AMNEVILLE, France – Capitalizing on the Euro zone worst economic slump, the far-right National Front (FN) is attracting new members to minority party that made its name with the anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
"It really is the arrival of Marine Le Pen that convinced me to join the National Front," Fabien Engelmann, a 32-year old municipal plumber, told Reuters on Friday, September 7.
"She has an economic program that is much more geared to defending the little people, the workers, the popular classes of France."
Appearing under the new leadership of Marine Le Pen, who took over the far-Right FN from her father in January, the FN popularity increased as Le Pen distanced herself from her father's revisionist, anti-Semitic stance.
Focusing on inciting fear on the role of Islam in France, home to up to six million Muslims, she adopted anti-immigrant approach to gain public support.
Last December, Le Pen compared Muslim prayers on the streets to Nazi occupation.
Along with its anti-immigrant approach, the party focused on problems facing French people, including scarce jobs and housing problems.
Currently, Le Pen ranks third in polls for the April-May 2012 presidential election although she is unlikely to win.
Her score in an early October Ipsos voting intention poll was 16 percent, behind Socialist challenger Francois Hollande at 32 percent and Sarkozy's 21 percent.
"Our ideas are gaining ground," says Jean-Richard Sulzer, the man in charge of the party's economic program, who is a professor of finance at the Paris-Dauphine University, one of France's top business schools.
Proving his ideas, Sulzer said that a protectionist Socialist Party goal echoes one of the Front's.
"They are spreading like an oil slick," he added.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose popularity has plummeted over climbing unemployment and painful spending cuts, have worked hard to court the far-right supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Along with the niqab ban, Sarkozy’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party started a debate last April on the role of Islam in secular France.
Moving from anti-immigrants and anti-Islam agenda, the FN now rejects all ideas that have driven European economic growth in the past two decades: globalization, free trade and the dominance of services and the financial industry.
The party offers a radical alternative by quitting the euro and closing French borders to cheap Chinese products to boost employment and reindustrialize and empower the state's regulatory role.
"The National Front today is the only movement that proposes solutions,” Le Pen told Reuters in an interview.
“The other political formations, all they do is propose, under a different form, what they have already tried before.”
According to Le Pen, her policies are a direct confrontation to the evil troika; namely the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.
"The real fault line is between nationalists and globalists, between economic patriots and those who believe that nations and borders must disappear and that there should be no obstacles whatsoever to commerce, that everything is for sale and everything can be bought, and that there should be no controls on the flows of capital, products and people," she says.
With crunching economic slump affecting the working classes, Le Pen appeared like a savior from other political alternatives that proved useless.
"That then leaves just two kinds of political alternatives: those who can envision an exit from the political impotence and those who don't," Alain Mergier, a sociologist, and Jerome Fourquet of polling institute Ifop, wrote.
"The voters who see in Marine Le Pen the only politician who is able to make that cut, they do not care about the details of her program. ... They feel she is the one who is able to move beyond everything that has been tried by the parties of the left and the right."
For political analyst Jean-Yves Camus, one of France's leading specialists on the extreme right, the National Front also embodies lost ideological vigor.
"To them, political action is an expression of political will,” he said.
“From there on, anything is possible: leaving the European Union, leaving NATO, leaving the World Trade Organization, closing the borders, anything."
Though focusing now on euro skeptics, Le Pen supporters echoed her anti-immigrants and anti-Islam rhetoric.
In Amneville, two dozen Front members who gathered in the "Auberge des Amis", a cafe by the railway tracks, were not talking about the euro.
Over a meal of cold cuts, a history teacher said he was trying to stop his school from offering halal meat.
Another militant boasted of his efforts to organize a pork sausage party in a Muslim neighborhood of Paris.
"It is true that there are still many National Front militants who like to talk about problems with immigration and security and the Islam offensive, and rightly so," says Engelmann.
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