Politico reports that a long-simmering dispute between the two most prominent women of the French far right is getting out of hand.
There is even a risk of a split in the Front national, the website argues: between the faction of leader Marine Le Pen and the socially conservative wing that has rallied around her 26 year-old niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.
The fact that it’s a family feud, in which the Le Pen patriarch and Vichy apologist Jean-Marie inevitably resurfaces, makes this a headline-grabbing story.
France’s mainstream left- and right-wing parties have split in their response to Marine Le Pen’s Front national‘s victory in Sunday’s regional elections.
Whereas President François Hollande’s Socialists are withdrawing from the contest in those regions where they stand little chance of keeping the nationalists out of power, Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains and their allies are staying in the race.
That could split the anti-Front vote in the runoffs next weekend, but the conservative leader and former president is wary of playing into Le Pen’s narrative that there is a conspiracy of mainstream parties intent on blocking her.
Marine Le Pen consolidated the position of her Front national as the third force in French politics on Sunday when her candidates took more than 30 percent of the votes in regional elections, according to exit polls.
An early count suggested the party was ahead in eight out of thirteen regions.
In second-round runoffs later this month, the nationalists could claim victory in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie in the northwest, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine in the northeast and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the south.
It would be the first time the party took control of any region.
France’s Front national could take control of three out of thirteen regions in an election this month that would boost its chances for the presidential election in 2017.
FranceTV shows nationalist candidates winning in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie in the northwest, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine in the northeast and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the south.
In the first, Marine Le Pen, the party leader, is running for the regional presidency herself. The latest Ipsos poll has her at 40 percent support in a second-round runoff against the leading Socialist candidate, Pierre de Saintignon.
In the south, Le Pen’s niece, Marion, would get 41 percent support, enough to defeat her mainstream conservative and Socialist Party rivals.
In Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine — one of the seven new regions created this year — the Front‘s Florian Philippot is ahead of the combined center-right’s candidate 37 to 35 percent.
The region, bordering Germany, has traditionally been a right-wing stronghold.
Dutch and French nationalists said on Monday they finally had enough support to form a bloc in the European Parliament with other Euroskeptic and anti-immigration parties.
The group, called Europe of Nations and Freedoms, was due to be announced at a news conference on Tuesday and would be led by France’s Front national and the Dutch Freedom Party.
The former won 24 seats in last year’s European Parliament elections, more than the ruling Socialists and opposition conservatives. But it failed to find enough allies in order to qualify for subsidies and committee seats.
A bloc must have at least 25 members from seven member states.
Politico reports that the new group will include one member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which is the largest in the rival Euroskeptic bloc led by Nigel Farage.
A Front national member previously defected to Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, which has 46 out of 751 seats in the Strasbourg assembly.
Before the last election, the Front‘s Marine Le Pen teamed up with the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders whose Freedom Party is the country’s fifth largest. They formed an alliance with separatist parties from Belgium and Italy as well as the Freedom Party of Austria, leaving them two nationalities short.
Specter of the far right
Th two leaders ruled out alliances with fascist parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik. But according to Politico, one Jobbik member would join their group now anyway to bring them up to the required seven.
Jobbik is openly antisemitic and seen as neo-Nazi by many Western commentators. It nevertheless got 20 percent support in parliamentary elections last year and has three out of Hungary’s 21 seats in the European Parliament.
Farage has refused to do business with the Front, saying it is still antisemitic despite Le Pen’s efforts to detoxify the party.
Since taking over as leader in 2011, Le Pen has tried to get rid of far-right elements and transformed the party her father, Jean-Marie, founded in 1972 into a broader nationalist movement that advocates protectionist economic policies as well as French exits from the eurozone and NATO.
Wilders’ party appears to have peaked at around 15 percent support. It is less protectionist than the Front and pro-Israel, but similarly wants the Netherlands to leave the euro.
Farage refuses to cooperate with Wilders because of his strong anti-Islam positions.
Combined, Farage’s and Le Pen’s blocs would be larger than the mildly Euroskeptic Conservatives and Reformists which are now the third largest group. It includes Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, the Finns Party — which joined the Nordic country’s government last month — and Poland’s Law and Justice.
Correction: After this story was published, it emerged no one from Jobbik would join the Europe of Nations and Freedoms group. Rather, the Polish Congress of the New Right’s two members would: another far-right party Le Pen and Wilders earlier refused to caucus with.
France’s Marine Le Pen, who leads the country’s populist Front national, broke ranks on Wednesday with her father, Jean-Marie, who founded the party in 1972.
In a statement, Le Pen said her father had entered a “downward spiral of scorched earth tactics and political suicide” after telling a far-right magazine that she had “betrayed” the party’s principles.
Le Pen withdrew her support from her father’s candidacy in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France’s southeasternmost region.
“His status as honorary president does not allow him to take the Front national hostage with crude provocations that seem intended to harm me,” she said.
The statement came after the elder Le Pen reiterated his opinion that the Holocaust was only a “detail” in the history of the Second World War during an interview with the far-right weekly Rivarol that was due to be published on Thursday.
He also argued that Marshall Philippe Pétain, who led the Vichy France that collaborated with the Nazis during the war, should not have been considered a traitor.
Party vice president Florian Philippot, who led its 2012 presidential election campaign, wrote on Twitter that the break with Jean-Marie was now “total and final.”
Since taking over as party leader in 2011, Marine Le Pen has tried to get rid of the Front‘s far-right and fascist-leaning elements and transformed it into a broader nationalist movement that advocates protectionist economic policies and a French exit from the euro as well as NATO.
Marine’s rehabilitation of the Front has enabled it to reach a larger electorate. It took a quarter of the votes in recent European Parliament and local elections and Le Pen expects to get more than the 18 percent support than she did last time in the 2017 presidential contest. Polls suggest she could beat the Socialist Party’s incumbent, François Hollande, into third place.
French conservative party leader Nicolas Sarkozy has lurched to the right, declaring his opposition to Muslim students wearing headscarfs in public universities and calling on high schools to stop serving halal meals.
In doing so, the former president, who staged a political comeback last year, outdid Marine Le Pen’s National Front, which is neck and neck with his party in polls for local elections this month.
Much of the commentary on the resurgence of nationalism in Europe tends to lump the various parties that represent it together in the “far right” category. This is unhelpful as not all nationalist movements are right-wing, nor do they all mark a throwback to the destructive nationalism of the last century. Read more “What to Make of Europe’s Nationalist Resurgence”