France's Le Pen softens anti-EU stance amid turmoil

REUTERS
PARIS
Published

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said it is possible to improve the lives of French citizens without leaving the single European currency, in a marked shift from the anti-EU stance she pushed during her failed presidential bid.

Le Pen's National Front party has been in turmoil since her heavy defeat to Emmanuel Macron in May's presidential election, split by deep internal divisions over its view on Europe that forced the departure of Le Pen's deputy last month.

"In numerous areas it is possible to improve the daily life of the French without quitting Europe or the euro currency," Le Pen told weekly magazine Valeurs Actuelles in comments to be published today. "We have heard the French people," she said.

Her remarks are the clearest indication yet that the National Front will focus on policies around immigration and national identity, and soften the anti-EU rhetoric that cost her dear in the election.

While public discontent towards Brussels has fueled nationalist sentiment in France, in particular in rural and low income areas, opinion polls show there is little appetite for France to follow Britain out of Europe, or to drop the euro.

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.

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.

The departure of Florian Philippot, for years Le Pen's closest aide and a staunch advocate of an anti-euro, protectionist line, split the National Front but also paved the way to a policy change as the far-right party seeks to rebrand itself.

During her election campaign, Le Pen promised a referendum on EU membership. After suffering a bruising defeat to Macron in the May run-off vote, Le Pen's National Front won just eight seats in the National Assembly, leaving it with a weak voice and unable to form a parliamentary group.

Last month, already toning down her language, she said that "national sovereignty" would be a mainstay of the party's struggle. "We will continue to fight the European Union with all our soul because it is an instrument for the impoverishment of people," she said in the wake of Philippot's resignation

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