Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, has made abandoning the euro one of the pillars of her presidential election campaign, launching a powerful attack on the ailing single currency as she seeks to bolster her already strong showing in the opinion polls.

Presenting her “presidential project”, Ms Le Pen said Europe should give up the euro, which had “asphyxiated our economies, killed our industries and choked our jobs” for years, as well as causing France to accumulate “Himalayan” debts. In any case, she added, the country should prepare a planned exit from the currency union. “We need to anticipate the collapse of the euro rather than suffer from the collapse of the euro,” she said in a television interview on Sunday.

Asked how the country could manage its big euro debts in the event of a French devaluation, she said she would empower the Bank of France to lend to the treasury.

In an address to the party on Saturday Ms Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, listed a euro exit alongside habitual FN calls for a stop to immigration, the erection of trade barriers to counter globalisation and a tougher stance on crime. She insisted the rejection in a 2005 referendum of the proposed European constitution showed public backing for her stance.

Officials in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling centre-right UMP party believe concern about the economic chaos that could follow a breakdown of the single currency blunts the threat of the FN’s call to abandon it.

But in recent months polls have given Ms Le Pen, who has softened the harder racist edges of the party since she took over from her father, support of between 16 and 21 per cent for the first round of the presidential election, due in April. That is at least double the level Jean-Marie Le Pen enjoyed six months before he came a shock second place in 2002, ousting the Socialist party candidate from the decisive second round. Pollsters say this may simply reflect a greater willingness of voters to admit openly their support for the FN. But this time, Ms Le Pen appears to pose a bigger threat to the centre-right.

The president’s ratings have improved in recent weeks. A poll last week showed him up two points at 27 per cent for the first round vote and another on Sunday showed a three-point rise in his overall approval rating – but only to 34 per cent.

Jean-François Copé, head of the UMP, is clear that Mr Sarkozy has to fight to fend off the threat from the FN in the first round of the election. “This is the main risk for us. She is skilled in the way she is presenting the FN platform. She has gained a sort of respectability, even if their proposals are crazy,” he told the Financial Times this month.

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