France election: Le Pen accused of plagiarising Fillon

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has been accused of plagiarising defeated rival François Fillon in a speech she delivered on Monday.

Several sections of her speech in Villepinte, north of Paris, appear to repeat almost word-for-word comments Mr Fillon made in an address on 15 April.

An official of her National Front party said she had made a "nod" to Mr Fillon and it showed she was "not sectarian".

Ms Le Pen faces centrist Emmanuel Macron in the final round on Sunday.

The similarity in the speeches was pointed out by the Ridicule TV YouTube channel, initially set up by François Fillon's supporters to attack Mr Macron before the first round of voting that saw Mr Fillon eliminated from the contest.

Ridicule TV said the far right presidential candidate had plagiarised Mr Fillon's speech "word for word" and set the two speeches side by side, inviting viewers to make up their own minds.
The videos were also posted on Twitter.

Several passages imitated Mr Fillon's address word-for-word:
  • In Mr Fillon's speech, he made specific reference to France's geography and neighbours. He called the Rhine border with Germany "the most open, the most dangerous, the most promising" but mentioned "a Germanic world we have been so often in conflict with and with which we will yet co-operate in so many ways"
  • Ms Le Pen also called the same border "the most open and the most promising" and also mentioned "a Germanic world we will yet co-operate with in so many ways, as long as we regain the relationship of allies and not of subjects"
  • Both speeches spoke of waiting lists to learn French in Shanghai, Tokyo, Mexico, Rabat and Rome
  • Both speeches used the same quotation from World War One PM Georges Clemenceau
  • At times, the words were almost exactly the same. Mr Fillon said: "France is a history, it is a geography, but it is also a set of values ​​and principles transmitted from generation to generation, as passwords. It is a singular voice addressed to all the peoples of the universe"
  • Ms Le Pen echoed him with: "France is also a set of values and principles transmitted from generation to generation, as passwords. And then it is a voice, an extraordinary, singular voice that speaks to all the peoples of the universe"

The Liberation newspaper said that what was supposed to have been a key speech for the second phase of voting in the election became instead a focus of ridicule for social media users.

But Florian Philippot, deputy chairman of the National Front, told Radio Classique the party had owned up to the similarities and that Ms Le Pen's speech was "nod-and-a-wink" to Mr Fillon's speech to "launch a real debate" on French identity.

He earlier told Agence France-Presse that the speech showed "she is not sectarian".

Marine Le Pen is trailing centrist Emmanuel Macron in opinion polls. EPA

Marine Le Pen accused of plagiarising François Fillon in May Day speech

The far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has been accused of plagiarism after she used phrases taken from a defeated rival’s speech in a May Day rally.

Five days from the second round vote, Le Pen came in for criticism and ridicule after it was revealed that some of the rousing rhetoric she used in a meeting of thousands of supporters on Monday came from a speech given by the conservative Les Républicains candidate, François Fillon.

The original speech, delivered by Fillon shortly before he was knocked out in the first round of the contest, was on the subject of France’s role in Europe and the world. Le Pen’s, made at a Front National May Day rally, was on France’s roots in western Europe.

As the row raged, however, a former French MEP and one-time ally of both candidates, Paul-Marie Couteaux, claimed he had first written the words.

The accusations of plagiarism came as supporters of her rival, Emmanuel Macron, warned that a high abstention rate could hurt his chances of victory in the second-round vote on Sunday. Macron is still leading in the opinion polls, but latest surveys suggest Le Pen may be closing the gap.

Florian Philippot, the deputy leader of Le Pen’s party, said it “completely owned up” to the fact that the speech resembled one made by Fillon on 15 April at Trocadero, a few days before he was knocked out in the first-round vote.

Philippot told Radio Classique that Le Pen’s speech was a “nod-and-a-wink” to Fillon’s earlier discourse in order to “launch a real debate” concerning French identity.

The similarities between the two speeches were mocked by Le Pen’s opponents on social media and French newspapers highlighted the borrowed passages.

Le Pen mentioned France’s “three maritime borders” with the Channel, North Sea and the Atlantic. That same phrase was also used by Fillon. She also described France’s borders and ties with “Italy, our sister” – again a phrase used in Fillon’s April speech.

Le Pen then used a quote from the early 20th-century French prime minister Georges Clemenceau: “Once a soldier of God, and now a soldier of Liberty, France will always be the soldier of the ideal.” The Clemenceau quotation was used, word-for-word, by Fillon.

Couteaux said the terms originated from his 1997 book Europe Towards War, which he had condensed and given in notes to Fillon’s campaign team. He said he had not been in contact with Le Pen’s team. In 2014, Le Pen reportedly wrote to Couteaux, then the FN spokesman during her 2012 presidential bid, saying she no longer wished to work with him.

Le Pen’s campaign manager, David Rachline, played down the plagiarism accusations, painting her speech as a form of tribute to Fillon. The references were “appreciated, including by all of Fillon’s supporters”, Rachline told France 2 television.

Damien Abad, Fillon’s former spokesman, reacted angrily, saying it was not a homage to the defeated candidate but a “blatant pillaging ... and proof that the Front National has no backbone”.

Abad told BFMTV: “François Fillon’s voters are not fooled, they’re not going to be bought just because someone copies their candidate’s speech.”

Days ahead of Sunday’s runoff, Macron remains the frontrunner in the race with polls predicting a 19-point lead, putting the 39-year-old centrist on track to become France’s youngest president.

But amid concerns in his camp that a high abstention rate could help Le Pen’s chances, company bosses, celebrities and scientific researchers called in newspaper editorials for people to vote for Macron, who styles himself as “neither of the left nor the right”.

Macron’s economic liberalism worries many voters on the left. While they will not back Le Pen, many say they will stay at home rather than vote for him. Opinion polls say abstention could be as high as 30%, higher than in recent presidential elections, as the “Neither-nor” camp gains strength.

Cedric Villani, a high-profile mathematician and commentator, wrote in Libération that abstaining “is the equivalent of giving half of one’s vote to Marine Le Pen in the most important election that France has had for several decades”.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a veteran rebel of French politics, called on supporters of hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who scored 19.6% in the first round, to put aside their “hate” of Macron. “Think rationally and vote for Emmanuel Macron and defend democracy and freedom,” the former ecologist MEP told Europe 1 radio.

Le Pen and Macron will face off on Wednesday in what promises to be a fiery TV debate when the far-right candidate is likely to sharpen her attacks on a candidate she says embodies “the world of finance, of arrogance, of money as king”.

Macron said on Monday he wanted a “hand-to-hand” fight, adding it would be a “fundamental battle to show that her ideas are false solutions”.

The live debate, expected to last two hours and 20 minutes, will give the candidates exactly the same speaking time. A random pick will see Le Pen standing to the left of the studio and Macron to the right. She will speak first, he will conclude.

In 2002, Jacques Chirac had refused to debate with Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose surprise victory in the first-round vote qualifed him for the runoff. Marine Le Pen’s presence in the traditional debate is seen as proof of the success of her efforts to de-demonise or normalise the FN.

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