NANTERRE, France (AP) — Where once she felt isolated, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen feels she is now part of a crowd of populist parties on the rise around Europe that she thinks can make new inroads in European elections less than 100 days away — and start restructuring the EU from within.
"Things have changed a lot," Le Pen said Friday at a news conference. "We are no longer isolated at all on the European scene."
She noted that parties of the same ilk as her renamed National Rally are now holding or sharing power, from the League in Italy, which is part of the government, to Austria with its far-right chancellor, Sebastian Kurz.
She made no mention of U.S. President Donald Trump whose victory fueled her own battle for the French presidency in 2017 when she often invoked his name. She lost by a landslide in the runoff to upstart centrist Emmanuel Macron, and derides him, still, as the symbol of what she is fighting — a system that sacrifices national sovereignty, borders and identity for a globalized world.
Steve Bannon, the former chief White House strategist who played a central role in Trump's 2016 campaign, is looking to boost far-right parties in Europe. However, his foundation, The Movement, which Le Pen described as a think tank to discuss larger issues — not an electoral advice platform — has yet to schedule an event, she said. Bannon made a surprise appearance at a major rally last year of Le Pen's party and she said they remain in touch.
Bannon has pointed to the Italian interior minister and League leader Matteo Salvini — a longstanding ally of Le Pen — as the future of European politics.
"Today, Europe has taken a turn," Le Pen said, claiming that "we can legitimately envision today to change Europe from inside, to modify the very nature of the European Union, because we consider ourselves powerful enough."
Le Pen was the first French political leader to open the campaign for the European Parliament election, held May 26 in France, the last day of four days of voting across the 27 EU countries, one less after Britain leaves the EU on March 29. She has hit the campaign trail with the "very clear" idea: "The EU is killing Europe."
Her party, then called the National Front, was victorious in the 2014 election, winning 23 parliamentary seats, more than any other French party. She hopes to do better this year, along with other "patriotic" parties and build what she calls a "European alliance of nations" that respectfully cooperate.
Speaking to the Anglo-American Press Association, she predicted better results this year for her party and for European allies.
The French political landscape is recomposing itself, she noted, with the near-collapse of the Socialists and dwindling support of the mainstream conservatives, and the rise of Macron from the sidelines to the center of power.
Until recently, polls have given Le Pen's party a lead over Macron. However, a January sounding by the Ifop firm put Macron ahead, despite a deep crisis triggered by the yellow vest protest movement seeking a voice for have-nots, and fairer fiscal burden-sharing.
Le Pen would doubtless like votes from the yellow vests, but conceded that "I know nothing" about protesters' voter intentions, and said some may vote for her, and some for her archrival, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, and others will likely abstain.