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Marine Le Pen kicks off her 2017 campaign in earnest

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National, was invited to speak on the Grand Jury RTL - Le Figaro - LCI this Sunday, December 11, 2016.

Published: December 15, 2016, 4:47 am

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    After a break of several weeks, the president of the FN has started preparations for her presidential campaign of 2017 in earnest.

    Le Pen answered questions from journalists Alexis Brézet, Olivier Mazerolle and Christophe Jakubyszyn.

    Opponents of her party have tried to point to differences between her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen and her strategist Florian Philippot , but Marine did not take the bait. She said their differences show that she has been able to unite many different opinions in the party, including on abortion.

    The young blonde Maréchal-Le Pen embodies the “identitarian wing” of the movement, the French daily, Le Figaro, said. Marion has sharply criticised Francois Fillon, the former prime minister, as a “dangerous” candidate for the FN and has openly denounced his conservative “swindle”. Fillon pretends to be tough on immigration, but wants to remain part of the open-border EU.

    Marine Le Pen, however, maintains that Fillon is the ideal opponent, and called him the champion of the “destruction of the social protection system” during the interview.

    On Wednesday Fillon quickly sought to quell a revolt over his proposal for partial privatization of public health insurance, after Le Pen’s rebuke on the programme. The proposal was removed swiftly from his campaign website and he is now denying that he had ever suggested it, Reuters reported.

    Francois Fillon, a fan of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, won the backing of his centre-right party two weeks ago to run for president on cutting massive public spending.

    But hammered by mounting discontent, also from within his own Les Republicains party, Fillon now wants to disown a policy that a poll last week showed was opposed by nine in 10 voters.

    “Never did I want to, or would I want to, ‘privatize health insurance’,” he said and added that he did not want to draw a distinction between major and minor health risks.

    As signs of deep concern among voters mounted, the proposal contradicting his above statement that was in full view on his website – www.fillon201 on Monday, was deleted some time late on Tuesday.

    The now-vanished sentence was: “I propose focusing universal public insurance on serious and long-term illnesses, and (focusing) private insurance on the rest”.

    A Reuters check of older versions of the website page showed the original was still there on Dec. 12 and that it had disappeared on Dec. 13.

    Le Pen also noted that Fillon’s attachment to anti-immigration measures was suspect. In response to his tough talk against Muslims, Le Pen reminded her audience of his dupicity: “Fillon has exempted Qatar from real estate surplus value tax, but claims to fight against Islamism?”

    France’s constitution says proposed laws on the organisation of state powers, reforms relating to economic, social and environmental policy, or a request for authority to ratify a treaty can be decided by referendums.

    But Fillon’s supporters said earlier the power to withdraw France from an existing international agreement, can not be decided by a referendum.

    Alain Lamassoure, a former French European Affairs Minister, who has just been turned down as contender to head the European Parliament, told FranceInter : “So if a government or a president wants France to get out of the European Union, the constitution would have to be modified.”

    Philippe Cossalter, a professor of government law, added: “If Marine Le Pen wants to use article 89 she would need a very strong parliamentary majority.”

    But governments have not always followed the rules, and Le Pen could easily have her way to call a referendum for a Frexit. In 1962, President Charles de Gaulle proposed an electoral reform that was backed by a majority of voters without parliamentary approval.

    Le Pen said open borders have created a number of no-go zones: “In a number of districts in France, France no longer recognizes the values ​​of France.”

    She added: “I want France to be a country with borders and decide for itself.”

    Marion Maréchal-Le Pen joined the French Army reserve earlier after the spate of Islamic State-inspired terror attacks in Europe. The 26-year-old also blasted the “ineffective” French army as the country reels from ISIS terror.

    Fillon, meanwhile pledged in his 2017 campaign plan to boost French defense spending to two percent of gross domestic product by 2025, defencenews.com reported.

    But his suggestion to aim for the 2 percent target by 2025 would fall on the shoulders of another president as his presidency would end in 2022 if he were elected next year, business website La Tribune reported.

    Defense is the third item on the national budget, with spending on education the highest figure, followed by debt repayment.

    France is under pressure from the European Union to cut its national deficit to 3 percent of GDP, as required by the Maastricht Treaty. It spends some 1.5 percent of GDP, excluding pensions, on defense. Once pensions are included, the figure rises to 1.8 percent.

    Fillon said new arms programs should be launched to plug capability gaps such as light aircraft, transport planes and airborne intelligence gathering. Studies for replacement of the Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier should also be considered.

    But designing and building a replacement warship would take at least 10 years, two defense specialists said.

    karin@praag.org

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