The National Front has softened its program to attract more centrist voters. But analysts doubt that this will be enough for Marine Le Pen to win this year's presidential elections.
In a bid to increase her chances in this year's presidential elections, National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen has toned down her program. But analysts doubt the changes will be enough to propel the FN to victory.
The program was unveiled during a presidential convention in Lyon this weekend.
Le Pen is putting forward 144 measures to "get the country back on track." She says she is offering a "patriotic option" as a response to globalization.
The 48-year-old intends to re-introduce border controls, go back to the Franc currency and leave NATO. She opposes free trade agreements and plans on organizing a referendum to leave the European Union.
The manifesto also includes tough security measures to crack down on terrorists and on offenders in France's notorious suburbs with the possibility of stripping binational offenders linked to terrorist networks of their French citizenship. Le Pen also intends to strictly limit immigration.
Manifesto seems less radical
These proposals reflect the far-right values traditionally put forward by the party. And yet, the manifesto seems less radical than the last one dating back to the 2012 elections.
Facing the prospect of a difficult run-off, observers say Marine Le Pen's National Front is trying to soften its image to win more centrist votes
It no longer features the controversial plan to re-introduce the death penalty, until now an emblematic FN measure. An exit from the eurozone is mentioned, but doesn't take up a whole chapter like before. And although anti-immigration measures – such as tougher penalties for foreign criminals – are still part of the program, they are not as omnipresent as they used to be.
Stéphane Wahnich, head of the polling agency SCP communication and co-author of "Marine Le Pen taken by her words", calls this a PR strategy.
"Marine Le Pen is trying to soften her image and appear more normal. But the essence of the program is still there – it's just presented in a softer way," he said.
It seems the FN is continuing its so-called "dédiabolisation", or "de-demonizing" of its image. That has helped the party gain ground in regional and local elections over the past few years ever since Marine Le Pen took over as party leader from her father Jean-Marie in 2011.
Le Pen appears to be hoping the strategy will put her in pole position for this year's presidential elections. For now, polls are predicting she will get to the second round of voting, but lose the May 7 run-off vote by a large margin to whomever she faces.
The party is also introducing new measures to widen its electoral base. Le Pen's supporters are mainly young people under 35, the working class and the unemployed, also those that are put off by mainstream politicians.
However, very few elderly people and entrepreneurs are likely to vote for the FN. The latest manifesto is therefore pledging to increase pensions and bring down inheritance tax.
Move toward the center
The text also includes tax cuts and reduced employers' costs. Small and medium-sized companies would have to deal with less bureaucracy and would get better access to credit.
That's how Le Pen intends to counterbalance her protectionist economic agenda, which is similar to that of the radical left, explains Gilles Ivaldi, political scientist at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis.
"The party's emphasis on re-industrializing France and giving preference to French companies is repelling voters from the center-right," he told DW.
"The newly proposed measures are moving the program ever so slightly to the center."
The FN seems to be hoping this will help attract voters disappointed by the Republican Party. Those efforts are taking center stage especially since the Republicans' presidential candidate François Fillon has been caught up in a financial scandal. He had been campaigning as "Mr Clean."
When it comes to winning the hearts of free-marketers, Le Pen is facing tough competition in the form of former Economics Minister Emmanuel Macron. The centrist politician is running on a market-orientated platform. Polls are predicting he will come second or third in the first round of voting and might thus face Le Pen in the run-off vote.
Polls indicate Le Pen could face a run-off against Emmanuel Macron, a centrist running on a market-oriented platform
"Macron is also planning on supporting entrepreneurs and independent workers, but unlike Le Pen, he's saying how he will finance those measures," political communication expert Wahnich said. "That makes his program seem a lot more realistic."
'Designed to forever stay an opposition party'
It might be that Le Pen wins over more elderly people and entrepreneurs with her new program. But it's still highly unlikely that she wins the presidential elections, says Jean-Yves Camus, political analyst at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.
"To get more than 50 percent of the vote, the FN would need to become a lot more mainstream. And yet, the party has to maintain its outsider image so as not to lose its core supporter base," he said.
"If they dropped for example their fundamental demands such as leaving the EU and their national preference clause, they would lose their identity".
"Maybe the FN is just designed to forever stay an opposition party," he added.