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Politics

Is the National Front about to reinvent itself?

France's far-right National Front (FN) leader and parliamentary candidate Marine Le Pen (C) after the polls closed during the second round of the French parliamentary elections on June 18, 2017 in Henin-Beaumont, northern France.
France's far-right National Front (FN) leader and parliamentary candidate Marine Le Pen (C) after the polls closed during the second round of the French parliamentary elections on June 18, 2017 in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. Denis Charlet / AFP

Members of France’s far-right Front National party are meeting today in the first official reckoning of the party after this spring’s presidential and legislative elections.

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The night she lost to Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election in May, Marine Le Pen promised a “deep” renewal of the National Front. Everything from the party’s policies, to its organisation to its name is up for discussion.

“[The election] is the opportunity to review everything, from the ground up,” Wallerand de Saint Just, the party’s treasurer, told RFI.

“I salute the President of the Front National, for striking while the iron was hot - right after the presidential election, she started the process of reorganizing the National Front and rethinking the program.”

Closed Door Meeting

About 50 party leaders are meeting behind closed doors to discuss issues that have been worked on by commissions over the past few weeks. And this includes the party’s main policy directions.

The FN has always been a balancing act, keeping very different currents together with a populist, anti-immigration platform.

These divisions were put aside during the 2017 election campaign. But they have come to the surface after the results, which were disappointing to many supporters.

“The main division line is between those who are more on the line of conservative, traditional right-wing party, and the line called ‘social sovereignty’ or ‘republican nationalism' which is neither left or right, to attract the working class,” explains Front National specialist Nonna Mayer.

This second approach holds dear the idea of rejecting the European Union and pulling France out of the Euro, to go back to the Franc. It’s an idea that appeals to the party’s core supporters, but does not resonate with most French voters.

Some in the party have said the hard line on Europe and the euro was the reason why the party did not do as well as expected in the polls.

And the man behind the position is Florian Philippot, the party’s deputy chief.

“Philippot and his anti-Euro position has become the scapegoat,” says Mayer. And while the party did scare away some voters because of this position, Philippot’s push to reach out to working class voters pulled a lot of people in.

“[The FN] has never had such a good result among the working class: over 40 per cent of the vote,” says Mayer.

Philippot has said he’ll quit the party if it reverses its stance on the Euro.

During this weekend’s closed-door meeting, there is unlikely to be any formal decision. The seminar is a step in a process that includes a consultation of the party membership in September, leading up to a party congress next spring.

On the table is also a name change. The Front National carries a lot of baggage: it is associated with the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, known for his provocations.

Mayer says a name change is likely, but she does not expect any drastic policy changes: “They’re probably going to find a middle ground between leaving the euro and leaving things as they are,” she predicts. “If you look at the program, it will be an in between line. But I may be wrong; let’s wait and see.”

 

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