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A Family Affair in France's Far-Right Party as National Front Founder Backs Granddaughter in Upcoming Elections

Controversial National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen has agreed to step down following a growing feud with his daughter, party leader Marine Le Pen.

by Melodie Bouchaud
Apr 13 2015, 6:00pm

Image via Le Nouvel Observateur

Jean-Marie Le Pen, honorary president and founder of France's far-right National Front (FN) party, announced Monday that he would not stand in regional elections later this year, instead urging FN sympathizers to back his 25-year-old granddaughter, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

On Thursday, FN leader Marine Le Pen — Jean-Marie's daughter — confirmed suspicions that she would oppose her father's candidacy to the presidency of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) region in elections in December, following a week of damaging declarations to the press by the elder Le Pen.

Marine Le Pen, who in recent years has sought to shed the FN's xenophobic and intolerant image, called for her father to withdraw from politics, and announced that the party would seek disciplinary proceedings against him over his comments in the media.

Related: Right-Wing National Front's Marine Le Pen Seeks to Discipline Her Father and Party Founder.

While damaging to the party image, the comments that landed 86-year-old Le Pen in hot water with his daughter have a familiar ring. On April 2, Le Pen told an interviewer for BFMTV that he did not regret an earlier description of WWII gas chambers as a mere "detail of the war" — remarks for which he was convicted and fined in 1987.

Days later, in an interview with French far-right weekly Rivarol, Le Pen stuck his foot in his mouth again, describing a political alliance with Russia as imperative in order to save "the white world" from the threat of immigration.

Despite joining the chorus of rebuttal over Le Pen's gas chamber remarks, Maréchal-Le Pen has remained publicly quiet about her grandfather's comments in Rivarol — a silence, which many interpret as an endorsement of Le Pen senior's harder line in the face of her aunt's watered-down brand of far-right politics.

Speaking Monday to French daily Le Figaro, Jean-Marie Le Pen described his granddaughter as "an excellent" and indeed "the best" candidate for the PACA region. Maréchal-Le Pen already has six years of political activity under her belt, not to mention an intimate understanding of a political dynasty that already spans three generations.

The daughter of former FN politician Samuel Maréchal and Jean-Marie's eldest daughter Yann Le Pen, Maréchal-Le Pen launched her political career in 2009, at just 19, when she was nominated as the second candidate on the FN ticket for the district of Yvelines, for France's 2010 regional elections.

Groomed by her grandfather, Maréchal-Le Pen became the youngest European deputy in recent French political history after she won a 2012 election in the southeastern district of Vaucluse. At the time of her election, she was still studying public law at the Panthéon-Assas University in Paris.

In recent years, Maréchal-Le Pen has established herself as a poster child for her grandfather's harder line within the party, in contrast to her aunt's grassroots campaign to make the FN more acceptable to French voters.

While Marine has worked to re-shape the party following decades of what FN sympathizers like to call "demonization," Maréchal-Le Pen was busy campaigning on her grandfather's values. She took part in the mass demonstrations against same-sex marriage organized in Paris in 2013, referring to demonstrators who were arrested during clashes with the police as "political prisoners."

Like her grandfather, Maréchal-Le Pen is unapologetically "right-wing," and much has been said in the media about her disagreements with her aunt's right-hand man, FN vice-president Florian Philippot. Interviewed on Europe 1 in February, Maréchal-Le Pen had sought to downplay tensions within the party, but had declared she wouldn't choose "to go clubbing" with Philippot.

According to French weekly Le Point, Le Pen made the decision to pass the baton on to his granddaughter during a meeting over weekend, at Le Pen's home in La Celle-Saint-Cloud.

The honorary president's granddaughter had previously announced that she would not wade into the candidacy debate, for fear of giving the impression that she was somehow "taking advantage of the situation" to advance her own political career. The decision, she said, was up to "him [Le Pen] and the nominating committee."

FN vice-president Bruno Gollnisch — one of Le Pen's oldest friends, who lost the party leadership of the FN to Marine Le Pen in 2011 — announced Monday he would also seek the nomination to lead the list in PACA.

In the 2014 European elections, the FN won over 33 percent of votes in PACA, making it a key district for the party.

Party officials will make the final decision on the nomination at a party meeting on Friday.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on twitter @meloboucho

Image via Le Nouvel Observateur