Marine Le Pen has attempted to broaden her mainstream appeal ahead of the French presidential election by signalling that her flagship policy of leaving the euro is no longer a priority.
The candidate for the far-right National Front, who is opposing independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in Sunday’s run-off, has alarmed investors during her campaign by saying she would seek to renegotiate France’s relationship with the EU and call a referendum on a so-called “Frexit” from the bloc within six months.
But Ms Le Pen played down her anti-euro message and softened the timetable for any exit at the weekend, saying in an interview with newspaper Sud Ouest that “if everyone is agreed we could take a year or a year and a half to organise a co-ordinated return to national currencies”.
The shift in tone represents an attempt to reassure voters with euro-denominated savings and investments, which would be likely to plummet in value if France returned to the franc. The message is particularly aimed at centre-right supporters of Republican candidate François Fillon, who was eliminated from the election contest in the first round on April 23.
Ms Le Pen finished second in the first round to Mr Macron, a former economy minister who has never previously run for office but is now favourite to succeed President François Hollande in the Elysée Palace.
The FN also struck an alliance with a smaller party for the first time in its 45-year history. Ms Le Pen said she would name Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the anti-EU founder of the Debout la France party, as her prime minister if elected. Mr Dupont-Aignan, mayor of Yerres in southeastern Paris, earlier declared he would “support and campaign with Marine Le Pen for an expanded government”. He also ran for president, taking less than 5 per cent of April’s first round votes.
While Mr Dupont-Aignan shares Ms Le Pen’s desire to leave the euro and return to the franc, the pair maintained in a joint statement on Saturday that “the transition from the single currency to the European common currency is not a prerequisite for any economic policy”.
Ms Le Pen on Sunday denied that this changed her position on the euro, telling BFMTV: “I have been calling for the transformation of the single currency to the common currency for quite a long time, so there is no contradiction in that.”
In a separate interview with the Le Parisien newspaper, Ms Le Pen reiterated her view that “the euro is dead”. She said that if she were elected France would have a national currency “like all other countries”, as well as “a common currency together”, which would not “concern daily purchases but only large companies that trade internationally”.
A desire to leave the euro is a pillar of the FN programme but while there is strong support for it from within the party, polls suggest that some 70 per cent of French people are against it — partly because they think it will make them poorer.
Pro-business think-tank Institut Montaigne estimates that leaving the euro would cost France €180bn, half a million jobs and 9 percentage points of gross domestic product over the long-term.
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, niece of Ms Le Pen and an FN MP, echoed her aunt’s more emollient tone on Europe. Speaking after a press conference to announce the alliance with Debout la France, she said negotiations on the EU and the euro would start in 2018 and would take “several months” or even “several years”.
Some of Ms Le Pen’s supporters welcomed the move to soften her position on Frexit. Robert Ménard, the mayor of the town of Béziers in the south of France who was elected with FN support, told Le Figaro: “It’s very good news. It proves that she has finally understood. To win an election it’s necessary to assemble and gather first in your own camp. For the Front National, that’s the right.”