Who is Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate who has led a 'kitten campaign'?

National Rally candidate's hardline discourse has softened, with her shift to the left on fiscal issues winning over low-income voters

Marine Le Pen has come across as less extreme than Eric Zemmour, who lost in the first round of the presidential election. Reuters
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Marion Anne Perrine "Marine” Le Pen is a French lawyer and member of the National Rally, formerly the National Front, a party which she led as president from 2011 to 2021.

Considered far-right on the political spectrum, Ms Le Pen’s normally hardline discourse softened considerably during the French presidential elections and was described as “the kitten campaign” by the French press.

Compared to Eric Zemmour, a former presidential candidate even further to the right than her, Ms Le Pen has increasingly come across as more centrist and less extreme in her position.

The youngest daughter of former party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, she led a movement to undo the “demonisation” of the National Front to soften its image, including the expulsion of her father from the party in 2015, as well as other members accused of racism and anti-Semitism.

While the National Rally is generally considered to be a far-right group, Ms Le Pen has recently been positioning herself as close to the centre.

On economic policies, for example, she has proposed expanding the welfare state for those considered eligible and has offered tax breaks and interest-free loans to help people under 30 step on to the housing ladder.

Her shift to the left on fiscal issues has increased her appeal among low-income voters.

However, her hardline views are more apparent on social and cultural issues and this puts her more towards the right of the political spectrum.

While she has revoked her party’s former opposition to same-sex partnerships and unconditional abortions, as well as its support for the death penalty, Ms Le Pen is still an advocate for strong anti-immigration and nationalist measures.

In the past, she called the hijab an “Islamist uniform” that needed to be banned from French public space. However, in a bid to woo Muslim voters, Ms Le Pen has said she would only enforce a headscarf ban “little by little” if elected.

Ms Le Pen’s defence strategy includes taking France out of Nato's military command structure and forging a new relationship with the US, which she says “does not always behave like an ally of France”.

She has also said that her government would end joint weapons programmes with Germany.

While Ms Le Pen has formerly spoken of her admiration and respect for Russian President Vladimir Putin, she has since toned down her support of him after the invasion of Ukraine.

The far-right candidate had sought to increase the alliance between France and Russia. However, earlier this month, she renounced any military “entente” with Moscow.

She remains opposed to an energy embargo against Russia and to the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, and has called for a “strategic rapprochement” between Nato and Russia once the war in Ukraine was “resolved by a peace treaty".

Updated: April 22, 2022, 1:25 PM