The leader of France's anti-immigration National Front appears set to enter the presidential race after obtaining the minimum required endorsements. This could be bad news for the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Far-right politician Marine Le Pen is expected to officially enter the French presidential election after gathering the minimum of 500 signatures to endorse her candidacy.
Le Pen had until Friday to gain sufficient backing from local elected officials to be able to enter the race. As recently as last week, she had expressed fears that she wouldn't find enough mayors or regional councilors to back a bid.
Although opinion polls give her National Front party between 16 and 18 percent support, many local politicians are thought to be reluctant to associate themselves with her campaign. Last month, she failed in a bid to convince France's Constitutional Court to make the endorsements anonymous.
"The system that wanted to prevent me has just lost a battle," Le Pen said via the social network site Twitter on Tuesday.
Le Pen's candidacy is expected to be bad news for the incumbent, President Nicolas Sarkozy of the conservative UMP.
Sliver of hope
The announcement came on the day that Sarkozy received the first bit of good news his campaign has seen in months.
An opinion poll compiled by the Ifop/Fiducial group gave Sarkozy 28.5 support compared to 27 percent for Francois Hollande. This is the first time Sarkozy has polled better than his Socialist challenger in the campaign.
However, these figures only apply to voters' intentions for the first round of France's upcoming presidential election. Asked how they would cast their ballots in a second-round run-off between the top two candidates, the voters surveyed gave Hollande the clear advantage, with 54.4 percent compared to 45.5 percent.
Even before the hurdle to Le Pen entering the race had been removed, Sarkozy had been effectively campaigning against her. In what many viewed as an effort to lure some arch-conservative voters away from Le Pen, Sarkozy used a speech at a rally near Paris on Sunday to threaten to pull France out of Europe's border-free Schengen area unless the European Union did more to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the 27-member bloc.
In response, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was reported on Tuesday to have warned against countries "retreating into national shells."
"It is not protecting borders within the European Union that will make Europe safer, but rather the protection of Europe's external frontiers," the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
pfd, rc/dfm (Reuters, AFP)