Marine Le Pen, French leader of far right party, the National Front, has called for an end to free education for the children of illegal immigrants as part of tough measures to restrict state services. The National Front’s candidate for the 2017 presidential race was addressing an audience at a conference organised by a polling group in Paris.
“I’ve got nothing against foreigners but I say to them: if you come to our country, don’t expect that you will be taken care of, treated [by the health system] and that your children will be educated for free,” Le Pen said. “That’s finished now, it’s the end of 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 told the conference.
Ms Le Pen had been widely understood as saying the education ban should apply to all foreigners, but she later clarified that she was talking only about illegal immigrants. However she added that any foreigner using the public education system without paying tax in France should have to contribute.
The central manifesto of the FN party has been to cut down on immigration, to revolt against established political parties and globalisation aka Donald Trump. The FN regularly argues that the use of France’s chronically over-budget social security system should be prioritised for the French people rather than for foreigners.
Ms Le Pen has campaigned hard to drastically cut legal immigration to 10,000 immigrants a year. After a string of terror attacks over the last two years and the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war, hardline rhetoric on immigration is seen as a vote-winner on the right.
Marine Le Pen took over the running of the Front National six years ago. Since then she has tried hard to overturn the party’s extremist image. She is widely expected to be one of two candidates to reach the second and final round of the election in May. She is forecast by opinion polls to finish second in next year’s presidential election but as was seen in the U.S. 2016 election, analysts can be proven to be completely wrong.
Latest opinion polls suggest she is running neck-and-neck in polling for the first round with the centre-right candidate Francois Fillon who has projected himself as a radical economic liberal. Fillon has talked tough on newcomers, promising to reduce immigration to a “strict minimum”.
He has also rejected the idea of “multiculturalism”, called Islam a problem for France, and insisted the country must defend its traditions, language and identity.
Ms Le Pen has had to respond to Mr Fillon’s election by setting out distinctive policies herself.
In a live interview on Wednesday on one of France’s main TV channels, TF1, she said that she would put France back together in five years.
“I want to sort out the schools, France’s diplomacy and the economy” she said, adding that she wanted a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union.
However under French law dating back to 1881, free primary education is a basic right for all children. The right to education is also a fundamental tenet of the European Convention on Human Rights.
French Education Secretary Najat Belkacem severely criticised Pen’s proposal remarking that it was shameful and unworkable. She said that Ms Le Pen had shown a total indifference to the terrible plight of many migrant children, and also a level of ignorance of fundamental French values and laws.
“With these words, which I condemn with the greatest force, Madame Le Pen proves … her complete indifference to the terrible human circumstances faced by young children,” she said.
She underlined that France guaranteed free education for all school-age children under its national laws and the international conventions it had signed.
“I remind you that it’s a matter of honour for the French republic to guarantee to children, to all children, the right to an education – in other words, the right to a future,” she said.
Le Pen falsely claimed on Thursday that anyone aged over 65 could arrive in France and start claiming old-age social security payments. Le Pen also wants to withdraw France from the eurozone and has called for a referendum on France’s membership of the EU.
She says national policies should “benefit the French.”