French far-right suffers over economic credibility

PARIS Mon Feb 6, 2012 11:33am EST

PARIS (Reuters) - France's far-right is pushing a nationalistic economic platform for April's presidential elections, but 70 percent of voters believe its financial program lacks credibility, including its plan to leave the euro, a poll published on Saturday showed.

Marine Le Pen, who replaced her father as head of the National Front last year, has sought to broaden the appeal of the party beyond its traditional anti-immigrant constituency to attract a younger generation of voters.

She ranks third in opinion polls with just under three months to go before the first round of the contest on April 22, and at one point in January, was just a couple of points behind conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

According to a CSA poll for M6 television, which questioned 1,008 adults, 69 percent of people found the National Front's economic policies not credible with less than two in eight people considering them favorably.

"Seven people in 10 interviewed want France to keep the euro with just a quarter wanting a return to the franc," CSA said. "This explains in part the difficulties the National Front candidate has in convincing people about her economic plan."

Le Pen announced a raft of policies in mid-January to balance France's books including taxing imports, tapping the central bank for cheap loans instead of debt markets and giving French citizens priority over foreigners for jobs.

Her anti-euro and protectionist stance has struck a chord, especially among working class voters disillusioned by economic hardship since the start of the global financial crisis.

In a preview of an interview to be aired Sunday on M6, Le Pen appeared to downplay her plans to exit the euro saying she did not want to leave the bloc too quickly or cause panic.

"I don't want us to find ourselves overnight facing the collapse of the euro," she said.

"It's for that reason that my project ... will prepare for a return to national currencies in six to eight months."

IN THE RUNNING

Since Le Pen unveiled her plan, both Sarkozy and Socialist front runner Francois Hollande have outlined economic proposals and appear to be extending their lead over her. Fourth-placed centrist Francois Bayrou is showing signs of narrowing the gap.

A daily IFOP poll for Paris Match magazine on Friday put Hollande firmly ahead in the first round with 29.5 percent of voter intentions, followed by Sarkozy on 24.5 percent, Le Pen on 19 percent and Bayrou on 12.5 percent.

According to the Institut Montaigne think tank, France would stand to lose up to a million jobs and up to a fifth of its economic wealth if it abandoned the euro. Gross domestic product would shrink by anywhere between 6 and 19 percent over a decade.

When asked if she would still lead France out of the euro zone without the agreement of European partners, Le Pen appeared to open the door to a change in policy.

"No (France would not leave), but I think they will agree," she said. "People have had enough of these bailout plans."

Le Pen has said France would raise almost 87 billion euros ($114 billion) by leaving the euro -- although she refused to explain how.

Despite strong public support, the former lawyer is also facing a battle to win the backing of 500 elected local officials, such as mayors, before the end of February in order to run.

Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, barely squeezed through in 2007, and Marine Le Pen said this week she was still 150 signatures short. French presidential rolling poll: r.reuters.com/was36s ($1 = 0.7621 euros)

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Ben Harding)