Far-right leader Marine Le Pen plans to compete for power in a region once considered a stronghold of the French left. The vote would test the National Front leader's popularity as she sets her eyes on the presidency.
Marine Le Pen said on Tuesday that she intends to "protect the people" of the northeastern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, by running in French regional elections this December.
"Our region is hit by all the country's problems, even more strongly than the rest of the country," Le Pen told a crowd of 300 supporters in the town of Arras.
Le Pen's National Front (FN) has seen a surge of popularity in the northeast of France, which is burdened by especially high unemployment levels. Previously, the northern mining areas had been a bastion of the left.
While announcing her bid, Le Pen also said the port town of Calais had become "a nightmare" due to the thousands of migrants camped out while trying to smuggle their way to Britain. For the second time in two weeks, strikes interrupted services on the Channel Tunnel from Calais to Dover in England on Tuesday.
'No time to lose'
The National Front ,which is anti-EU and anti-immigration, is leading the polls ahead of December's local elections. More importantly, a win on the regional level could boost Le Pen's bid for the presidency in 2017.
On Tuesday, Le Pen said she had "hesitated" with her decision to run in the northeast, because of the clash between the regional and the presidential campaign. However, the 46-year old National Front leader decided there was "no time to lose"
"Wherever one can act, one must do so. For the region it is straight away, and for the country, it will be a little later," she said.
Reaching the run-off
The regional campaign might also help the National Front to move on from a public feud between Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie, who founded the party 40 years ago.
The elder Le Pen was pushed out of the party after recent comments where he downplayed the Holocaust, after years of opposing Marine's attempts to temper anti-Semitic and racist image of the right-wing party.
According to current polls, Marine Le Pen could enter the second round of the presidential election, but not win it. Her father also reached the run-off in 2002, but lost heavily against Jacques Chirac. Incumbent Francois Hollande, a Socialist, and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at the head of the rebranded "Republican" party formerly known as the UMP, are considered Le Pen's most likely opponents in 2017.
dj/msh (AFP, Reuters)