and helped the show set an audience record in the process!

Several French media (Nouvel Obs, Le Point, etc.) have since proclaimed Le Pen’s domination over the evening, and harshly attacked the producers of the show for their lack of journalistic skills throughout the event.

Since this is a blog on Europe Affairs, we’ll focus on the middle of the debate. First we’ll note that the question was: Europe, a chance or a trap for France?

The first controversy of the European debate happened even before Le Pen walked onto the stage. Her opponent of the night was supposed to be Martin Schulz, the current president of the European Parliament.Le Pen stated she would not attend the debate if she was opposed to a foreigner.  The German was thus replaced at the last minute by Alain Lamassoure, leader of the UMP list for the European elections in France.

Back to the debate itself.

Lamassoure presented Europe as a source of peace and reconciliation: according to him, 2 out 3 Frenchmen perceive Germans as the  population they felt closest to. This is an unparalleled development given that these two countries/tribes/cultures had fought throughout the major part of the last 2000 years, he says. According to the UMP politician, Europe is the only way for France to preserve its international clout in the  face of globalization and developing third-world countries.

Marine Le Pen during the 2012 French presidential elections.  CC/Flickr/abodftyh

Marine Le Pen during the 2012 French presidential elections.
CC/Flickr/abodftyh

Le Pen responded by attacking the character of Lamassoure, stating how (sarcastically) happy she was to face him in particular:

“You are the human incarnation of the European Union. You are the one who thinks Europe is protecting us from globalization.” (1:04:25)

She even brought a little array of slides depicting political leaflets to argue traditional parties had been trying to chance Europe for the past 20 years.

The debate degenerated in a variety of attacks from both sides on topics such as the attendance and voting record of Marine Le Pen at the EP(even Lamassoure knows about sites such as VoteWatch Europe) or negotiations with Turkey and Ukraine.

But did Lamassoure really advance the debate? I would personally venture he did not. Le Pen was able to stir away from any piercing question on her European policies. There was no question linked to the actual benefits or disadvantages brought about by the Union. And for me, that’s a win for the far-right politician. All that is left from that bout with Lamassoure is maybe Le Pen’s slide show moment and screaming about Turkey.

This points to the craftiness of the FN leader when it comes to political communication.

Here’s another great one for the debate: the euro has always been a sore spot for Le Pen. She thinks it is the Union’s most terrible flaw, but has had trouble putting together her arguments. You may or may not agree with her. But who needs arguments? She swept away the economic growth argument (+22% GDP growth in France since 1999) with one roaring sentence:

“But who stole all that money?” (1:25:27)

This is what probably stuck with spectators after one and half hour of debate on a Thursday evening.

One last gem for the road ( from the last part of the debate against Yann Galut):

“You’re the one who thinks our country is small. You don’t believe in France anymore. I believe in France. (…) [You believe] we can’t get on without the European Union. Singapore is half the size of Ile-de-France, but they manage. They have their protectionism and their own currency.” (2:00:29)

Make up your own mind about this debate if you understand French: it is available here (I recommend it).

Fast (and sometimes fun) facts about Marine Le Pen:

*45 years old
*President of the National Front for the last three years
*Member of the European Parliament for the last ten years (click here to find her voting record and attendance for her last mandate)
* A French lower court just ruled that it was legal to call her a Fascist, as the leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon had done.

A couple of French perceptions of Europe on Twitter published during the debate

https://twitter.com/C_Dwicq/status/454348494099451904

Translation: We are too many in the EU. The mistake was to enlarge the Union to 28 member states. 

https://twitter.com/NeylTazi/status/454353505386770432

Translation: We cannot get out of the EU today. It would lead to huge trade losses and take away possibilities. Plus we get help from the EU.

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Ukraine : fire and death, in the name of Europe?

In Europe, all eyes are turning to Ukraine. There has already been over 50 deaths, and the entire country has become a battleground. Even some of the country’s Olympic athletes, who have been training for four years for the end, have decided to stop competing and go home.

Protesters clash against police forces in the streets of Kiev CC/Flickr/tandalov.com

Protesters clash against police forces in the streets of Kiev
CC/Flickr/tandalov.com

After a quick meeting yesterday in France between the different EU member states, three foreign affairs ministers (from France, Germany and Poland) have met with Ukrainian officials today in Kiev. Officially, these ministers here to discuss sanctions, but there is only one objective for them: stop the violence.

Yet how did we get here? Protesters are chanting slogans such as “Ukraine is Europe,” and international media have underlined the fact that Ukrainians may have more belief in the EU than the population of its older member states  (let’s say France, for example).  One thing should be clear though: the question has never been whether Ukraine would be part of the European Union. The country is nowhere near applying for membership. What was behind the trade agreement was a search for influence.  

Small EU-related commentary/question here: where is EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton, and why didn’t she join the member states representatives? Surprising and revealing, given the fact she was in Ukraine earlier this month.

Looking back: 4 months of protest!

August 2013: Russia stops all Ukrainian imports at the border for customs inspection. Hint from the Putin government: this state of affairs may become permanent if Ukraine were to sign a trade agreement with the EU.

November 13, 2013: the Ukrainian Parliament refuses to consider the liberation of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

November 21, 2013: Ukraine puts a stop to its negotiations with the EU in favor of its relationship with Russia. First street protests with people chanting “Ukraine is Europe.”

November 23, 2013: Protests continue despite the attempt of Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov to blame this decision on the International Monetary Fund. Tymochenko calls for the population to react “as if it was a coup.”

November 30, 2013: first violent confrontation between demonstrators & police forces. Thirty-five people are detained.

December 8, 2013: hundreds of thousands of protesters crowd the streets of Kiev and destroy the statue of Lenine.

December 11, 2013: the Ukrainian capital is under lockdown with thousands of police riot officers controlling the streets.

January 22, 2014: Police kills two demonstrators when shooting at the crowd, and another dies from a fall. These are the first deaths of the protest.

January 28, 2014: the government attempts to diffuse tension by repelling anti-protest laws that had allowed for the bloodshed a week earlier.

February 16, 2014: the protesters leave the Kiev City Hall they had been holding in exchange for the release of 234 jailed demonstrators.

February 18, 2014: 25 die among protesters and police after anti-riot lines were attacked outside of Parliament.