BRACHAY, France (Reuters) - French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has been largely out of the spotlight since stinging electoral defeats, on Saturday sought to reclaim the mantle of main opponent to President Emmanuel Macron, which polls now attribute to the far-left.
Surveys show that while Le Pen gathered more votes in the presidential election this spring than her National Front (FN) ever did before, lower-than-expected scores, a damaging TV debate against Macron, infighting within the FN and unpopular anti-euro policies have seriously dented her image.
Instead, far-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon and his France Unbowed party, whose 17 lawmakers have been vocal opponents to Macron since their election in June, in particular on labour reform, are seen as the new president’s strongest foes.
Lashing out at Macron over his labour reform, immigration and security policies and what she said was the government’s inadequate response to Hurricane Irma, Le Pen said in her first public speech in months:
“Don’t be mistaken, Mr Macron’s dismantling efforts target not only the essence of our institutions but also society as a whole and each and every one of us, including on labour rules.”
Calling France Unbowed “Islamo-Trotskysts,” saying they backed foreigners over French citizens and put up a show rather than properly opposing Macron, Le Pen said the hardline Laurent Wauquiez, favourite to lead the conservative The Republicans, would become more mainstream as soon as he was elected.
“Our political family is the only one capable of being a proper alternative,” Le Pen told supporters in her traditional early September speech in the small, pro-FN eastern France village of Brachay.
But in recognition of the difficulties her party faces and disappointment with the presidential and legislative election scores - the FN has only eight lawmakers in the lower house of parliament - Le Pen said she would tour France to meet supporters and discuss what should change within the FN.
She confirmed the party would change its name at a congress early next year.
And her speech struck a note that was different from her election campaign rallies. Le Pen on Saturday did not mention the euro at all and barely touched upon globalisation, while both those themes were at the heart of her campaign strategy.
Instead, Le Pen devoted the first chunk of her speech to a harsh criticism of immigration and Islamism, signalling a return to the far-right party’s fundamentals as opinion polls show her anti-euro stance is unpopular.
Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Dale Hudson