Marine Le Pen gave a rousing speech Monday in honor of May Day, a traditional European spring holiday that has morphed, over time, into a celebration of the working class.
Looking out at the crowd at an enormous conference center north of Paris, she spoke of the uniqueness of France’s national landscape, from the three borders facing the sea to the mountains of the country’s interior. And she appealed to what she sees as French values — values that include “discussion, compromise, balance, the freedom of individuals.”
That section of the speech had also been rousing the first time the country heard it several weeks ago — when some of those exact words were spoken by the conservative former candidate François Fillon in remarks he delivered April 15.
Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front party, faces centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron on May 7 in the second round of the French elections. While the majority of polls predict Macron winning by a comfortable 19 points, May Day also saw demonstrations in Paris of leftists who support neither candidate and instead advocate abstention. Abstention, Macron’s team has argued, will only benefit Le Pen. Her voters are believed more enthusiastic, and more motivated, than the voters Macron attracts. If voters stay home in large numbers, some fear she could eke out a win.
And so, facing accusations of plagiarism less than a week before the vote that will determine France’s next president, Le Pen’s team doesn’t want to lose a single vote. They argued her speech was merely an effort to honor Fillon’s ideas. Indeed, her surrogates spun the blunder as a means of showing she is a candidate who will appeal to all kinds of voters.
RidiculeTV, a comedic site that analyzes French politics, was the first to spot the plagiarism and tweeted out a video of the two speeches run simultaneously, so it sounds like a duet.
The similarities are so strong that you don’t much need French to get it:
The tweet reads: “To speak to France, Marine Le Pen is forced to plagiarize WORD FOR WORD a speech of Fillon’s.”
The fallout continues in the press
The French press was nearly universally shocked not only by the Le Pen camp’s plagiarism but that their candidate plagiarized a speech Fillon delivered literally just two weeks ago.
For their part, Le Pen’s surrogates insisted this was a “wink” (a “clin d’oeil”) or a nod to the good ideas of her former rival.
Late on Monday evening, Le Monde reached out to David Rachline, the director of Le Pen’s campaign. He told the paper the wording overlap was merely a "nod to a brief, touching passage out of a speech about France" — and it was a means of showing that Le Pen is a candidate who can appeal to all voters.
Reached by AFP, Florian Philippot, the National Front’s vice president, gave the exact same statement defending her.
Indeed Rachline’s phrasing, the paper pointed out, was “word for word” the statement that Philippot gave to AFP. “This time,” Le Monde noted dryly, “it was impossible to know who copied whom.”
By Tuesday morning Paris time, the story had carried from the evening shows to the morning political analysis.
The one person who was determinedly not bothered by it was the man who apparently inspired the original speech.
On Europe1, one of the main radio stations in France, essayist Paul-Marie Coûteaux said he had given notes to the Fillon campaign for the speech Le Pen picked up. He assured the station that he had no contact with the Le Pen people — but he wasn’t sorry she’d borrowed the language. “I support Marine Le Pen,” he said. “It’s not bad that the two candidates are expressing themselves with the same terms.”
This story is part of a Vox collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting about the upcoming French elections.