The National Front’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is trying to pick off supporters of François Fillon — the center-right Republican candidate who came up short in the first round of the French elections — in hopes of of pulling off an upset and defeating her opponent, centrist Emmanuel Macron, in this weekend’s runoff. But her strategy to peel away Fillon fans has run into quite the hiccup: She’s now been accused of plagiarizing whole excerpts from a recent Fillon speech.
Fillon gave his speech on April 15, shortly before the first round of the elections. Le Pen delivered her version in Paris on May 1. The similarities are pretty striking. Le Pen mentions France’s “three maritime borders,” a phrase lifted almost exactly from Fillon’s earlier speech. Le Pen also recited a quote from World War I French prime minister Georges Clemenceau; Fillon used the identical phrase in his address. They both mentioned “waiting lists” to learn French in international places such as Shanghai, Tokyo, Mexico, Rabat, and Rome. A pro-Fillon organization created this side-by-side comparison:
Le Pen’s supporters have already spun her plagiarism as something of an ode to Fillon, and a sign that Le Pen has much in common with the conservative (and Establishment) candidate. One National Front official called it a “wink” to Fillon’s backers. The National Front’s secretary general, Nicolas Bay, called it a “small loan.”
“It shows that Marine Le Pen is not sectarian,” Bay explained, “and that when one of her opponents, in this case from the first round, speaks well about France, she can borrow his comments.”
Another report had suggested that French writer and politician Paul-Marie Coûteaux had given notes to both Fillon and Le Pen, and this accounted for the similarities. However, Coûteaux later admitted that he had given Fillon notes for that April 15 speech, but had not done so for Le Pen — though both echoed themes in his 1997 book Europe’s Road to War. As a Le Pen supporter, he added, that he wasn’t “displeased” she had recycled his words.
All that’s missing is a My Little Pony excuse, but it’s still unclear whether these other explanations and reverse psychology will get by voters. Le Pen is trailing Macron by between 15 and 20 points in the polls ahead of Sunday’s vote. She has tried to put some distance between herself and the far-right, anti-immigrant platform of the National Front by stepping down as party leader to focus on her presidential campaign. Le Pen had also hoped to attract some far-left supporters of another anti-Establishment candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon. But Melenchon, who came in fourth place in the runoff, told his backers a vote for Le Pen and the National Front would “be pushing the country toward a general blaze.” So instead Le Pen is — and this may sound familiar — banking on disaffected Melenchon voters abstaining or throwing away their votes rather than supporting Macron.
But Le Pen would still need to attract those Fillon voters to have a chance. Fillon was once the likely winner of the French presidency, until his campaign was sidelined by a public-corruption scandal. He took a tough line on the European Union and immigration while skirting Le Pen’s more hard-line stances. But, as a former spokesman for Fillon told reporters, Fillon’s voters likely won’t be fooled by Le Pen. “They won’t be bought because one copies parts of their candidate’s speech,” he said.