French far-right chief lays out plans for presidential race

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FILE – In this June 17, 2021 file photo, far-right leader Marine le Pen looks on during a press conference in Toulon, southern France. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is coming under biting criticism from current and former supporters for taking her anti-immigration National Rally too mainstream, with some suggesting the strategy could cost her next year’s presidential race. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole, File)

PARIS (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen says she will stick with her strategy of making her party a more mainstream political force despite a stinging loss in France’s regional elections, and that tactic will carry her into next year’s presidential race.

Le Pen, 52, was reelected Sunday as the head of the National Rally at a party gathering in the southern town of Perpignan.

Her anti-immigration party failed to win any of mainland France’s 12 regions in last week’s vote — raising criticism about Le Pen’s strategy. Some members deplored her choice to tame the party’s extremist edge and accused her of ignoring grassroots members, warning this could cost her votes.

In her speech, Le Pen instead praised the “healthy and necessary development” of the party and said there will be no return to the National Front, the former name of the party that was changed in 2018. The rebranding was part of a broader strategy to revive the nationalist movement after her defeat by centrist Emmanuel Macron in France’s 2017 presidential race.

Le Pen also confirmed she would be a candidate in France’s 2022 presidential election. Polls show she is in a position to reach the runoff, possibly facing Macron again.

“That victory, we’re going to go out and get it,” she said, calling the 2022 presidential vote a “historic choice.”

“The sole alternative to globalization is nation,” she said. “We have the ambition to restore order in France.”

The far-right leader also issued a broad attack on the European Union, which many nationalists believe has overstepped its powers.

“I cannot repeat it enough, sovereignty is to nations what freedom is to men. We want to be able to decide, by ourselves, our commitments, our laws, our way of life,” she said.

Jordan Bardella, 25, was named the party’s first vice president. Le Pen said he will lead the party during her presidential campaign.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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