Why the sums will never add up for 'President Le Pen'

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The Independent Online

We are approaching the end of 2003 and President Jean-Marie Le Pen has been in office for more than 18 months.

France has pulled out of the European Union. Trade barriers have been recreated between France and its principal trading partners. The newly revived franc has slumped to 10 against the dollar (15 against the pound).

The weakness of the new franc is preserving French exports – just – but petrol prices have gone through the roof.

French farmers are burning their tractors, and effigies of Mr Le Pen, because their incomes have plummeted since the country cut its lucrative ties with the EU's farm policy and its subsidies.

With the economy plunging towards recession, President Le Pen and his Prime Minister (and son-in-law), Samuel Maréchal, have been unable to keep his improbable electoral promise to slash taxes and, at the same time, increase social spending massively (on French nationals only).

President Le Pen's drive to repatriate immigrants "voluntarily" is not going well. There is talk of a mandatory second phase. In any case, his campaign pledge that he will "over night" save £30bn a year for the taxpayer by refusing social payments to immigrants has proved to be wildly misleading.

In an attempt to distract attention from growing social unrest, Mr Le Pen has organised a referendum on the death penalty. He has ordered beefed-up police forces to "reoccupy" the poor inner suburbs of cities and crack down ostentatiously on violence or dissent.

The President – the first leader of the far right to run a powerful, Western country since Adolf Hitler – has also launched his promised purge of government and cultural institutions and the French education service.

Those judged by Mr Le Pen to belong to the "corrupt, cosmopolitan oligarchy" that used to run France are being forced out of offices and classrooms all over the country. They include everyone from the director of the Louvre to principals of lycées in small, provincial towns.

They are being replaced, with difficulty, by people who will obey Mr Le Pen's injunction that all public servants must, in future, be patriotic defenders of the glory of French history and culture.

None of this is likely to happen. Mr Le Pen, despite his breakthrough in the first round of the election last Sunday, will be comprehensively defeated by President Jacques Chirac in the second round on Sunday week. But nothing in the above fantasy is exaggerated or far-fetched. It comes directly from Mr Le Pen's own campaign manifesto and speeches.

On Monday he said his "first act" as President would be to remove France from the European Union.

This would cut off French farmers from their open export markets inside the EU and their European subsidies for exports to the rest of the world. All in all, France gets £5.5bn a year from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

President Le Pen could replace these subsidies from his savings on French contributions to the European budget, but he could not replace the export markets.

How many French farmers would vote for the abolition of the CAP? France is the fourth- biggest exporter in the world. Tens of thousands of French jobs depend on these exports. Almost exactly two-thirds of them go to other EU countries. A France outside the EU, and inside its own trade barriers, would be "protected" from one of the main sources of its prosperity.

Yesterday, the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro, which has many Le Pen supporters among its readers, finally produced a small down-page article, examining the economic proposals of the far right.

It reported that the policies of 73-year-old Mr Le Pen, who says this is his last election, were a "bric-a-brac of ultra-free market liberalism and determined state interventionism".

He supports huge cuts in taxes, including the progressive abolition of income tax and the instant suppression of all taxes on inheritance. As a multimillionaire, who has made a personal fortune from bequests from party members, these proposals make personal sense for Mr Le Pen. But, as Le Figaro belatedly pointed out in an obscure part of the newspaper, the proposals cannot be easily squared with Mr Le Pen's vague promises of huge increases in social, police and defence spending.

What is extraordinary – and only now, slowly, being put right – is how little the French media, and especially French television, has examined the fine print, or even the large print, of what Mr Le Pen says he intends to do in office.

To that extent, Mr Le Pen has had a free run with French public opinion.