February 5, 2017 / 3:48 PM / 6 months ago

Trump's whirlwind start draws admiration on French far-right

4 Min Read

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for the French 2017 presidential election, attends the 2-day FN political rally to launch the presidential campaign in Lyon, France February 5, 2017.Robert Pratta

LYON, France (Reuters) - Donald Trump's first two weeks in office have left some European politicians leaders aghast but are drawing cheers from France's far-right National Front (FN) as its leader Marine Le Pen launches her own bid for power.

Buoyed by Trump's election and Britain's shock 'Brexit' vote to quit the European Union, the anti-immigration, anti-EU FN hopes Le Pen can ride the same populist wave to victory in this spring's presidential election.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump has moved quickly to implement his "America First" vision by pulling out of a Pacific trade deal, barring travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries and confirming his intention to build a wall along the border with Mexico, among a flurry of other executive orders, though the travel ban has since been blocked by a judge.

His actions have provoked condemnation from some European governments and prompted one EU leader, European Council President Donald Tusk, to say he poses a "threat" to the bloc, alongside Russia, China and Islamist militants.

But they win approving responses from members of the FN, which favours curbing migration, rejecting international trade treaties and introducing "intelligent protectionism" to support French firms.

"What surprises me is not what Donald Trump does, but that people are surprised that a candidate elected on a program actually implements it," said Victor Birra, a 23-year-old business school student.

"Here, politicians have been elected for 40 years on manifestos they never implement," said Birra, who heads the FN youth section in the city of Lyon, where Le Pen launched her campaign at the weekend. "I think it's a good thing that he puts Americans first."

Claire Richert, a 69 year-old retired teacher who joined the FN three years ago, agreed. "He's taking measures to protect his country against terrorism and that's a good thing," she said.

She said a similar ban could help protect France, where Islamic State militants have killed more than 230 people in a series of attacks over the past two years.

Fans in Europe

The FN is not the only group in Europe to be embracing Trump. Austria's far-right Freedom Party and the former leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, are among his fans. Le Pen herself was spotted on a visit to the Trump Tower in New York last month.

Top FN officials share the rank-and-file's positive view of the new U.S. president.

"He's been implementing some measures we've had in our program for a long time, so we won't say we're surprised or opposed to it," said Jean Messiha, who has been overseeing the drafting of Le Pen's presidential manifesto.

"He's doing it the American way and there are some things we wouldn't do here," he said. But he added: "Each should do as they wish in their own country according to their country's best interest."

Opinion polls suggest 48-year-old Le Pen is likely to follow in the footsteps of her father Jean-Marie, who made it through to the run-off of the 2002 presidential election but was defeated by Jacques Chirac.

Current surveys show she is likely to lose in the second round to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, who has surged at the expense of scandal-hit conservative candidate Francois Fillon.

But after Trump's shock win over Hillary Clinton in November, Le Pen supporters believe anything can happen.

"We were told that it was absolutely impossible for Trump to win the election. He was elected," said William Penel, a 24-year-old bank employee from Marseille. "We were told the British would never leave the European Union ... but the Brexit was voted for.

"Why couldn't we do the same?"

Additional reporting by Marina Depetris and Simon Carraud; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Mark Trevelyan

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