Marine Le Pen, Leader of France’s National Front Party, Splits With Her Father, Its Founder
PARIS — Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, has openly split with her father and the founder of her party, calling his recent comments, including those on German gas chambers, “political suicide” and an attempt to harm her.
In recent years, Ms. Le Pen, trying to clean up the image of her party as racist and anti-Semitic, has kept her distance from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, 86, and his more extreme statements, even as he continued as the party’s honorary chairman.
But Mr. Le Pen made headlines over the last week, after he once again claimed that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history; praisedFrance’s collaborationist wartime leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain; and questioned whether France’s Spanish-born prime minister, Manuel Valls, was really loyal to France.
“Jean-Marie Le Pen seems to have descended into a strategy somewhere between scorched earth and political suicide,” she said. “His status as honorary president does not give him the right to hijack the National Front with vulgar provocations seemingly designed to damage me but which unfortunately hit the whole movement.”
She added that, with great sadness, she was calling a meeting of the party’s executive bureau with her father present “to find the best way of protecting the interests of the movement,” a statement that some experts took to mean that Mr. Le Pen may be expelled from the party altogether.
Ms. Le Pen’s deputy and the party’s chief spokesman, Florian Philippot, soon said in a Twitter message, “The split with Jean-Marie Le Pen is now irrevocable and definitive.”
Until now, disagreements between Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen, who has both depended on and extended her father’s legacy, were largely kept in check in the interest of party unity. But as Ms. Le Pen looks to broaden her party’s appeal, the rupture on Wednesday made it clear that she would now prize her own political future over, possibly, preserving relations with her father.
The bitter nature of their power struggle — greeted gleefully by their opponents — seemed to portend a long-awaited reckoning for the National Front. Alongside other far-right parties in Europe, it is currently angling to seize a moment of opportunity made possible by popular anger over rising immigration, failing economies and stifling European Union bureaucracy.
But what to do with the elder Mr. Le Pen has been a problem within the National Front for years, experts say. Mr. Le Pen founded the party 43 years ago and spent most of his energy running for president. His continued presence and history of controversial remarks have made it difficult for his daughter to rebrand the party and may have cost her the collaboration she sought with other more moderate far-right parties in the European Union.
Mr. Le Pen, however, made clear that he would not be pushed aside without a fight. In his own statement, he said that when called before the executive board, he intended to express his views as a politician who is “responsible and ‘free’ and who always walks with his head up.”
In the meantime, he said, “each should take advantage of the delay to measure their responsibility to France, to the French and to the movement that embodies their hopes.”
The Le Pen family is famous for its living arrangements in the wealthy suburb of Saint-Cloud, west of Paris. Marine Le Pen lived on the family property, which includes gardens and several houses, until September. Her sister and mother, who is divorced from Mr. Le Pen, still live there. Mr. Le Pen now just keeps an office there.
When Ms. Le Pen, 46, finally moved out, apparently because her apartment in the former stables was too dark and small, the gossip magazine Closer wrote, “No more animated discussions with Daddy in the garden.”
Ms. Le Pen harbors her own presidential ambitions. But she has struggled to move out of her father’s shadow and distinguish her own reputation even as she tries to build a more mainstream party from the bottom up and field candidates in local elections.
Distancing herself from her father, some experts say, is unlikely to do her any harm. In fact, it may help put some of the party’s recent mistakes behind her.
In departmental elections last month — a layer of government between county and regional — the National Front fielded some 7,000 candidates, many of whom had not been vetted.
In the waning days of the campaign, dozens were caught making racist statements on their Facebook pages or in public appearances, including one man who called on Muslims to do the world a favor and kill themselves.
“I think the numbers show that there is a ceiling on the votes the party can win with that kind of talk,” he said.
Under Ms. Le Pen, who took over the party in 2011, the National Front has moved away from constant anti-immigrant talk to developing policies on a range of subjects from banking to education. It supports renegotiating France’s treaty with the European Union to restore French borders and the franc. It advocates more teaching of French in schools and greater protectionism for the economy.
Ms. Le Pen’s version of the National Front has been enjoying success, tapping into French unhappiness with its two traditional parties after years of a moribund economy.
Various polls have found that she would lead in a presidential election, though she would be unlikely to win in the second round. Last year, the party came in first with 25 percent of the vote in European elections and won hundreds of seats and a dozen mayoralties in local elections.
It is not the first time Mr. Le Pen and his daughter have been at odds. Last June, for instance, Mr. Le Pen condemned artists who took positions against his party, saying he would make an “oven load” of one Jewish singer next time. His daughter condemned the remark, saying her party disapproved of any anti-Semitism.
But last week Mr. Le Pen — 28 years after he first remarked that Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” in history — was on television saying he stood by those words because “they were the truth.”
Again, his daughter quickly expressed her dismay.
Four days later, Mr. Le Pen gave a wide-ranging interview in the far-right weekly magazine Rivarol, this time saying that the treatment of Marshal Pétain after the fall of the Vichy government had been too harsh and noting that Mr. Valls, 52, had been French for only 30 years. “What is his real loyalty to France?” Mr. Le Pen said. “Has this immigrant been converted?”
The remarks have dominated the news cycles here since.
From The New York Times . Report by 15.