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French National Front Member On What's Attracting People To Her Party


It's less than two weeks until the French people choose their next president. The centrist Emmanuel Macron is leading the polls against Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. The National Front has been in French politics for a long time. Leaders have worked to overcome the party's reputation for being xenophobic and racist, and the group has steadily moved from the fringes towards the mainstream. To help us understand the worldview inside this party, we reached out to one of its members, Patricia Chagnon. She's a National Front politician in the north of France. I started by asking her to describe Marine Le Pen's current strategy.

PATRICIA CHAGNON: Marine Le Pen's strategy in this election is the fact that, today, the drift in our society is no longer a drift between the right wing and the left wing. It has to do with, on the one hand, Macron and his globalist view on the world and his pro-EU stance and, on the other hand, Marine Le Pen's view, which is a view of protection of our French economy and protection of the French people.

SHAPIRO: When you look around at the country, what do you see that has changed since you were young that makes you support this party?

CHAGNON: What has changed is that everything has been gravitating towards cities. We have seen, in the countryside, high unemployment because factories have delocalized to other European countries or overseas countries. And we see, in the cities, that there is a huge difference between those who earn money and who have the possibilities to live in the nice areas and those who live in the horrible suburbs where, you know, drug dealers run havoc, and you've seen immigration poses a lot of problems, crime poses a lot of problems. So, yes, the majority of French people today is suffering, and it is the minority that Mr. Macron represents.

SHAPIRO: This does seem to be a paradox of the National Front - that while immigration is one of, as you describe it, the fears and the threats, people who live in areas with more immigrants are less likely to support the party than people who live in areas with very few immigrants.

CHAGNON: When I talked about the National Front electorate in the countryside, those people vote for Marine Le Pen mostly for economic reasons. So now, when you talk about immigration, the countryside in France is now starting to feel the effects of mass immigration because, last year, the government decided - when they dismantled the camps with migrants, they dispersed them all through the countryside in France. And we've now got many villages throughout France who have five, 10, 20, 30 migrant families living there. And the people in those villages know that there is absolutely no work. There is no jobs. So this is causing a lot of tension, yes.

SHAPIRO: Around 8 percent of the population of France is Muslim. Does your party represent them as well?

CHAGNON: Sure. We do not have a problem with Muslims at all, as we do not have a problem with peoples of the Jewish faith or Buddhists or whatever, as long as we accept the general principles that are essential for living in a democracy like France, which means the acceptance of making it a state where secularism is respected in the open space.

SHAPIRO: And yet, this does seem to be something that your party has stumbled on in the past. Marine Le Pen was charged with inciting religious hatred against Muslims for comparing the presence of Muslims in France to the Nazi occupation. More recently, a mayor aligned with your party was found guilty of inciting hatred. This does seem to be a problem for your party.

CHAGNON: I don't think we have a problem at all. We are totally open, as we will show many members of our party who vote for us. Many Muslims vote for the Front National because they live in neighborhoods where they are being threatened by the radical Islamists. Women are being threatened because they dare to dress in a short skirt or in shorts.

SHAPIRO: What parallels do you see between the movement in France that Marine Le Pen is tapping into and the movement in the United States that Donald Trump tapped into?

CHAGNON: Mr. Trump was elected against all odds, against the opinion polls. Mr. Trump didn't have the support of the media while he was on campaign, and Mr. Trump was elected by the people of America in spite all that. We have a bit of a similar situation in the sense that Marine Le Pen is also not the candidate of the system. But we still live in a free country, and when people are in their voting booths, they will choose Marine Le Pen in less than two weeks' time. I am absolutely convinced.

SHAPIRO: Patricia Chagnon, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CHAGNON: You are very welcome.

SHAPIRO: Patricia Chagnon is a local politician and a member of Marine Le Pen's National Front Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE SMITH'S "BOUNCE: PTS I + II") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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