France sinking into 'barbarity' claims Marine Le Pen as far-Right chief ratchets up presidential bid

Gérald Darmanin, French interior minister - ALAIN JOCARD/AFP Gérald Darmanin, French interior minister - ALAIN JOCARD/AFP

French far-Right leader Marine Le Pen kicked off her long-haul presidential campaign on Sunday by urging France to “wake up” to the fact that the country was sinking into “barbarity” following a summer of violence.

The National Rally, or RN, chief joined a chorus of French opposition politicians who have accused President Emmanuel Macron of being soft on crime.

Several incidents this summer caused national outrage. A bus driver died after being attacked by passengers who refused to wear masks last month.

Video footage showed drug dealers openly carrying assault rifles in Grenoble, south-eastern France, forcing the government to order a high-profile police raid on a deprived neighbourhood late last month.

Rampaging football supporters also smashed and looted shops near the Champs-Elysées after Paris Saint-Germain’s defeat by Bayern Munich.

And hundreds of French mayors have been subjected to acts of aggression in recent months, several for telling people to wear face masks.

Mr Macron’s conservative interior minister, Gérard Darmanin, angered moderates last month by warning that France was becoming increasingly “savage” - a term usually associated with far-Right rhetoric.

That prompted his Left-leaning justice minister, Eric Dupont-Moretti, to counter that many crime figures are not rising.

Wading into the debate in Fréjus, a far-Right stronghold on the French Riviera, Ms Le Pen on Sunday told 400 RN officials that, “Real barbarity is settling in. With barbarity, you don’t negotiate, you fight it.” She proposed tougher sentences, more prison places and reducing the age for criminal convictions to 16.

The French president was “more bothered with make-believe than making progress,” she said.

Mr Macron’s interior minister instantly hit back on Sunday by pledging to publish crime figures every month so that the French could judge for themselves.

Ms Le Pen has already announced her intention to run against Mr Macron in the 2022 presidential elections despite being trounced in 2017 and polls suggesting that 68 per cent of the French are against a rematch.

She has made it clear that she believes the issue of “insecurity” will loom large in the race.

“We won the ideological battle [over the need for tougher law and order] years ago,” she said this weekend. “Now what we need is a political victory.”

However, her party is on the back foot - on the brink of bankruptcy and prey to internal frictions. Six members of the party’s national investiture committee were discreetly ousted this summer in a purge commentators saw as a sign of “jumpiness” from its boss. She reportedly found them too close to her high-profile niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

Ms Le Pen's political power base is also shrinking. While the party won its first major city during municipal elections earlier this year in Perpignan, it lost two of the 10 towns it claimed in 2014 and the number of its municipal councillors almost halved. The party has little hope of clinching any regions in elections next year.

“It has become skeletal,” one RN member told AFP. “There is a very deep malaise on the ground.”

Some members also accuse Ms Le Pen of turning the party into an economically leftist "basket case". She notably wants the official retirement age to be cut to 60.

But she insists she is the only credible head of the opposition given the number of ex-Republicans in Mr Macron’s bipartisan cabinet and a recent call from a senior Republican to form a presidential alliance with the Macron camp for 2022./aa