French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party, Marine Le Pen (C,L) poses for a selfie with an employee as she visits the meat pavilion at the Rungis international food market, near Paris, during her campaign, on April 25, 2017.
CHARLES PLATIAU / POOL / AFP
Marine Le Pen had a mixed welcome at a market near Paris on Tuesday, with some traders jostling for a picture with France’s far-right presidential candidate but others booing her hard line on immigration.
Le Pen, who is duelling for the presidency with pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron, arrived at Rungis, Europe’s biggest wholesale fresh food market, at the crack of dawn.
The visit was part of her bid to woo what she called “the France that gets up early” — a term coined by conservative ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy during his 2007 campaign to refer to workers and the self-employed.
With its hangars of giant cheeses, animal carcasses and towering crates of fruit, the sprawling market in the suburb of Rungis has long been a favourite campaign stop among presidential candidates.
“Marine Le Pen is coming here? I hope I can get a selfie with her!” one employee told reporters waiting for her in a light drizzle.
Wearing a white jacket with the market’s logo, the blonde 48-year-old National Front (FN) politician meandered through the aisles, a retinue of party officials in tow.
Vendors in white coats, some of them first- or second-generation immigrants, gathered around as she set out her proposals to defend French producers from what she calls “runaway globalisation”.
Her manifesto includes a tax on the contracts of foreign workers and a requirement that retailers stock a certain percentage of French products.
“When there is unfair competition, we’ll set up barriers and say ‘there are regulations, you can’t do that’,” she declared.
Le Pen has also pledged to deport all undocumented immigrants, part of a French-first programme that drew boos from some traders.
“Do you have your papers?” a vendor in a blood-spattered coat asked a colleague jokingly.
“We’re workers too. We pay our taxes,” a fruit vendor shouted. “It’s a disgrace,” another said repeatedly.
A tomato sailed through the air but missed Le Pen, landing with a splat on a reporter’s head.
“Jerks. They’re not the guys who are usually here,” said one of Le Pen’s aides, suggesting she had fallen into a trap.
– Promises, promises –
The atmosphere was cordial for the most part, however, with wholesalers engaging Le Pen in conversation and showing off their wares.
In the meat hall, trader Francis Fauchere questioned Le Pen’s plan to impose the use of French-produced meat in school canteens and civil service foodhalls.
“It’ll never happen. The canteen budget doesn’t extend to French meat,” he said, arguing that French producers were better off focusing on high-end markets.
Speaking to journalists afterwards, Fauchere said he planned to abstain from voting in the May 7 runoff.
“They’re all the same. We see them once every five years and they all promise the same thing,” he said.
A week ago it was 39-year-old Macron who had come to visit, with a message of “working more to earn more” — another of Sarkozy’s old campaign slogans.
One vendor, who did not wish to be named, accused the two candidates of trying “to be seen in the same light as people who really are hard-working.”
But Claude Garnier, a 74-year-old retired butcher who helps his son on the market, said Le Pen would get his vote.
“I prefer Mrs Le Pen because Macron… he’s a Socialist,” he said.