With less than a week to go before the divisive second round of the French election, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen gave a barnstorming speech on May 1 on what her country contributes to society — its ideals, its culture, the respect it is afforded around the world.
The only issue? The National Front leader's speech featured major elements of an address given by conservative candidate François Fillon on April 15, about a week before he was ejected from the race in the election's first round. Much of Le Pen's speech was lifted word for word.
Using lines from Fillon's address, Le Pen spoke to a crowd of students in Villepinte, Paris about France's ties with Italy and Germany, and even cited the same quote from former Prime Minister George Clemenceau — "Once a soldier of God, and now a soldier of Liberty, France will always be the soldier of the ideal."
Twitter erupted with accusations of plagiarism, and edited videos published online appeared to show the remarkable similarities between the two speeches.
Le Pen's team acknowledged the speech had not been wholly original, but claimed it was more homage than outright theft. "It's not a plagiarism. It’s totally deliberate, a wink and a nod, a small loan," National Front Secretary General Nicolas Bay told a French public radio station, France 24 reported.
"This wink, I think, was appreciated [by all], including Mr. Fillon’s voters," Daniel Rachline, Le Pen's spokesperson, told a television station. He then tried to turn the conversation to her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron and his role as economy minister in the cabinet of President François Hollande. “The real plagiarism in reality is Emmanuel Macron who spends his time plagiarizing François Hollande, since he is his heir."
Both Macron and Le Pen are attempting to attract supporters from Fillon, who finished third with a 20.01% share of the vote in the first-round. But moments after his defeat on April 23, the Republicains candidate said Macron had his backing. " Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France," he said. "There is no other choice than to vote against the far-right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron."
The latest polls show Macron, running as an independent candidate, around 20 points ahead of Le Pen. The second round vote is scheduled for May 7.