In a SPIEGEL interview, French right-wing populist Marine Le Pen discusses the European election victory by her Front National, German dominance in the EU and her admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Le Pen, having won 25 percent of the French vote, your Front National party stands as one of the primary beneficiaries of the May 25 European Parliament election. How could such a thing come to pass?
Le Pen: The French want to regain control of their own country. They want to determine the course of their own economy and their immigration policies. They want their own laws to take precedence over those of the European Union. The French have understood that the EU does not live up to the utopia they were sold. It has distanced itself significantly from a democratic mode of operation.
SPIEGEL: Yet, prior to the election, it was said that the establishment of lead candidates for the two biggest groups -- Jean-Claude Juncker for the center-right and Martin Schulz for the center-left -- would strengthen democracy in the EU.
Le Pen: That is totally bogus. Everybody knew that the parliament wouldn't be making the final decision on the next president of the European Commission.
SPIEGEL: Do you want to destroy Europe?
Le Pen: I want to destroy the EU, not Europe! I believe in a Europe of nation-states. I believe in Airbus and Ariane, in a Europe based on cooperation. But I don't want this European Soviet Union.
SPIEGEL: The EU is a vast project for peace. It has helped ensure 70 years without war on the Continent.
Le Pen: No. Europe is war. Economic war. It is the increase of hostilities between the countries. Germans are denigrated as being cruel, the Greeks as fraudsters, the French as lazy. Ms. Merkel can't travel to any European country without being protected by hundreds of police. That is not brotherhood.
SPIEGEL: You now intend to head to Brussels only to fight the system.
Le Pen: And why not? The EU is deeply harmful, it is an anti-democratic monster. I want to prevent it from becoming fatter, from continuing to breathe, from grabbing everything with its paws and from extending its tentacles into all areas of our legislation. In our glorious history, millions have died to ensure that our country remains free. Today, we are simply allowing our right to self-determination to be stolen from us.
SPIEGEL: In truth, though, you didn't win the elections because of the EU, but because the French are furious with their economic situation and with President François Hollande. Have you thanked him?
Le Pen: No. Then I would have had to call Nicolas Sarkozy as well. France is in this situation because the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (Sarkozy's party) and the Socialists (Hollande's party) submitted to European treaties. These treaties promote German interests quite well, but they are poor at defending France's interests.
SPIEGEL: Germany is to be blamed for France's misery?
Le Pen: Whenever I hear people utter anti-German sentiments, I say: You can't blame Germany for defending its own interests. I can't blame Ms. Merkel for saying she wants a strong euro. I place the blame with our own leaders who are not defending our interests. A strong euro is ruining our economy.
SPIEGEL: Why would you say that the euro is only helping Germany?
Le Pen: For a very simple reason: It was created by Germany, for Germany.
SPIEGEL: It was François Mitterand who wanted the euro in order to contain Germany. In fact, it was difficult for the Germans to give up their beloved deutsche mark.
Le Pen: That's another story. Mitterand wanted to push integration forward with the euro. But from an economic standpoint, the euro is German. Were we to return to our national currencies, the D-Mark would be the only one to appreciate in value, which would be a competitive disadvantage for Germany. Our currency, by contrast, would be devalued, which would give us a bit of room to breathe.
SPIEGEL: In other words, votes for EU-skeptics are votes against Germany?
Le Pen: There's no doubt that the model we are advocating is less positive for Germany than the current model. Germany has become the economic heart of Europe because our leaders are weak. But Germany should never forget that France is Europe's political heart. What is happening here today foreshadows what will happen in the rest of Europe in the coming years: the great return of the nation-state, which they wanted to obliterate.
SPIEGEL: Do you see Angela Merkel as an enemy?
Le Pen: I have respect for leaders who defend the interests of their countries. Her policies are positive for Germany, but they are unfortunately harmful for all other countries. My warning is: Be careful Ms. Merkel. If you don't see the suffering that has been imposed on the rest of the European people, then Germany will make itself hated. She believes it is possible to pursue policies In other countries against the will of the people. She would never do that in Germany, where election results are being respected. But she wants to impose her policies on others. This will lead to an explosion of the European Union.
SPIEGEL: Do you really want France to leave the euro?
Le Pen: I have been saying that since the French presidential election campaign. It is a difficult issue and I have taken a big risk. I know very well that the political classes have spread fear among the electorate: Without the euro, the sun will cease shining, the rivers will stop flowing, we will enter an ice age
SPIEGEL: An end to the euro would surely lead to an economic disaster.
Le Pen: I don't believe that at all. It would be an unbelievable opportunity. If we don't all leave the euro behind, it will explode. Either there will be a popular revolt because the people no longer want to be bled out. Or the Germans will say: Stop, we can't pay for the poor anymore.
SPIEGEL: You are now bringing 24 representatives with you to Brussels ...
Le Pen: ... as the fourth biggest party group behind the German Christian Democrats, the Italian Democratic Party and the German Social Democrats.
SPIEGEL: But to build a parliamentary group, you need representatives from seven different countries. You have an agreement with the Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders, the FPÖ from Austria, the Lega Nord from Italy and Vlaams Belang from Belgium, but that isn't enough.
Le Pen: I am optimistic that we will be able to establish a parliamentary group. I have a series of meetings coming up soon.
SPIEGEL: The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), though EU-skeptic, has refused to cooperate with you. Party head Nigel Farage has said the Front National is anti-Semitic.
Le Pen: And David Cameron says that UKIP members are crazy and racist. I think it is good that UKIP is as strong as we are. But they already have a parliamentary group and see us as competition. Hence, the insulting accusations.
SPIEGEL: Would you like to work together with UKIP?
Le Pen: It would certainly be a possibility. We have the same fundamental approach to Europe.
SPIEGEL: You and your possible allies are all opposed to the European Union. But what, for example, do you have in common beyond that with someone like Geert Wilders?
Le Pen: That's enough!
SPIEGEL: He is in favor of gay rights while you are opposed to gay marriage.
Le Pen: Why should I care about that? For me, the fight for sovereign nations is enough. Everybody should be able to choose according to his own values and history, within a European civilization that we all belong to.
SPIEGEL: You have excluded the possibility of cooperating with right-wing extremists such as the Golden Dawn party from Greece or the German neo-Nazi party NPD. What about Germany's euro-skeptic party AFD?
Le Pen: They have yet to show interest in such a cooperation. We share certain viewpoints with the AFD, but they are not a party of the people. Rather they are an elitist party with a different structure from ours.
SPIEGEL: Is France actually suffering from a kind of depression?
Le Pen: There's something to it. We used to be one of the richest countries in the world, but we are now on a path towards under-development. This austerity that has been imposed on the people doesn't work. The people will not allow themselves to be throttled without revolting.
SPIEGEL: Still, the French sovereign debt is massive.
Le Pen: The French debt will remain massive. The more austerity one imposes, the more growth suffers, the lower tax revenues remain and the higher the budget deficit. Plus, the government has saved by making cuts to useful expenditures instead of to the damaging expenditures. Savings should be made with cuts to the generous social system, which grants illegal immigrants the same protections as it does our citizens. And with welfare fraud; and with the EU contributions, which rise every year.
'Xenophobia Is the Hatred of Foreigners. I Don't Hate Anyone'SPIEGEL: Does the Front National want France to return to the early 1960s: A protectionist state that steers the economy, an authoritarian head of state and less immigration?
Le Pen: It is undeniable that the French were in a better situation then than they are today. I don't look in the rearview mirror. But there was no need for us to experience an end to social progress since then. It makes no sense that we took on 10 million foreigners within a period of 30 years.
SPIEGEL: Do you really think that France can hide from the world?
Le Pen: I'm not talking about autarky. I'm not crazy. We need an intelligent protectionism. We need customs duties again -- though not for countries that have the same social (security) levels as we do. That's fair competition. The problem is the total opening of borders and allowing the law of the jungle to prevail: The further a company goes today to find slaves, which it then treats like animals and pays a pittance, without regard for environmental laws, the more it earns.
SPIEGEL: Is free trade really such a bad thing?
Le Pen: Trade has always existed, but we used to defend our strategic interests. Could you imagine the United States allowing (French engineering giant) Alstom to purchase General Electric? I don't think so. And I don't want (Germany's) Siemens to buy Alstom. I want Alstom to remain French. That is strategically important for my country's independence.
SPIEGEL: But Alstom has major problems.
Le Pen: One could nationalize a company, even if only temporarily, in order to stabilize it.
SPIEGEL: When you took over the Front National in a desolate state from your father in 2011, did you really think that it could become France's strongest party?
Le Pen: Of course, otherwise I wouldn't have done this. If I didn't believe that we had a chance of coming to power, then I would have focused on taking care of my three children or gardening.
SPIEGEL: Since taking over leadership of the party, you have worked on the "de-demonization" of Front National. Have you finally achieved that with this election result?
Le Pen: Certainly among the people. But the elite, of course, continue to defend themselves. But are we treated like every other party? No. Not by the press and certainly not by the political classes.
SPIEGEL: What is the real Front National? On the one hand, you have your young deputy Florian Philippot, a self-described Gaullist. On the other, you have your father, who recently said that "Monseignor Ebola" could solve the global population explosion within three months.
Le Pen: He did not say "could". And that was not his wish, it was merely a concern he expressed. You know, they used to describe Gaullism as being the "metro crowd at rush hour." That's where you find Jean-Marie Le Pen and Florian Philippot, you find craftsmen, heads of companies and civil servants. We want to represent all the French people with ideas that are neither left nor right: patriotism, defense of the identity and sovereignty of the people. If a person like me is described as being extreme-left and extreme-right at the same time, then that isn't far off the mark.
SPIEGEL: Front National is an anti-immigration party. Polls show that immigration is the issue of greatest concern to voters.
Le Pen: Yes, we support putting a stop to immigration.
SPIEGEL: Why such xenophobia?
Le Pen: Xenophobia is the hatred of foreigners. I don't hate anyone.
SPIEGEL: In Germany today, there is far more immigration than in France. Despite this, there are no parties like yours.
Le Pen: We have millions of unemployed and cannot afford any more immigration. Where are they supposed to live? It is not viable.
SPIEGEL: Is your success the product of the failure of the elite? Socialist politician Samia Ghali argues that the French wanted someone who spoke to their hearts and that you, unfortunately, were the only one who did so.
Le Pen: Our political class no longer has any convictions. You can only pass along the beliefs that you hold. They no longer believe in France -- they have a post-national worldview. I call them France-skeptics. That's why democracy is collapsing here in France.
SPIEGEL: Prime Minister Manuel Valls still has convictions. They just aren't the same ones that you have.
Le Pen: I don't believe that. He is a man with no convictions whatsoever, just like Nicolas Sarkozy. These are people who will tell you anything just to further their little careers.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps you're simply saying that because Valls, who was interior minister before becoming premier, is the only member of the government who is actually even popular with your voters.
Le Pen: He is popular because the others in the government are unpopular. Interior ministers are always popular because they give people the feeling that they are taking care of security, even when they are just people with tough words and a soft hand.
SPIEGEL: Do you think you'll make it into second round of voting in the 2017 presidential elections?
Le Pen: I think that is a very credible hypothesis, yes. Everyone admits that today. If you look at the polls you'll notice that we have at least as many potential voters among non-voters as we do among voters. I have said, and I believe that we will, come to power within the next 10 years. It may even happen faster than some can imagine.
SPIEGEL: Hollande is less popular than any president who preceded him. Are you already focusing your presidential campaign entirely on Nicolas Sarkozy?
Le Pen: I don't shoot at ambulances. Sarkozy is already finished as a candidate.
SPIEGEL: You mean because of his entanglement in the finance scandal surrounding his UMP, which has already forced party boss Jean-François Copé to resign?
Le Pen: Yes. Now he's finished. He cheated. He violated the laws of the Republic and spent twice as much on his campaign as is allowed by law. By doing so, he has totally disqualified himself. Incidentally, I regret it, because I would like to have had him as an opponent.
Le Pen: Because he is who he is.
SPIEGEL: Why are you supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin in his position against Europe in the Ukraine crisis?
Le Pen: I do not support Putin against Europe. This is a caricature. I support a federalist Ukraine. The EU poured fuel on the fire by proposing an economic partnership to a country known to look half to the East and half to the West.
SPIEGEL: Do you admire Putin?
Le Pen: I have a certain admiration for Vladimir Putin because he doesn't allow decisions to be forced upon him by other countries. I think he focuses first and foremost on what is good for Russia and the Russians. As such, I have the same respect for Putin that I do for Ms. Merkel.
SPIEGEL: Putin isn't a democrat.
Le Pen: Oh really? He isn't a democrat? There are no elections in Russia?
SPIEGEL: There is no freedom of the press, for example.
Le Pen: But you think that there is real freedom of the press in France? Ninety-nine percent of the journalists are leftists!
SPIEGEL: That's what you think. But journalists aren't killed and they aren't locked up.
Le Pen: To be honest, there are many things said about Russia because they have been demonized for years at the behest of the USA. It is part of the greatness of a European country to develop one's own opinion and to not view everything through the US lens. We have no lesson to teach Russia if we concurrently roll out the red carpet to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and China.
SPIEGEL: So you are more opposed to the US than you are in favor of Russia?
Le Pen: The Americans are trying to expand their influence in the world, particularly in Europe. They are defending their own interests, not ours. I am in favor of a multi-polar world in which France once again takes its position as the leader of non-aligned states, not with the US, not with Russia and not with Germany. One should strive to be neither slave nor master.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Le Pen, we thank you for this interview.
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