LILLE (Reuters) - French far-right leader Marine Le Pen sought to revive her flagging presidential campaign Saturday, saying she was the only genuine opposition to the established parties whose policies would lead France into a Greek-style tragedy.
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 two months to go before the first round of the election on April 22. At one point in January she was just a couple of points behind conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, but has fallen back in recent weeks.
“The campaign has truly started,” Le Pen told reporters at the start of the National Front’s annual congress in the northern city of Lille. “We must kick out those parties that have brought us to our knees. I am the only opposition to the UMPS (Sarkozy’s UMP and Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party). Those are candidates of the (Greek) troika and we cannot turn to them.”
Le Pen announced a raft of policies in 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. But most analysts deem her economic program as not credible.
Le Pen criticized the troika - the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank - which has demanded Greece impose austerity measures in return for bailout funds.
“The troika unites the European Commission, the Central Bank and the IMF against the people,” she said. “In the name of the single currency it is throwing the Greeks onto the streets. Do you think that it will forget Paris? No, it’s on its path.”
A BVA poll Friday showed Sarkozy had an 11 point lead over Le Pen in the first round of the election, although Hollande would still comfortably beat the incumbent in the May 6 runoff.
Election poll graphic: r.reuters.com/was36s
Sarkozy announced officially Wednesday that he would run for a second term against Hollande and Le Pen, who launched their campaigns several months ago. He pledged to “give the public its voice back” via plebiscites, starting with one on a proposal to make the unemployed retrain and actively seek jobs.
Ruling by referendum is one of the core ideas the National Front has proposed for almost 25 years and analysts say Sarkozy must appeal to far-right voters as he did in 2007 when he ran on a strong security and immigration platform.
“The president of the rich, the small president of big firms ... and today the president of the troika wants to become the president of the people through referendums that he has always rejected and despised,” Le Pen said.
Since taking over from her father, the 43-year-old former lawyer has tried to turn the National Front into a more mainstream opposition creating a strict code of conduct, removing extremist elements from her party and playing a more populist card which she says is neither left nor right, but “patriotic.”
Banners at the congress showed her focus over the two days would still play to the party’s traditional strengths of immigration and security, while attacking Sarkozy’s record on public debt and unemployment.
Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Rosalind Russell