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