France Can't Afford To Welcome Any More Immigrants, Le Pen Adviser Says
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We are approaching a moment in France that Americans know well. It's the final voting in a presidential election, and a top candidate is promising to help workers by limiting immigration and fighting the forces of globalization. It's far-right leader Marine Le Pen who drew thousands to a rally yesterday. One of her advisers Mikael Sala was there.
MIKAEL SALA: We're energized. You know, I'm a sportsman. You know, in sports you feel that, you know, the vibe is right, everything's right, falls into place.
SALA: It clicks. This is what's happening, and we win this one.
GREENE: Although, I'm a sports fan, too, and, I mean, the polls show Le Pen down maybe 60 percent to 40 percent. If I'm, you know, playing a game of basketball down by 20 points, even if I'm feeling good about my team, I'm a little worried that the result's not going to go my way. So are you being realistic?
SALA: No, no, I'm being totally realistic for several reasons. First thing, it's good to be the underdog, you know, because you try harder.
GREENE: Mikael Sala spoke to us on Skype about the issues driving this election - the economy, immigration, French identity. He said his far-right candidate would be higher in the polls if more voters would admit that they like her.
Why do you think so many voters don't want to say they're in support of Marine Le Pen? I mean, are they scared to admit that for some reason?
SALA: Exactly. Because there's been a lot of work from our opponents who sort of portrayed us as the devil itself, which nothing could be remote from - more remote from the truth because we're just patriots. Like Donald Trump was saying, we want to make America - we want to make France great again. And to achieve this, we want to make France grow again, instead of, you know, being in misery with 7 million unemployed for a 66 million population. It's unsustainable.
GREENE: What do you say to critics of Marine Le Pen and your party who say that there is an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sort of message that's been delivered in this campaign?
SALA: No, no, it's not an anti-Muslim message, you know? France is the secular country. You can, you know, be an addict of whatever religion or denomination you want. You do it in the - in your home. In the public space, we're all French, but there's a trend which is a minority of Muslims. But they are a problem because they are questioning the French way of life. They are saying that a woman should not walk the streets without, you know, covering her head. Well, that is not France.
GREENE: But, Mikael Sala, just help our listeners understand why you and Marine Le Pen do not believe that a Muslim woman should be able to cover in public.
SALA: Because, like I said, France is not about religion in public. The way you practice your religion in France is in your home, in your church, in your mosque or in your synagogue. But it's not on in public space. And you know what we got to that point? Because in its history, France has known very bloody religious conflicts. We know that when you open the Pandora Box of religious confrontation, there is chaos.
GREENE: Let me just step back and look at Europe and the world right now. There was a lot of talk that there was this populist surge across Europe and in the U.S. But, you know, recently Austria rejected a populist candidate for chancellor. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands did not do as well as expected. Angela Merkel seems safer now in Germany than a lot of people thought politically. I mean, is there really still a populist surge that you're seeing?
SALA: Sure. I'm going to tell you why it is really powerful in France. In France, we have two problems. We have a problem with mass immigration that we cannot afford anymore, and we have a problem with our economy which is unable to grow. And it so happens that in the Netherlands and in Austria, they have one of those two problems. They're facing mass immigration, but their economies are still going about all right. So it's not that we're not compassionate, it's that we can't afford, you know, welcoming any more people because we are on the brink of bankruptcy.
GREENE: Can you draw the connection for me between the immigration the economy? Because there are some in this debate who would say that immigration actually supports an economy, that you have people coming from other countries who are not taking jobs from French, for example, and that actually immigration supports an economy. Why do you disagree with that?
SALA: OK. Why do I disagree with that? Look at the figures for unemployment among immigrants. You realize that an important proportion of the immigrant population is not working. And why is that? Because there are no jobs left. In every French family, you have one or two people who are unemployed, who can't find jobs, who get fired at, you know, 50 who will never get a job again. This is not fair.
GREENE: Let me finish with this. You've used the term make France great again, similar to Donald Trump's message. Is Marine Le Pen the Donald Trump of France?
SALA: No, absolutely not. She's not the Donald Trump of France because France is not America. But it is fair to say that there is a return of the will of the people. It's like Trump was saying in his inauguration speech I am not going to the White House. You the American people is going to the White House. Well, it's exactly what is going to happen with Marine Le Pen, and she said it again at the rally. With me, it's the people. It's the - I will never ever do anything against the will of the people.
GREENE: Mikael Sala, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.
SALA: Thank you, David.
GREENE: He's an adviser to French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.