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France's Far Right Leader Vows Electoral Shake-up

  • Lisa Bryant

Marine Le Pen (C), France's far-right National Front political party leader, and National Front party deputy Gilbert Collard (L) attend the presentation of New Year wishes to the media in Nanterre, Jan. 7, 2014.

Marine Le Pen (C), France's far-right National Front political party leader, and National Front party deputy Gilbert Collard (L) attend the presentation of New Year wishes to the media in Nanterre, Jan. 7, 2014.

Buoyed by record popularity ratings and a disgruntled public, the leader of France's far-right National Front is vowing to shake up politics as usual during upcoming local and European elections. Party leader Marine Le Pen predicts surging support for anti-EU and anti-immigrant parties like hers across the region.

French media suggest 2014 may be the year of Le Pen, and she seems to believe it, too. Speaking Thursday to anglophone journalists at her party's headquarters outside Paris, Le Pen predicted the demise of the country's two-party tradition.

Le Pen said the current French political system has come to an end - with what she called a collapse of the rule of law and basic values, and zero public confidence in politicians. This change, she said, would be registered at the polls.

Today, the National Front has only two deputies in the National Assembly, no senators and only a few dozen municipal lawmakers. But Le Pen believes that will change.

She has two upcoming dates to test her predictions. France holds municipal elections in March - and Le Pen's party plans to field candidates in a record 500 towns. Elections for the European Parliament take place across the 28-member bloc in May.

Polls show the National Front capturing a record 20 percent approval rating. The party is capitalizing on the struggling economy, fears of radical Islam and immigration, along with anger over the policies of Socialist President Francois Hollande. Another survey finds the Front capturing one-quarter of intended European Parliament votes - well ahead of the Socialists and the opposition right-of-center UMP party.

Le Pen said she believed euroskeptics would win considerably more seats in the European Parliament than they currently hold and form alliances aimed at dismantling the EU.

A member of the European Parliament, Le Pen said her main wish was for the EU to collapse. She predicted that those she called "patriots" in the European Parliament wold block any move to make the EU stronger.

Europe's economic crisis has triggered growing support for far-right populist parties in countries like Britain, the Netherlands and Greece. But Thursday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso downplayed the strength of euroskeptics and their chances at the polls.

Le Pen has tried to refurbish the radical image of the National Front since taking over its top post from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, three years ago. She placed third in the 2012 presidential elections.

On Thursday, she referred to the rise of fundamentalist Islam in France. She accused a small minority of radicals of pressuring the majority of mainstream French Muslims to adopt more conservative attitudes and identify with their religion rather than their country.
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