French far-right leader Marine Le Pen proposed Thursday that the children of illegal immigrants should be refused public school places as part of tough proposals to restrict state services.
“I’ve got nothing against foreigners but I say to them: if you come to our country, don’t expect that you will be taken care of, treated (by the health system) and that your children will be educated for free,” Le Pen said.
“That’s finished now, it’s the end of playtime,” she told an audience at a conference organised by a polling group in Paris.
The leader of the National Front (FN) is forecast by opinion polls to finish second in next year’s presidential election but she is hoping for new momentum after the victory of Donald Trump in the United States.
Speaking to AFP afterwards, she clarified that she only wanted to block education for immigrants who are in the country illegally, not all foreigners.
But she said that any foreigner using the public education system without paying tax in France should have to contribute.
“We’re going to reserve our efforts and our national solidarity for the most humble, the most modest and the most poor among us,” Le Pen told the conference.
The FN sees itself as part of a global revolt against immigration, established political parties and globalisation epitomised by Trump’s victory last month.
It regularly criticises the use of France’s chronically over-budget social security system for foreigners, arguing that French people should be prioritised.
Le Pen falsely claimed on Thursday that anyone aged over 65 could arrive in France and start claiming old-age social security payments.
Polls currently show her qualifying for the second-round of May’s election where she is forecast to face — and be defeated by — rightwing Republicans party candidate Francois Fillon.
Few analysts see her as likely to take power, but the last 12 months has been an unpredictable year in politics and France’s sickly economy and immigration are top issues for voters.
Le Pen wants to withdraw France from the eurozone and has called for a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union.
Fillon has also taken a tough line on immigration in his programme, promising to reduce it to a “strict minimum” and calling on newcomers to adapt to French culture.
He has rejected the idea of “multiculturalism” and insists that France must defend its traditions, language and identity.