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Europe Decides; Ukraine Elections; Imagine a World

Aired May 23, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

It's election season and over the next several days, voters will cast critical ballots in Ukraine, Egypt and for the European parliament, and these elections all have one thing in common, and that is controversy.

First to Europe, where a rise in far right parties has pushed the public debate into issues of immigration, xenophobia and the very existence of the E.U. itself. Here in Britain, the U.K. Independence Party is expected to do well, despite a rash of PR disasters and charges of racism. Its leader Nigel Farage's distaste for having Romanians as neighbors has set off a storm of protest. Earlier, the party's own youth spokesman resigned, saying that UKIP was now just too racist.

Farage accuses the other big European far right party, the National Front in France, of being just that and vowed never to form an alliance with its leader, Marine le Pen. But on the eve of this election, he's hinting that perhaps after all he and others like them could form a blocking minority to disrupt the parliament's policies.

As for le Pen herself, she has tried hard to, quote, "detoxify" her party's poor image after its founder, her father, Jean-Marie, has said things like the Holocaust was, quote, "just a detail" in the history of World War II and recently just this week suggested that an outbreak of Ebola could solve Europe's immigration problem.

Still, Europe's far right has ridden the general fears of high unemployment, high taxes and nationalist disaffection with the European Union. So on the eve of these first parliamentary elections in five years, which are seen as a referendum on how current leaders have managed the economic crisis, I asked Marine le Pen whether she really can make a dent in Europe and even in French politics.


AMANPOUR: Marine le Pen, welcome to the program from atop the Champs- Elysees.

Do you expect the National Front to be France's biggest MEP party? And will you join a bloc with other like-minded parties, for instance, Britain's UKIP?

MARINE LE PEN, LEADER, FRANCE'S FRONT NATIONAL (through translator): That is our objective. We want to have the biggest group in -- for our countries to be there, in the European Parliament, to say that it is absolutely intolerable that the European Union's speaking about our taking up our sovereignty.

AMANPOUR: I understand your position. I'm interested to know whether you and other far right and rightist groups in Europe will try to form a bloc?

And what will you do with that bloc?

Will you try to stop various European policies?

LE PEN: Yes, we do intend to set up a group with the Freedom Party of Austria. We've got Wilders' Party for Freedom, perhaps with the Northern League of Italia -- d'Italia, for Italy -- with Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and then after all, we don't know, perhaps others who will find an interest in making up the broadest possible front to oppose the deeply harmful and damaging policies of the European Union is imposing on our continent, on our respective peoples, with catastrophic consequences in terms of growth, unemployment, precariousness and massive immigration, and the rising insecurity.

We want to fight against all that with the inhabits, with those of 95 percent of the countries of the world, and in particular, the United States.

AMANPOUR: Tell me how you will go into an alliance, if you do, with UKIP. You're very well aware of what Nigel Farage has been saying about you, criticizing your party for being racist, for being anti-Semitic and full of prejudice.

How then will you join him as a voting bloc? And how -- what is your reaction to his criticisms?

LE PEN: We know that Nigel Farage is saying that more for tactical reasons, in reality, rather than for reasons of conviction. You know, it's his right to remain the president of an autonomous group, but to accuse us of the same words which he is victim of from the British political class.

I've heard David Cameron saying this -- him calling him racist, calling him a drunk. And so he's just trying to get us into a trap, saying these arguments of which he is victim himself.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me push you then a little bit on that, because you know very well that, certainly under your father's leadership, the National Front was considered very anti-Semitic. Your father himself described the Holocaust as just a detail of history in World War II.

Do you agree with that description?

Do you renounce that description?

LE PEN: I've already had the opportunity to express myself on this subject about the phrase which was reproached.

But whatever the case, I consider -- I said that the Holocaust was a major event of the Second World War. It was awful. And I can confirm there is no trace of anti-Semitism in the National Front.

And many Jewish French people realize that the Front National, National Front, is the only move that's possible because of the dangers that arise in fundamentalism. And this fundamentalism is advancing, is moving ahead, and therefore they're really taking this seriously. Jewish people in France are taking this seriously.

AMANPOUR: You do have a -- you do appear to be sort of anti-Islamic. You just now talked about fundamentalism. You also have very strong views on immigration. And, again, I want to ask you, because it looks like you are trying to clean up the image of the National Front.

So, again, how do you manage to clean up the image when, again, your father says something like, "The only way to solve immigration in France and in Europe would be an outbreak of the deadly disease ebola"?

LE PEN: But, Madame, this is a lie. That is a lie, a maneuver, a campaign maneuver. He never said that. He spoke about his worry, the developments of this virus.

He did not -- was not speaking immigration; he was speaking about the fate of humanity as a whole. That is what he said.

So do not try and get us into all these traps three days before the election, which worries a lot of people because I do not have any image to clean up as far as the leadership is concerned. He defends all French people, whatever their race, whatever their religion, whatever their origins.

And that is absolutely clear; that is true. When you speak about immigration, we have -- we have tendencies to speak about us -- you have tended to speak of us as racist. That is a caricature. I will fight to say that this is not what the reality is.

AMANPOUR: So let me just be clear, the French press reported that those were your father's words ahead of a rally in Marseilles this week on Tuesday.

Are you denying that?

LE PEN: Yes, it is a lie.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me carry on. You say that's a lie, so there's obviously an argument about what he said and what he didn't.

Your critics are very well known in their criticism of your party.

But I want to know, what do you think about even the allies, for instance, like-minded right-wing politicians?

Laurence Stassen who just quit from Geert Wilders party, saying that it was just too racist because of his remarks that there should be no more Moroccans in the Netherlands.

Or the youth spokesman of UKIP, who also just quit, saying that UKIP is now just too cynical and too racist.

What do you answer to those people in parties very much like yourself, who are saying that your parties are just too far?

LE PEN: But, Madame, we are before the elections, which are historic. So if there are a few manipulations trying to give a negative image of us, the reality is that we want to defend our borders.

We want to defend our identity. We want to defend our culture, our morals, our traditions, our codes, our way of life. And France, because -- remains France which can contribute something to the world. That is the aspiration and that is what is legitimate.

I'm surprised to see we do not have the right to be -- we do not have the right to be patriotic in France or in Great Britain. On the contrary, have the right to be patriotic in the United States.

Every country, every people, has the right to defend what they are without any xenophobia, without any hostility, but with firmness and with a conviction.

AMANPOUR: You talk about the desires of the French people, so allow me to read the latest poll in France, from VVA, which shows that 79 percent of voters polled do not think your position is desirable. Sixty-eight percent said they had a bad opinion of you, yourself, personally.

How are you going to then translate those figures into victory?

LE PEN: But, Madame, if you allow me to speak about a much more interesting opinion poll, that is the elections, which we have on Sunday. And as I hope the National Front will arrive at the front of these elections, and then we can just put those opinion polls in the dustbin.

It is time for the French people to have the right, like all peoples, to identify their identity, put forward a patriotism, an intelligent protectionism to defend their culture. And that is my opinion, which will come out of the result of the elections on Sunday.

AMANPOUR: So are you telling me, Ms. Le Pen, that therefore you are a protest party, that these kinds of polls mean nothing to you because they won't allow you to win in France?

Surely you want to win in the French general election as well.

LE PEN: That is not you who decides, Madame. It is not the people who carry out these opinion polls. It is the French people. We can say -- I can remind you that the French president has 17 percent popularity at the moment, that Mr. Cope, the president of the UMP, has 12 percent popularity.

So you can see if 24 percent or 25 percent is the result, we can see that democracy will have spoken, that French people won't, in the future, want to change our positions radically, do not want to fall into caricatures of the National Front.

National Front is a movement which interests many people throughout the world and we have to see what things are, from the point of view of the truth and not the image which our opponents give us.

AMANPOUR: Madame Le Pen, leader of the National Front, thank you so much for joining me ahead of these very important European elections.

LE PEN: (Speaking French).


AMANPOUR: And while Marine le Pen and Nigel Farage are desperate to leave Europe, another nation is desperate to join and its citizens have proved they're prepared to risk their lives to do so. Ukraine votes for its president with the Russian military casting a long shadow from the Eastern front.

So we asked Europe's man in charge whether they can, in fact, pull off a legitimate vote. That's after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Now there are difficult elections and there's Ukraine's elections. This Sunday voters there will seek to legitimize their post-Yanukovych era by electing a new president. But unbearable pressure from Russia has come very close to scuttling that. First, annexing Crimea and then encouraging pro-Russian separatists to destabilize Eastern Ukraine by declaring independence and shedding blood in some parts.

But perhaps President Putin has bitten off more than he can chew now. Western sanctions have bitten into his economy and he lately seemed to support the election going ahead. Nine hundred observers from the OSCE will be overseeing it, because a truly free and fair poll will be vital for peace and stability.

Wolfgang Ischinger is the former German ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom, and he's right now the OSCE's special representative in Kiev.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Ischinger, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me from Kiev.


AMANPOUR: Ukrainians about to go to very, very important elections.

Do you believe that the conditions on the ground are OK?

Will they be able to vote even in the east?

ISCHINGER: Christiane, this country goes through a difficult conflict, a conflict that is limited to the eastern and southeastern part of the country.

I expect elections in Ukraine to be largely OK in the overwhelming number of districts. But there are huge obstacles in the east, principally in two of the districts. And I expect that voting there will be either patchy or maybe impossible for many citizens.

So we will not have a totally perfect vote. But I believe that out of more than 30 million people who can vote in Ukraine, less than 3 million or 2 million people will actually not be able to participate.

So it will be less than 10 percent.

AMANPOUR: But Ambassador, won't it always then mean that the east and those who are separatists and who have those tendencies will forever be able to say, hold on; we were disenfranchised or even those who want to vote and are not separatists simply will not be able to cast their democratic voice?

ISCHINGER: Well, you ask a good question and I'm sure that is exactly what some people are trying to obtain, an impression of lacking legitimacy of this upcoming election.

But you know, I think that the person who's going to be elected out of this election will of course be facing a huge challenge but also he will be having a huge opportunity. If he or she reaches out to those living in the east and explains to them that he wants to be their president also, I believe that that can change things in a significant way.

AMANPOUR: Obviously this is crucial for every reason that we can imagine, but most particularly to bring the legitimacy to the Ukrainian government and to the authorities.

Are you convinced that this will carry the imprimatur of total legitimacy?

ISCHINGER: Christiane, I think so. I mean, I am convinced. I have now been here, working with every single senior member of the government with former presidents. We have organized these roundtables over the last eight or 10 days. We've been to the south of the country, to the east of the country. I believe that this country is trying to get the vote out.

They're not giving up. We have agreed that every vote counts and that every single polling station counts.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about what the big bear to the east is doing right now; obviously I'm talking about Russia and President Vladimir Putin. The president of Switzerland met with him; he's the chairman of the OSCE.

Do you believe that the Russians now accept the elections, that they will call on the separatists to lay down their arms and abide by the results of the elections?

ISCHINGER: Well, let me put it this way, Christiane. I believe there are signs, some signs; I don't want to sound overly optimistic, but I have seen indications of a willingness of Russia to accept the fact that maybe these elections, if they take place, are even you know, advantageous from a Russian strategic point of view.

They need somebody they can talk to in Ukraine. And some of the people who pretend that they are acting on behalf of Russia in the east are just so gruesome that I believe it is almost embarrassing. It probably is embarrassing to the Russian leadership to hear that these people pretend to act on Russia's behalf.

So I think there is a willingness to at least consider recognizing the facts and to accept the results. So I am -- I am -- let me -- let me put it this way: I'm cautiously optimistic.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's good to hear that. Obviously Russia has been trying very hard to influence the political outcome of these elections and the future. They want to see a much more devolved Eastern Ukraine. They want to see a pliant pro-Russian group, I guess. So can you tell me, in your negotiations, in all these roundtables that you're having, what is the best case political scenario that is going to happen?

Will the east be spun off from the central government or have very little ties to it?

ISCHINGER: I don't believe that people in the east, at least not those that I have had a chance to meet, really want to leave Ukraine.

And by the way, you know, any economist, any Ukrainian economist will tell you that the way this industrial region in the east of Ukraine makes money is dependent -- is dependent on its belonging to Ukraine.

If the Donbas (ph) reach it -- that's what you call it, this industrial and mining area of Eastern Ukraine, were to be cut off and be independent or be required to join Russia, joblessness and lack of -- lack of opportunity for many, many reasons would ensue. I believe people know that.

AMANPOUR: In that case, will there be some kind of devolution of more power to the regions; if it's not separatism, will they have more power? What do you see the future for the east in terms of self-government?

ISCHINGER: You ask -- you ask the exact right key question.

I believe that if Ukrainians want to live together in more harmony, they need to create a different system of government, whether you call it in the German way, federalism or in the Ukrainian way, decentralization, it amounts at the end of the day to the same thing, more regional self- government, more financial resources to the different regions of Ukraine, but within one country, governed by one central government in Kiev.

So I think constitutional reform in Ukraine, including in particular this item of decentralization, is the key, the principle job for post- election Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, thank you very much for joining me from Kiev.

ISCHINGER: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: As we've learned, it's not only the Ukrainians who are taking a huge gamble to become part of Europe, after a break, we look at the people who risk it all, their lives, their families, their livelihoods to become new Europeans.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as anti-immigrant sentiment builds across Europe and far right groups seek gains in parliamentary elections, vowing to crack down on further immigration, imagine a world where one country is the lifeline for tens of thousands looking for a new home and a new life. It's a story, often a tragedy, that keeps on repeating as migrants, an estimated 60,000 last year alone, leave their troubled homelands in Northern Africa, Syria and other parts of the Middle East, crowding into leaky ships and risking the high seas for the chance for freedom and a fresh start in Europe.

While other countries sit on their hands, it's all hands on deck for the Italian navy, with five ships patrolling the waters off Lampedusa, where hundreds perished when their ships went down last year. And while we warn you, the images may be disturbing, this remarkable underwater video from the Italian Coast Guard shows divers exploring one of those sunken ships at the bottom of the sea with bodies still clinging to the wreckage.

Despite the danger, the desperate influx of immigrants, many of them children, continues, placing an ever-greater burden on Italy and its limited resources.

In the plaintive words of Italy's prime minister, Matteo Renzi, "Europe is leaving us on our own. I can't save governments and banks and then let mothers and children die."

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.