Far-right politician Marine Le Pen says kids of ”illegal immigrants“ won’t get free education in France
French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has vowed to halt free education for the children of “illegal immigrants,” once again putting herself at the center of controversy and inviting criticism that her harsh remarks fly in the face of the French republic’s core values.
“I’ve got nothing against foreigners, but I say to them: If you come to our country, don’t expect to be taken care of, to be looked after, that your children will be educated for free,” she told a conference in Paris Thursday, as she touted harsh measures to cut spending on public services.
“No more playtime,” she added. “We’re going to reserve our efforts and our national solidarity for the most humble, the most modest, and the most poor among us.”
Le Pen’s campaign manager said later that the National Front leader was only referring to illegal immigrants.
The comments from the 48-year-old politician, widely expected to be one of two presidential candidates in the second and final rounds of voting next year, drew renewed criticism at home and abroad. Like her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen has regularly courted controversy in her political career.
Critics quickly pounced on her latest remarks, saying they ran counter to France’s established republican values, which guarantee access to education and other public services to all, regardless of background. Free primary education has been enshrined as a basic right for all children under French law for more than a century.
“Separate the children? Deny the poor access to knowledge? Barbaric!” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a presidential candidate and member of the European Parliament, tweeted in disgust to the news.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean also took part in criticizing the extreme politician’s latest remarks. “How stupid is this,” he tweeted. “Education reduces radicalism and promotes integration.”
How stupid is this. Education reduces radicalism and promotes integration.
— Howard Dean (@GovHowardDean) December 8, 2016
With France still in a state of emergency following a spate of devastating terror attacks, and Europe reckoning with an unprecedented influx of illegal migrants, French anxieties about immigration and Muslim integration are at an all-time high. Along with a number of other European far-right populist parties, the National Front’s fortunes are surging, and the focus of France’s two establishment political parties has shifted from just winning the election to winning and keeping the far right out of the country’s highest office.
Opinion polls currently have Le Pen neck-and-neck in the first round of presidential voting with Francois Fillon, a former prime minister and staunchly conservative candidate for the center-right Republicans, although the latter is expected to have the edge in the second round.
The ruling center-left Socialist Party has yet to select its candidate, since François Hollande, France’s historically unpopular president, announced last week he would not seek a second term.
Le Pen, who last year expelled her firebrand father from the National Front for repeatedly describing the Holocaust as a “detail of history,” has attempted to distance the party from its fringe image since taking the reins from him nearly six years ago. Le Pen Sr., along with the party he founded, has a long track record of overt racism and anti-Semitism, including numerous convictions for inciting racial hatred for his comments against Muslims.
But the former lawyer, who celebrated Donald Trump’s victory and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as manifestations of the same wave of discontent she hopes will carry her into office, regularly adopts positions similar to her father’s, and ones considered beyond the pale of the political establishment.
Her comments on immigration issues have even landed her in court. During a speech in 2010, she compared the regular blocking of streets and squares for Muslim prayers to the Nazi occupation of French cities during World War II.
“It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of neighborhoods in which religious law applies,” she said, according to France 24. “There are no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is an occupation nevertheless.”
Last year, a court acquitted her of having incited discrimination, violence, or hatred toward a religious group with the comment.
And in 2014, Le Pen raised eyebrows when she said her party would prevent schools from offering pork-free kosher and halal options to students in towns where it had won local elections. According to The Independent, she told a French radio station that the National Front rejected “religious demands in school menus,” as there was no reason for religion to enter the public sphere.