French Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen made a bold move during a recent speech when she lifted verbatim part of another delivered by former candidate Francois Fillon.
The far-right candidate lifted parts of a speech by the former prime minister in what her critics called plagiarism and she said was a deliberate “wink” to him to woo his conservative voters in France’s presidential runoff Sunday.
The stolen words and casual reaction by Le Pen and her team marked the latest shocking development in a French presidential campaign like no other. Perhaps more surprisingly, there was little sign it would seriously damage Le Pen.
Polls consider her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron the front-runner in the vote, seen as a test of global populism and decisive moment for the European Union.
Le Pen borrowed from a speech delivered last month by Fillon, the former Republicans party candidate, about France’s important role in Europe and the world.
The subject is at the heart of Le Pen’s campaign. She promises to restore French glory, pull France out of the EU and return to the franc currency. She has denounced the effects of globalization on the French economy and culture.
Speaking April 15, Fillon described France as a force reaching out on multiple fronts:
“The English Channel and the North Sea opening onto the Anglo-Saxon world and to the immense northern spaces. … The Atlantic, which has opened us for centuries onto the great sea and brings us adventures. The Mediterranean, the cradle of some of history’s oldest and richest civilizations. … The Pyrenees, first of all, engaging France with that immense Hispanic and Latin universe. The Alps border, with Italy our sister and beyond that central Europe, the Balkans and eastern Europe. … France is something more and much more than an economic, agricultural or military power.”
Le Pen, speaking Monday at a Paris region campaign rally, said:
“The English Channel and the North Sea opening onto the Anglo-Saxon world and to the immense northern spaces. The Mediterranean, the cradle of the oldest and richest civilizations. The Pyrenees, first of all, engaging France with that immense Hispanic and Latin universe. The Alps border, with Italy our sister and beyond that central Europe, the Balkans and eastern Europe. … France is something more and much more than an economic, agricultural or military power.”
Like three of her aides earlier in the day, Le Pen used the word “wink” to describe the extracts copied word for word from Fillon. At no point in the speech did she cite Fillon or acknowledge the source.
“I totally own this wink,” she said in a Tuesday night interview with French broadcaster TF1 news.
Le Pen added that her far-right National Front party and Fillon’s conservative voters share “the same vision of France, of its greatness, of the role it should have in the world.”
Fillon and his aides have not commented on Le Pen’s move, which puts his Republicans party in an awkward spot. However the website that revealed the copied text, Ridicule TV, is reported to be run by Fillon supporters.
Polls suggest that as many as a third of Fillon’s voters will choose Le Pen in the second round — but Fillon himself, immediately after being eliminated in the first-round vote April 23, urged voters to keep the long-pariah National Front out of power and vote instead for Macron.
A writer well-known in ultraconservative circles, Paul-Marie Couteaux, claimed credit for the passage used by both Le Pen and Fillon.
Couteaux expressed hope it would encourage right-wing voters to unite under a single banner. He tweeted Tuesday that the passage was borrowed from his 1997 book “Europe toward War.”
Couteaux has past links to both Fillon’s campaign and Le Pen, according to French media reports.
Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, her centrist rival in Sunday’s runoff election, have their only televised debate on Wednesday. Both are going after supporters of Fillon and the nine other candidates knocked out in the first round. France’s two main parties failed to make it to the second round for the first time in the country’s modern history.
Meanwhile, a senior FN official said on Wednesday that Le Pen would try to change France’s electoral law by referendum if she wins the presidency and her National Front fails to win a parliamentary majority in June.
She would then call new elections under the new rules. France holds parliamentary elections on June 11 and 18.
“If the new Assembly is hostile to us, we would change the electoral law via a referendum organized as soon as next summer, then the president would dissolve the National Assembly,” Gilles Lebreton, the FN official told Le Canard Enchaine newspaper.