France's anti-establishment and anti-Europe party leader Marine Le Pen congratulated U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and said his victory is a harbinger of what could happen in her own country.
"The election of Donald Trump is good news for our country," the presidential candidate and National Front leader said in a televised statement Wednesday at the party headquarters near Paris. "Lets trust the French people, who cherish their liberty, will see this as one more opportunity to break with the current system that's shackling them," she said, beaming through her nearly five-minute speech. The changes wrought by voters in the U.S. and the U.K. "are burying the old world," she said.
The anti-immigration candidate for next spring's presidential election may be the politician who has the most to gain from Trumps victory. Already the leading candidate in polls for the first round of voting, the populist surge makes her own prospects of victory in the second round vote more plausible, according to Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at Cevipof in Paris.
"This is the best news for her and her voters, it tells them ‘you hold the key,"' Cautres said in an interview. "French voters are now waiting for their turn to punish the establishment and show that someone who's not part of the system can be credible," he said. Still, Cautres sees a very slim chance of Le Pen winning the 2017 election because of the opposition Republicans voters' strong mobilization to take power back from the Socialists.
All polls suggest Le Pen will be the clear winner in the first round next April with as much as 30 percent of the vote, giving her ammunition for the run-off. So far, only one poll has predicted her victory in the second round. That survey had her running against incumbent Socialist President Francois Hollande who has yet to say if he'll seek a second term.
France elects its president by direct vote, in a two-round process. The election is scheduled for April 22 and May 7.
Le Pen praised Trump for his protectionist stance, including on the Transatlantic trade accord with Europe, currently in negotiations. She also said she shares his sympathetic views on Russia.
In a tweet earlier Wednesday, before the election outcome became official, Le Pen was the first French politician to congratulate Trump. She has been an early supporter of the American real estate developer and reality TV star.
Le Pen and the U.S. President-elect share many views, from blocking immigration flows to raising trade barriers. They both seek to restore the grandeur of their respective countries and show an affinity for Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Le Pen has praised the U.K.'s decision to quit the European Union, the so-called Brexit, which was the first major victory for anti-establishment voters. She has called for a French equivalent, pledging that if elected president, she would take the country out of the EU and the euro zone, re-creating the French Franc and pegging it to the European currency. She has also pledged to resurrect French borders, which disappeared under the Schengen accord that allows freedom of movement for people and goods among the EU members.
"A Le Pen election would definitely mean the end of the European construction," Cautres said. "The Brexit and the Trump votes are giving her extra forces to rise. While I think she is capped for the 2017 election in France, I can see her making it in the next presidential election in 2022."
Le Pen is a lawyer by training, a lifetime politician and an heir to a political dynasty. For nearly a decade she has made an impoverished former industrial area in Northern France her base. Le Pen has failed to win any major executive post in the local, county or even regional elections since she began seeking the people's votes in 2004. She is currently a European parliament member and a member of the regional parliament in Hauts-de-France, the region at the northern tip of the country.
All the ingredients for Le Pen to blossom are gripping France. Unemployment is hovering near record lows; Hollande's approval rating has fallen to 4 percent and the pressure of the migration crisis in Europe hasn't waned. The U.K.'s Brexit vote has given populists across the continent, including in Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands, fodder for their own campaigns.
"The decision of the American people should be seen as the victory of liberty, the liberty of a sovereign people," Le Pen said in her speech."Their world is crumbling. Ours is being built," she claimed.
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