Francois Hollande has already made his mark as France's new president-elect. His comment on the weekend that austerity can no longer be the only option startled Europe's leaders. They are having a tough time implementing drastic budget cuts against a ground swell of public opposition. France is clearly marching to a different beat, and Hollande was not the only winner in the election. Marine Le Pen, Leader of the far-right National Front, got almost as many votes at Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of the presidential polls. That's a remarkable result for a party once regarded as a political outcast. Mark Davis is in Paris, where he caught up with the outspoken rising star of French politics.
REPORTER: Mark Davis
CROWD (Translation): France! Marine! Liberty!
It's May Day, five days before the presidential election and National Front supporters gather in Paris from all around the country to meet with their leader, Marine Le Pen.
REPORTER: What do you like that she says?
MAN (Translation): protect and keep our country. Keep France. For the French people.
WOMAN (Translation): France for the French. Freedom!
REPORTER: Why are you here? What's important to you?
MAN 2 (Translation): Because every citizen has a country and every citizen must defend his country.
Defence and law rhetoric has always been a feature of the National Front.
CROWD (Translation): Blue, white and red! France for the French!
And the threat has always been migrates. But the message has never found such a receptive audience as it has today.
MAN 3 (Translation): The problem with foreigners is that 15 million of them have entered the country over the last 35 years and we no longer have the facilities to welcome them.
MAN 4 (Translation): The French people will disappear. The French identity will disappear.
REPORTER: Because of the migrants, you think?
MAN 4 (Translation): Yes. Yes.
Le Pen is already out of the presidential elections, but her third-place position achieved in the first round, just 5 percentage points behind Sarkozy, was a stunning result. Her anti-EU and anti-migrant message has made her a major player. It seems the times are suiting Marine Le Pen and the National Front.
MARK DAVIS: Ma'am, the National Front has had a very similar message for many years. Why is it working now?
MARINE LE PEN (Translation): Good question. It is working now because to be right too soon is another way of being wrong, and when we explained the serious immigration problems bound to affect our country, explained the grave consequences of the disappearance of borders, the loss of our identity, the ultra-liberalism, it was too early for the French to measure these consequences. Now they are starting to be more aware of them and realise that we are right, for the last 30 years, to sound the alarm.
MARK DAVIS: Did it surprise you, the success you've had in this election?
MARINE LE PEN (Translation): No, I am not surprised by these results. I think we will come to power within…a very few years. Because the whole of Europe is becoming aware of the danger of migration, the danger of being confronted with the clash of civilisations, to the loss of our values as a consequence, and therefore I think the whole of Europe will respond, probably in the next ten years. In any case, if it doesn’t it will disappear.
France has been a refuge for the world, a kaleidoscope of people who started a new life here. But in recent decades, the bulk of them have come from North Africa. The clash of civilisations that Le Pen and others talk of does not normally encompass race or skin colour. Invariably, it refers to culture and religion, and the most common target is Islam.
MARINE LE PEN (Translation): When we brought in the Poles, the Portuguese, the Italians, the Spaniards – they blended into our community, they assimilated and were adopted as sons and daughters of France. Now, it is the foreign populations that seek to impose on the French their own lifestyles, religion and codes. That is how we found out, as I denounced it during the presidential campaign, that over half of the meat sold in France was halal meat – without the French even knowing it.
Halal meat, head coverings mosques and sharia law are common causes for the complaint for the right - a sign it's thought of a population whose primary loyalties don't lie with France.
MAN 5 (Translation): She has, indeed... Islam-ophobe.
MAN 5 (Translation): Yeah. Marine Le Pen, is dangerous for the Muslim.
REPORTER: Dangerous for the Muslims?
MAN 5 (Translation): Yes.
Despite the growth in the vote of the National Front, the response of the Muslim community has been largely mute or extremely cautious. It's as if there's a hope that the anti-Islamic mood will die down. But there's not much sign of that.
MAN 6 (Translation): The National Front of Marine Le Pen got double of the voices than five years ago, maybe in five years...
REPORTER: Double again?
MAN 6 (Translation): Yeah, double again. And she can win in the elections. That's the problem.
CROWD (Translation): Let impure blood, water our furrows… No left, no right. Marine blue!
MAN 7 (Translation): Marine embodies the people of France, a nation awakening, the France of the unwanted and the forgotten. In the first round of the elections we got 6.5 million votes and that is a first step toward gaining power tomorrow.
The National Front is already looking beyond the presidential race, with their eye now firmly set on next month's National Assembly elections. Their current level of support could translate into Assembly seats for the first time - further damaging Sarkozy's Conservative UMP Party.
MARK DAVIS: Well, if your vote translates into the Assembly elections next month, could you be in a position to be helping form the next government, or helping choose the next government?
MARINE LE PEN (Translation): We are already doing it. We are. They talk only of us! I am not in the 2nd round yet they talk about me more than if I were – that is the power of the vote. Obviously our objective is to get into the National Assembly soon and even, you never know, to be this pivotal group of MPs which could actually have a spectacular influence on the course of events.
Le Pen is confounding both sides of politics here. May Day is traditionally a day for union and labour parades through Paris. It's no coincidence that Le Pen has designated May 1 as a day to rally for Joan of Arc, in honour of the 15 century heroine who fought the foreign invaders. With her controversial father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the party, at her side, she pays homage to the glimmering statue. Golden girl to golden lady, both saving France from the foreigners.
JEAN-MARIE LE PEN (Translation): She belongs to the lineage of the defenders of France. Of course, being a mother, she isn’t Joan of Arc who was actually a virgin, so… She is however, a descendant of the defenders of France. True.
MAN 8 (Translation): Her right- wing policies are a bit extreme but completely different from those of her father. I am totally against Jean-Marie Le Pen’s policies but totally in favour of Marine Le Pen’s.
MAN 8 (Translation): Because with her, it is different. She does not have her father’s fascist ideas. She is much simpler and… she is against people being idle.
ANDRE BERCOFF, AUTHOR: She changed the way people saw the National Front. That's for sure.
REPORTER: But she's still got something of her father in her?
ANDRE BERCOFF: Of course. Well, you have the genes, you know? Her name is Le Pen, after all!
Former newspaper editor, now author and political analyst Andre Bercoff has written extensively about the conservative parties in France.
ANDRE BERCOFF: She wants to govern, unlike her father. Her father, when he was climbing up in the polls or in the elections, he said one big stupid joke about World War II or the Nazis, and everybody shouted and said, "Look at this fascist." And it was done. She is much more prudent. She doesn't say that. She wants to be part of the next governing right.
REPORTER: Did polite society talk about the National Front 10 years ago? Would you have said, "I agree with the National Front, I like these policies?" Or was it indelicate to do that?
ANDRE BERCOFF: Yeah. It was shameful to do that. It was not only politically incorrect, but completely shameful. It's like you said, "I have gonorrhoea," you couldn't say that to many, many people. Now she has succeeded to link the immigrant question to the social question. It's not entirely right, but it's not entirely wrong. It's all a question of nuances’.
But there's not a lot of nuance on display today. For Marine Le Pen, the causes of the nation's problems are stunningly simple. Immigration, which she wants to end completely, and the European Union and the euro, from which she would withdraw.
MARINE LE PEN, RALLY (Translation): Both the Right and the Left gave the same response…that we were xenophobic and selfish. We were told about the obligation of multiracialism and the richness of a multicultural society. We have imposed our themes in this election and we have surprised everyone by the strength of our views, by their coherence. We have become the centre of gravity of French politics. We are the party of reconciliation for all French people. Long live the nation! Long live the republic! Long live France!
CROWD (Translation): This is our homeland…..
MARK DAVIS: And after the elections, if you're negotiating about who could form a government, what would be your key demands? You won't get everything you want, but what would be your key demands?
MARINE LE PEN (Translation): To regain our sovereignty. The people are the only legitimate sovereigns. Today, they have sold our sovereign liberty, little by little to the European Union, to the technocrats who took the worst decisions.
MARK DAVIS: Would an end to immigration be a key demand of yours? And absolute rock-bed demand?
MARINE LE PEN (Translation): Yes, yes, for a simple reason. The economic problems that we face - economic problems in general, are always reversible. We may go through difficult times - then recover. But the changes caused by massive immigration, along with massive naturalisation, are irreversible.
On the same day as Le Pen's Joan of Arc rally, Nicolas Sarkozy makes his last major speech as President.
NICOLAS SARKOZY (Translation): We do not have enemies. We do not have adversaries. We have France in our hearts. That is the message of this gathering at the Trocadero.
Reaching out to Le Pen's supporters, Sarkozy has recently promised to halve immigration levels, but Le Pen fails to endorse him. The Conservative vote is now so severely split that Sarkozy is doomed. The split that is now likely to deepen following his loss.
Across town in East Paris, the left holds its May Day rally. At the head of the march, lady Justice strides forth to go into battle with the forces of darkness that are gathering. It's no surprise that she wins today - a good omen for Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. The left will be victorious in this presidential vote. But next month it's likely they will be facing a much harder right than Sarkozy at the Assembly elections, and in the years to follow.
FRANCOIS RAZUMOWSKI, NATIONAL FRONT YOUTH LEADER (Translation): The media keep talking about us. We are at the centre of the debate. We must not let up. Rome was not built in a day.
The National Front youth wing has had an influx of new members, and they are gearing up to spread their message for next month's election. It will be the next test of how widely their ultranationalist views are being embraced.
REPORTER: Let's talk about the people that are French citizens.
FRANCOIS RAZUMOWSKI: Yes.
REPORTER: The migrants from Algeria or Iraq or Iran - they are afraid of you. They are scared of you and your party.
FRANCOIS RAZUMOWSKI: Oh. Very simple, I think. You respect the Republic. You have no problem with the Front National. But if you don't respect the flag, the National Front and the Republic and the Republic symbols, you have problem.
MARK DAVIS: France is seen as one of the great democracies of the world, it's seen as a place of tolerance, as a place of refuge. Does it worry you that that reputation will suffer if you succeed?
MARINE LE PEN (Translation): I don’t see why, on the contrary, it will become France again. Tolerance? What does that mean? I am a very tolerant and hospitable person, like you. Would you accept 12 illegal immigrants moving into your flat? You would not! On top of that, they start to remove the wallpaper! Some of them would steal your wallet and brutalise your wife. You would not accept that! Consequently, we are hospitable, but we decide with whom we want to be. That’s it!
ANDRE BERCOFF: I think some of the things she says, I don't like the style... But at the same time, I think that she is going to be part of the landscape for the better or the worse, for many years to come. For better, for worse.
YALDA HAKIM: You can watch Mark's interview with Marine Le Pen in full on our website, where there's also more coverage of the election result and the reaction across Europe.
Original Music Composed by VICKI HANSEN
8th May 2012