We must choose between Assad and Islamists in Syria – Marion Le Pen

Non-establishment politicians are on the march – with Donald Trump winning the election in America, many are predicting similar shocks across the Atlantic. In France, the presidential vote is just months away and the country’s right-wing National Front party is polling strongly. As the country struggles with a refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism, can a force like the National Front offer answers? Does its leader, Marine Le Pen, have a real shot at securing the presidency? And how would that transform Europe?

We ask France’s youngest MP and National Front member – Marion Marechal Le Pen.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Marion Marechal Le Pen, welcome to our programme. 

Marion Le Pen: Hello!

SS: We've wanted to interview you for quite some time – and finally we have the pleasure. After Donald trump’s victory in the presidential election, French President Francois Hollande said that this “opens a period of uncertainty” in the world. What did he mean by that?

MLP: I think this isn't the first and, unfortunately, not the last time our president Francois Hollande has made a serious diplomatic mistake. I think it shows that he couldn’t keep his political disappointment under control. As you know, he openly supported Hillary Clinton in her run for presidency, just like he always supported her militaristic foreign policy, a policy of intervening in other country’s internal affairs, especially in the Middle East. It is indeed a big mistake and I do hope that the president of France can still find a way to maintain dialogue with the new president of the United States, in order to create a truly multipolar world.

SS: As far as I know, you received an invitation to work together from Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist?

MLP: I received a friendly message from him via social networks, and I responded to that. But there hasn’t been any direct exchange so far.

SS: So you don’t really know what this invitation entails specifically?

MLP: Oh no, I don’t. It was more of an informal message.

SS: Representatives of almost all French political forces took a stand against Trump during the presidential race – so how are they going to talk to him now, work with him?

MLP: That’s a good question. Although, it is just the same as when the entire political establishment and all mass media were against Brexit and in support of Britain’s staying in the EU – and that was because in reality they didn’t want to take notice of the public protests that were breaking out all the time across Europe – and now in the United States, which in the end proves the inefficiency of their policies. I don’t think they are up to the task of finding a common language with the new powers. That’s why there is a need to foster a new political establishment both in France and in other countries. This new establishment has to offer Europe a new political project and new ways of economic cooperation with the United States and, naturally, with Russia as well.

SS: You mentioned many times that France needs to pursue a policy independent from the United States. Does that mean that right now, French policy is under Washington’s influence? Does the U.S. have a direct influence on certain issues or certain actions? If so, what are they?

MLP: Not quite so. I think we need to mention two things here. The first one is that a lot of issues are decided by the European Commission - and I’d like to remind here that Commissioners are appointed, not elected, and therefore it cannot be considered a truly democratic organisation. This was clearly seen in the case of Ukraine. All actions were driven by the European Commission while French diplomacy was completely powerless. The problem is that the European Union is comprised of 28 nations – soon to be 27 – which means that each nation has its own ideas about Russia and its own interests related to Russia – and so there is no uniform or clear policy. In any case, there is definitely certain American influence in play here. Another thing to mention is NATO. Unfortunately, France renewed cooperation with NATO, which, as it is well-known, sees its goal in expanding its presence towards the borders of the former USSR. For Russia, it is a certain kind of provocation and an act of aggression. And France here is both a victim and accessory to this expansion policy that creates tension in relations with Russia – due to the fact that NATO in many regards caters to the American political interests.  

SS: We’re going to get back to NATO in just a moment. Before that I’d like to ask - Do you think Trump’s election might help France acquire a more independent stand in its domestic policy?

MLP: What mattered to us at the Front National about Trump’s presidential campaign was the kind of foreign policy messages he was sending; he expressed desire to work with president Putin; to review the policy that has been pursued until now in the Middle East; he also criticised harshly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and today’s situation in Syria. That’s why I think that with Trump in power we’ll have an opportunity to change our attitude towards the multipolar world, in which Russia will also have an influence.  As far as I could tell, he was also critical of NATO, his view being that it overburdens the American budget. I hope that we’ll have a chance to balance out this military alliance and that France will be able to regain partially its independence.

SS: Indeed, Trump criticised NATO and mentioned that America needs to revise its relationship with NATO. He believes that Europe is not investing enough in the alliance. Do you think France should invest more in NATO?

MLP: In any case, we need to strive to have as much influence as possible over NATO. Sadly, until now the French government in its entirety – both the right-wing and left-wing forces – have only followed the U.S. and NATO’s interests. I’m referring here to the new expansion policy and the current missile defence strategy that creates tensions in relations with Russia. But the key thing for France to do would be to resume investing in its own military budget in order to get more room for maneuvering and to acquire a higher degree of independence.

SS: The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said that building a common military force in Europe is inevitable. Could this force become an alternative to NATO?

MLP: I don’t think so and I wouldn’t want it. And there’s a simple reason for that. Of course, we can run military cooperation programs with some countries and exchange some information in case of shared interests, but at the same time, we need to maintain the sovereignty of our states. So even with the European common military force on the agenda we should not forget that in contrast to the EU and the EU Commission, each and every European state has its own idea of the world order and their own, often different interests. Russia is a good example: we can see today that Greece, Bulgaria, Poland and France can have absolutely different relations with Russia. That’s the kind of difficulties we can run into. Right now, France has some special interests related to its status of an old colonial power – we have a kind of a unique experience in a way, some special relations with a number of African states. If we had a common European military force in place, we wouldn’t have been able to intervene in Mali, which we did to support the president of Mali in his combat against Islamists. A common European military force would only make us impotent and inefficient.

SS: No one believed in Brexit and almost no one thought Trump could win. Can the Front National win the election in France?

MLP: It is definitely a good sign, and it gives us hope. Both Brexit and Trump’s win tell us that you can win even when the entire political system and all mass media are against one candidate, and even when the financial establishment and the cultural elite are vouching for that candidate’s opponent. I hope that psychologically it will have a positive effect on our voters.

SS: Who do you consider to be your strongest opponent?

MLP: Our strongest opponent in France? They are all at about the same level.The interesting thing is that in France the divide between the left and the right wings is more of an illusion. Because when it comes to major issues their policies are identical. Both camps supported mass immigration, promoted multiculturalism, complied with U.S. policies, defended European federalism and gave up our sovereignty. The so-called opponents presented a united front on all these issues. The real divide is between those who defend national sovereignty and identity and those who support globalism, NATO, eurocentrism.

SS: I’ve noticed that the difference between left-wing and right-wing parties is becoming less significant in other countries too – not just in France. It is happening all over Europe.

MLP: You are absolutely right, this is not just about France.

SS:Your political opponents often use your slogans and ideas. Are you concerned that they might steal some of your voters?

MLP: They have tried it before, especially the right-wing politicians from Sarkozy’s camp, borrowing our assessments, predictions, and solutions. They did it in 2007 and unfortunately succeeded. In the end they came into power but failed: they raised taxes and national debt, got involved in complicated military operations internationally which led to disasters – I am talking about Nicolas Sarkozy and his Libyan campaign that caused a terrible migrant crisis. I don’t think the French people have forgotten about that. And it gives the National Front more power allowing us to become a real alternative.

SS:  We know that the National Front supports the Frexit idea – France leaving the EU, you even say it is necessary. What kind of plan does your party propose for it?

MLP: We disagree with the European system and want to leave the EU because we don’t think the system can be reformed. All the conditions and agreements create obstacles for reform. If we want to go back to the beginning, to the foundation of this European system – free travel, free movement of capital and goods – we need all European countries to be like-minded. Today it is impossible. If we come into power our goal will be to discuss a special status for France with the European Commission, something similar to what the UK has, but it will be more detailed, which will allow us to restore our financial and economic sovereignty as well as solve the migrant crisis. If we are not granted this status we will ask the people of France to vote on leaving the EU at a referendum. But we are not saying no to building a different Europe based on the principles of national sovereignty and cooperation through joint European projects.

SS: You often criticise French and European policies regarding refugees. The “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais was recently dismantled. What do you propose doing?

MLP: The French people are being lied to, they are under the impression that all the illegal migrants arriving in our country come from Syria. That is a lie. Most of those illegal migrants are economic migrants coming from North Africa, not Syria. They pretend to be refugees. We want to restore our border control – right now we have none since we are a Schengen country. That’s why we suffer from this illegal migration. French social policies create very attractive conditions for immigrants – both legal and illegal. A person arrives in our country illegally and has the right to receive the best medical care which French citizens can't afford. This is ridiculously unfair. So the authorities need to revoke this policy and stop lying to the people. Of course we cannot say no to granting asylum in general, but we need strict guidelines offering benefits only to real political refugees, not everyone. We just can't afford it.

SS: A wave of terrorist attacks shook France over the past year. This was a tragedy for me also – I’ve lived in Paris. Why is this happening in France?

MLP: Because Islamic State considers France a “godless” country. We sometimes don’t take religion seriously, we are a secular state, and it offends some radical Muslims. This made us a target. But also don’t forget that today France is the main source of recruitment for jihadists and ISIL, because our migration policy has been absolutely reckless in the last 40 years. There are isolated communities in different parts of our country which have allowed radical Islam to spread. Unfortunately young Muslim immigrants are perfect candidates for Islamic State. The number of jihadists in France keeps growing.

SS: But the major concern is the fact that most of the terrorists behind those attacks were regular French citizens. They were born and raised in Paris.

MLP: Not necessarily, there are two types of jihadists. They could be foreigners, like in the Bataclan, embedded in the migrant community – these people got into the Schengen zone and France illegally hiding behind the refugee status. But there were also French citizens among the terrorists. The tragedy of our country is that there are a huge number of such immigrants living on our territory – they maintain their culture and traditions, follow their customs and do not integrate into French society. More than that, they often impose their culture on us. We see how radical Islam thrives in these closed communities supported by foreign states such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia that are very active in France. We have to revise the migration and integration policies because they don’t work – they hurt our social sector and compromise the security of our country.

SS: What is the solution? I understand that you think it is not just a security threat…

MLP: Like I said we need to introduce several restrictions. The issue of citizenship is very important. There are many people who became French citizens only because we were very tolerant in that respect, the same goes for automatically becoming a citizen if you were born in France. It’s insane. And we have to introduce strict guidelines for the naturalisation process. The current socialist government is just as gracious as the Sarkozy government was, when it comes to granting French citizenship. I will say it again – we need to revoke social policies that welcome immigrants and protect the native culture of our land. A  multicultural society is an utopia, we need to forget about it and stop complying with political demands…

SS: What should be done in that respect?

MLP: We can say that radical Islam is thriving in France because our state was too weak. We met so many demands, such as halal meals or separate pool sessions for men and women. We have also been spineless about enforcing the ban on face covering. So these Islamist cells feel very comfortable, become vengeful and aggressive. And all because France did not have the will to promote its own values and culture.

SS: Some say that the situation may deteriorate if France begins to impose its culture. If a woman is not allowed to cover her face or swim separately in the pool this may provoke anger. What do you think?

MLP: This argument suggests that giving up is the only alternative here. I disagree, because we never even tried to put our foot down. Our only strategy has been systematic concessions when under the pressure of political demands we allowed a foreign culture to invade and develop in our country. This was done in the name of respecting people’s rights, when France was not allowed to impose its cultural values on new migrants. Decades of this spineless policy has led to the current security problems, terrorism and radical Islam claiming new ground. People who propose this argument basically admit that they have already lost. In the current situation it makes sense to propose a different approach.

SS: Do you think there could be some sort of a middle ground here? Or it’s down to choosing between two different political strategies?

MLP: You are either weak or strong, you can’t be both at the same time.  At the Front National we stick to an old proverb: “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” so when in France one has to respect French traditions. This does not mean that a foreign, non-European origin would prevent anyone from becoming a French citizen, but there are certain strict requirements to be met. At the very least these need to include abiding by French law – which often, sadly, doesn’t happen in the present-day reality. But not only that, one should also agree to become part of French culture – which in fact means giving up partially one’s cultural background in order to become a “fully fledged” French national. This doesn’t happen today either. And I think that French people are suffering from being unable to feel at home in their own country, as if they were now only one of a multitude of different cultural communities. This creates tensions, especially within the younger generation. And this is what this false humanism and tolerance policy is about: creating a situation that is incredibly tense and dangerous for all involved under the pretext of tolerance.

SS: France responded to the terrorist attacks by bombing ISIL in Syria. Should France continue its active involvement in this campaign?

MLP: I think France’s decision to join the international coalition was the right one. I would like to see as many countries as possible, especially European ones, upholding the need to participate in the war on Islamic State, because the latter is a serious threat to all of us. I think it was also right because French politics is, sadly, partially responsible for the present situation. The Front National  talked about it during the Afghanistan and Libya campaigns when France was supplying weapons to the Islamists opposing Gaddafi – and at first, they wanted to do the same in Syria by giving arms to the Syrian opposition fighting Assad. That policy was so inconsistent that our French soldiers fighting Islamists in Mali, on our president’s orders, found those Islamists fighting back with the French weapons supplied to them by the other countries’ opposition groups we were supporting. It is time to acknowledge these mistakes and make peace with the fact that the only choice in today’s Syria is between Bashar Assad and Islamists – because as sad as it is, there is no one else there. If we really care about France’s interests, we must realise that Islamists pose a real threat to our security, while Bashar Assad does not. Today is the time to be pragmatic and to think logically until the end.

SS: And why do French diplomats just keep refusing to talk with Bashar Assad? You referred to Libya as an example. We all can see now it’s been torn apart by civil war, and there is no end to it. France is also responsible, as it participated in overthrowing Gaddafi.

MLP: It’s difficult to say. I am not aware of the French government’s hidden motives. I can only say there were many amateur decisions made.  And now we are actively supporting Sunnis and closely collaborating with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This upsets our once balanced foreign policy that we had for a long time – there were times when we even protected Christians in the Middle East. Add to that American influence on the European Commission and NATO. All these factors put together resulted in the French government’s growing political shortsightedness and errors that need to be fixed.

SS: You describe France’s policy for Russia as “absurd.” You also supported the resolution by the National Assembly to lift anti-Russian sanctions. Why did this resolution have no effect on the government?

MLP: Yes, that was amazing. It’s up to the president to determine the foreign policy in France. The National Assembly can only recommend; its position is not final.  As a result, we once again ended up following in the footsteps of U.S. diplomacy. Like we said from the very beginning, and like we still believe, these sanctions weren’t just inefficient, because they did not force Russia to make any concessions; on the contrary, they were merely an irritant, because Russia became even more adamant. Russia suffers from sanctions much less than Europe, especially France, because Russian counter-sanctions hit us really hard. This is a clear example of how our politicians fail to take care of our interests. As a result, we have a disastrous situation in our agriculture. And it’s not just France that suffered economically because of these sanctions. Major joint projects by France and Russia were frozen because of the European and American sanctions. Big French companies operating in Russia are now in a difficult situation. This did not benefit us diplomatically either. It’s time we stop using the same measures again and again, now that we know they don’t work.

SS: European politicians have criticised Trump’s intention to normalise relations with Russia; London according to The Telegraph is trying to make him reconsider; Federica Mogherini -Brussels’ top diplomat- says the EU will under no circumstances give up its policy of confrontation with Russia. Why, do you think, they’re doing all that?

MLP: The United Kingdom pursues its peculiar policy. They have a special relationship with the United States. This is due to historic reasons and the fact that it’s an island nation. Britain is currently getting ready to withdraw from the EU. Perhaps even, this will somehow help us make our relations with Russia more balanced; at least I hope so. It’s important to realise that this certainly doesn’t reflect people’s will. Donald Trump’s victory is a vivid illustration of that. It’s true that most people in France don’t support France’s policies today. We realise that Russia is part of the European world and European culture. We can never forget that we were allies in World War I and World War II. We remember all that. I strongly believe that a new generation of leaders will soon make their way into government positions, because people want peace. We are tired of living the old way; it’s an old concept of the Cold war which runs contrary to the interests of the people.

SS: Your party leader Marine Le Pen called President Hollande “Merkel’s Vice-Chancellor”.

MLP: Yes, that’s true. Today we often see that Angela Merkel rules over Europe and that Germany takes the initiative in making all important decisions.

SS: What should be done to eliminate this imbalance?

MLP: We should question the efficiency of the European system. It’s clear now that the European Union and the euro as the EU currency were created to serve the interests of Germany. They took advantage of the opportunities better than we did, because the European currency was based on the German currency. Consequently, the German economy adapted to the euro perfectly and this benefited Germany. But the European currency is not adapted to the French economy because it’s too stable, so our country is not competitive in the international markets export-wise. This caused huge problems in our agricultural and industrial sectors. I can’t help but doubt the usefulness of the European system.

SS: Thank you so much for the interview! We wish you good luck with everything!

MLP: Thank you!