May 13, 2011 / 8:02 PM / in 7 years

France's Le Pen unveils populist platform, could hurt Sarkozy

PARIS, May 13 (Reuters) - The leader of France’s far-right National Front party pledged on Friday to raise wages and salaries for the poorest, unveiling an economic plan that could push President Nicolas Sarkozy to adopt more populist positions.

While National Front leader Marine Le Pen is seen as very unlikely to win next year’s presidential race, she is ahead of Sarkozy in opinion polls, threatening to knock him out of the second round and hand victory to the opposition Socialists.

With Sarkozy keen to woo back her voters, analysts say her agenda is pushing the president’s campaign towards populism.

Announcing her economic plans on Friday, she said Sarkozy’s conservative government had not done enough to help French citizens to maintain their standards of living during the economic crisis.

She said she would lift a freeze on public sector wages, except for the highest earners, and increase pensions for low-earners. She would slash fuel tax by 20 percent, funded by a surcharge on oil companies’ profits. “Enough talk ... We need to use a serious weapon: corporation tax,” she told a news conference.

Le Pen, who took over the leadership of the National Front from her father in January, has sought to moderate the party’s reputation and to attract mainstream French voters frustrated at immigration, stubbornly high unemployment and static wages. [ID:nLDE73Q251]

Opinion polls show that Le Pen is running second to a potential Socialist candidate, IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn, and she could prevent Sarkozy from reaching a second round runoff between the top two candidates.

Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, ran for president five times, placing second in a surprise upset in 2002 that forced the main candidate of the left, Lionel Jospin, out of the race. Conservative Jacques Chirac won that second round runoff easily. (Reporting by Gerard Bon; Editing by Peter Graff)

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