• Monday, Sep 26, 2022
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French far-right seeks second wind at watershed conference

  • Published at 12:00 pm March 10th, 2018
French far-right seeks second wind at watershed conference

France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen will attempt to revive her battered party this weekend at a conference with a proposal to ditch the tainted National Front (FN) brand, seen as a key hurdle to winning power.

Controversial ex-White House adviser Steve Bannon, who has repeatedly expressed support for Europe's far-right movements, will also attend Saturday's conference.

Bannon, a formerly powerful figure in the Trump administration who used to head Breitbart News, was expected to encourage delegates "that victory is possible, and how to obtain it," said FN spokesman Sebastien Chenu.

But the visit of the shaggy-haired agitator has raised eyebrows in the government of French President Emmanuel Macron.

"The king of fake news and of white supremacists at an FN summit... why am I not surprised? Change of name but not of the political line," remarked the head of Macron's centrist Republic on the Move party, Christophe Castaner.

Nine months after Le Pen was defeated by Macron for president in a bruising battle between nationalists and globalists, the FN is struggling to rebound.

She goes into the conference weakened by her poor performance in a final TV debate against Macron, which raised questions about her fitness to lead the world's fifth-biggest economy.

"Failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts," she told reporters recently, quoting British wartime leader Winston Churchill.

New name, old face?

The trained lawyer, who took over the FN leadership from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2011, is running unopposed for a third term at the helm at the conference starting Saturday in the northern city of Lille.

The high point will come Sunday when Le Pen will announce a proposed new name for the party, turning a page on the anti-Semitic, openly racist Front of her former paratrooper dad.

"Without a name change we will not be able to forge alliances. And without alliances we will never be able to take power," she told a party gathering last month.

Further humiliation is in store for the 89-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen when the party votes to strip him of his role as honorary president, severing his last formal link to the movement he led for nearly four decades.

Since the presidential campaign and June general election in which the FN bagged only eight seats, the party and its leader have appeared deflated.

Rematch in Europe?

Le Pen is hoping to set up a rematch with Macron in next year's European elections, by forming alliances with other eurosceptic parties around the bloc.

At home, she hopes to form pacts with rightwing rivals that have in the past banded together with the left to bar the FN's path to power.

Le Pen is banking on divisions between pro-Macron centrists and right-wingers tearing his party apart, making the FN France's biggest party of the right.

 
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