Just how well do you know Marine Le Pen?
The French far-right presidential candidate, who’s within striking distance of winning power, has been active in frontline politics since she took over leadership of her father’s party in 2010.
But over the years, covering three presidential bids and several local campaigns, it’s easy to lose track of Le Pen’s positions and statements, especially given how much effort she has put into softening her image.
Not only has she changed the name of her party, from the National Front to the National Rally, Le Pen has also reversed herself on matters as important as whether France should remain in the eurozone and whether or not she is an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
To refresh memories in the run-up to the final round of the election on April 24, when Le Pen will face off against President Emmanuel Macron for the second time, here is a top 10 list of Le Pen’s controversial pronouncements on everything from France’s role in the rounding up of Jews during World War II to Islamic headscarves and what she would do with immigrants who seek to impose “ways of life on us that are not ours.”
1. “France not responsible for the Vél’ d’Hiv”
Commenting during the 2017 presidential election on the biggest deportation of Jews from France to Germany in World War II, Le Pen said: “If there are people responsible, it’s those who were in power at the time, it’s not France.” She added that she wanted France’s children “to be proud to be French again.”
In July 1942, 13,000 Jews were arrested, detained in Paris’s Vélodrome d’Hiver — or Vél’ d’Hiv — and transported to their deaths at Auschwitz in what became France’s Nazi-aligned Vichy regime’s largest roundup of Jews. Thousands of police and civilians were involved in their capture.
2. “France is a university for jihadists”
Also in 2017, during a TV debate with her first-round presidential rivals, Le Pen told former Prime Minister François Fillon: “The policy of the government you led was absolute nonsense. It brought the Islamists to power in Libya, it weakened the integrity of the region — now we have radical Islamism on our soil. France is a university for jihadists.”
3. “Parity is contrary to [our Republic’s] meritocracy”
Le Pen argues she is a fierce advocate of women’s rights. “I am a feminist,” she said on French TV in March last year, while carefully adding that she “does not express hostility toward men.”
But during her first presidential campaign in 2012, Le Pen was caught saying that “parity is contrary to [our Republic’s] meritocracy.” She then defended the claim, arguing that she was against positive discrimination, since “reserving a share for women has perverse effects” and that doing so makes women themselves appear to be “the quota.”
4. “There have been prayers in public spaces … it’s an occupation”
At a party rally in 2010, Le Pen drew condemnation after she compared Muslim street prayers in France to the Nazi occupation during World War II.
“Fifteen years ago we had the veil, there were more and more veils. Then there was the burqa, there were more and more burqas. And then there were prayers on the streets … now there are 10 or 15 places where a certain number of people come regularly and take up all the space,” she said.
“For those who like to talk a lot about the Second World War, if it’s a question of talking about occupation … that’s an occupation of the territory,” she added, to thundering applause.
5. “The policies I represent are the policies represented by Mr Trump [and] Mr Putin”
In a 2017 interview with the BBC, Le Pen took aim at former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s austerity politics and immigration policies toward Syrian refugees, saying: “She [Merkel] let 1.5 million migrants in … She imposes austerity on all the nations in Europe. And, by the way, she’s increasingly isolated, because the policies that I represent are the policies represented by Mr. [Donald] Trump, they’re represented by Mr. [Vladimir] Putin … the British people have just made it clear they want to go in that direction.”
6. “Anti-Semitism is due to the implantation of Islamism in our country”
At the height of discussions about the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, Le Pen tweeted: “Our Jewish compatriots know it, anti-Semitism is due to the implantation of Islamism in our country.”
The comment is controversial, and not only because of France’s long and complex history with anti-Semitism — her party also had a checkered past with anti-Jewish sentiment under her father Jean-Marie.
7. “Did you win your car in the lottery?”
While campaigning in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont in 2012, a man of North African origin in a passing car saw Le Pen and shouted: “Long live Mélenchon!” – in reference to her far-left rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
“Did you win your car in the lottery? Or through work?” Le Pen retorted. “Every time men shout ‘Long live Mélenchon,’ they’re Maghrebi — every time,” she later explained.
8. “The veil is not a trivial piece of cloth, it’s a marker of radicalism”
In 2019, Julien Odoul, a regional assembly representative from Le Pen’s party, demanded that a Muslim woman accompanying children to the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté assembly building remove her veil. The comments caused a storm, with President Emmanuel Macron having to later intervene and urge people not to “stigmatize” Muslims.
But Le Pen doubled down and defended Odoul on Europe 1 radio, saying that the “veil is not a cap or a headband — it has been a claim, for decades now, of the Muslim Brotherhood, to veil women.”
9. “I hope we won’t find you have an offshore bank account in the Bahamas”
During the ‘Big Debate’ in the 2017 presidential election, the then National Front leader brought up rumors that her rival Macron had an offshore bank account. The claims, which began with fake documents spread on Twitter during the final days of the campaign, were soon debunked by several French media outlets. “That is defamation,” Macron responded.
Le Pen’s perceived weak performance in the debate damaged her poll ratings, and Macron went on to easily win the runoff vote.
10. “Offenders from France, in prison. The foreigners, on planes”
As she kicked off her 2022 presidential campaign in the Côte d’Azur resort of Fréjus last September, Le Pen told her supporters: “We will eradicate … all those, Islamist or not, who want to impose rules and ways of life on us that are not ours. Offenders will be put out of harm’s way … offenders from France, in prison. The foreigners, on planes.”