After election rout, split stalks France's National Front

REUTERS
PARIS
Published 20.09.2017 23:38

Four months after a resounding electoral defeat, France's far-right National Front party is on the brink of a split, with simmering differences between leader Marine Le Pen and her chief deputy appearing irreconcilable.

Le Pen has been trying to shift the party back towards it anti-immigrant, pro-French identity roots, while her deputy, Florian Philippot, broadly argues that it should stick to the past years' focus on its anti-EU policy.

Le Pen issued an ultimatum to Philippot yesterday, saying he had to decide between towing the party line and his moves to set up a separate think-tank group focused on a hard anti-euro line.

"Everyone should be prepared to listen to others' positions. I've asked Florian to choose. I'm going to meet him. If he doesn't accept to choose, I'll choose for him," Le Pen told France's CNews. "I'm asking Florian to choose and to do so quickly. He's created a conflict of interest with this group. If we can't settle the differences, I'll take the necessary decisions."

Philippot only joined the party in 2011, but he rose quickly and was the architect of its anti-euro, protectionist election strategy.

Le Pen, who has led the party since 2011 after taking over from her father, Jean-Marie, campaigned against the euro during the election, which many saw as a mistake that undermined support.

If Philippot were to leave the party or be kicked out, it would cause turmoil on the far-right of French politics just as it is trying to portray itself as the main voice of opposition to President Emmanuel Macron's sweeping policy plans. Instead, it is the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, led by Jean-Luc Melenchon that is leading the charge against Macron, together with the unions, with calls for mass demonstrations against Macron's labour reforms.

Tensions within the National Front have been simmering for months, since its disappointing performance in the presidential and parliamentary elections, with much of the debate focused on Philippot, a divisive figure within the party.

In the presidential run-off, Le Pen secured just 34 percent of the vote against 66 percent for Macron. "This seems to have escalated to a point of no return," said Ifop pollster Jerome Fourquet, a specialist on the far-right.

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