Marion Marechal-Le Pen might well walk up the steps of the world-famous Cannes Film Festival in southeast France next spring as leader of the region, if she wins elections there today.
Her National Front (FN) party pulled off a historic win last weekend, topping the vote in the first round of regional polls, in a breakthrough that shook up the nation’s political landscape before presidential elections in 2017.
If the party wins one or more regions in the run-off today, that would be a first for the party, leaving the French public and much of the wider world to contemplate: What would happen in a region ruled by such a party?
The party certainly plans measures to please its supporters; regional subsidies to charities helping migrants would be axed, for example, while schools would be restricted in offering alternatives to pork in their canteens.
Marechal-Le Pen — who is more conservative than her aunt, National Front leader Marine Le Pen — has said she would scrap aid to abortion providers.
The actions of National Front politicians who became town mayors last year might also offer clues — David Rachline took down the EU flag from the front of the Frejus town hall in southeastern France, while Steeve Briois ended the practice of giving a human rights group free use of municipal premises of Henin-Beaumont in the north.
Any changes are likely to be largely symbolic. The National Front aims to use any regional wins as a platform in its quest for national power in 2017 — so it will not seek to implement its national manifesto, but rather seek to prove it can responsibly govern large constituencies and offer stability.
“The key word will be pragmatism, not ideology,” Marechal-Le Pen told a last campaign rally on Thursday evening, after opinion polls showed her party’s prospects have waned since the first round and that tactical voting could keep it out of power in its key target regions.
Since Marechal-Le Pen took the National Front over from her maverick, ex-paratrooper father, Jean-Marie, in 2011, she has strived to build a base of locally elected officials to help “de-demonize” the party and target the 2017 national elections.
“High schools will still be built, trains will still run, vocational training will still be carried out, but to attract attention and strengthen their political hold, they are set to carry out symbolic decisions that cost nothing, but are highly visible,” political analyst Joel Gombin said. “They will stage the ‘FN against the system’ line.”
While regional councils have no direct powers over France’s migration policy, the National Front’s top candidates have said they would act the only way they can at that level, by putting an end to any subsidies for non-governmental organizations that help migrants.
“It makes no sense economically that public money goes to help foreign workers and migrants in a region where unemployment is higher than national average,” Marechal-Le Pen told reporters in an interview last month.
She said she would also scrap development aid subsidies and use the money instead to boost exports for French firms. Along the same lines, Marine Le Pen’s electoral leaflets deride the northern French region’s financing of schools in Africa, calling them “unbelievable” examples of wasted money.
Marechal-Le Pen has also said that she would stop subsidies to family-planning charities, which she accuses of being politicized and of promoting abortion.
French Minister of Education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said this week she was worried about what would happen to high schools if the National Front won regional power.
Vallaud-Belkacem said she feared debates over school canteen food would resurface — with the issue of whether alternatives should be offered when pork is on the menu.
Marechal-Le Pen’s 115 page-long program for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region says French secularism would be “strictly implemented.”
Schools that do not offer alternative menus should not introduce them, according to the plan. Those that do should only be allowed to continue doing so if there are “nutritional reasons,” it says.
The National Front would not go further than such steps, party officials and analysts said, as it is keen not to repeat the mistakes made in the 1990s, when some measures were struck down by courts and damaged the party’s credibility.
“We will absolutely respect the law until we are in government at the national level and can change it,” Marechal-Le Pen said.
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