“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 US.
Afterwards she clarified that she only wanted to block education for immigrants who were in the country illegally, not all foreigners.
But she said 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 the election next May, where she is forecast to face – and be defeated by – the rightwing Republican party candidate, François Fillon.
Few analysts see her as likely to take power, but 2016 has been an unpredictable year in politics, and immigration and France’s sickly economy 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 EU.
The French education minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said Le Pen’s proposal was shameful and unworkable.
“With these words, which I condemn with the greatest force, Madame Le Pen proves … her complete indifference to the terrible human circumstances faced by young children,” she said.
She underlined that France guaranteed free education for all school-age children under its national laws and the international conventions it had signed.
“I remind you that it’s a matter of honour for the French republic to guarantee to children, to all children, the right to an education – in other words, the right to a future,” she said.
After a string of terror attacks over the last two years and the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war, hardline rhetoric on immigration is seen as a vote-winner on the right.
Fillon has talked tough on newcomers, promising to reduce immigration to a “strict minimum”.
He has also rejected the idea of “multiculturalism”, called Islam a problem for France, and insisted the country must defend its traditions, language and identity.
Author: Agence France