Many opponents of the French far-right National Front will almost certainly have welcomed Tuesday’s decision by the European Parliament to strip Marine Le Pen of her immunity from prosecution as an MEP.
Those who believe her provocative speech in Lyon, when she compared Muslim street prayers to the Nazi occupation, was indeed incitement to racial hatred, will be eager to see French authorities now launch legal proceedings against her.
However Jean Yves Camus, a political analyst from the French think tank IRIS (Institut de Relations International et Stratégiques) and regular commentator on the country's far right, believes the European Parliament and French authorities have made an error.
(Jean Yves Camus, Photo:IRIS)
“I don't think this is a really smart move,” Camus says. “This will only give publicity to the National Front and they will use it to their advantage. In the past there have been several incidents with Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, who was also stripped of his immunity but it was all to no avail. He remained an MEP.”
Camus believes the only thing that the European Parliament has proved with Tuesday’s decision is its own inconsistency.
“On the one side, the parliament has stripped her of her immunity and on the other side far-right politicians in the same parliament from Greece or Hungary, who have more extreme views than Marine Le Pen, have been able to say almost anything they like about Islam.
“They have been able to voice their opinion without being stripped of immunity. I don’t see any good reason why the parliament should only concentrate on Le Pen. Politicians from Greece's LAOS party for example say more harmful and more provocative than Marine Le Pen.
“I am, of course, against her views but I think there's definitely something wrong with letting other MEPs say what they want and only focusing on France’s National Front because it's the most successful of the far-right parties in Europe.”
On the eve of Tuesday’s vote, Le Pen remained defiant and even reiterated the words she used in the original speech. She insisted her only crime was to express an opinion and the French public would certainly not be swayed by any prosecution.
“I will go to court with my head held high to explain to them that France needs people to tell the truth,” Le Pen said.
This defiance, Camus believes, is why the European Parliament has played into her hands.
“She will no doubt try to turn this to her advantage and make herself out to be the victim of some kind of plot between the mainstream parties, who have had her right to free speech taken away from her,” he said.
“If they really wanted to deal with Marine Le Pen it would have been much wiser for the mainstream political parties to just concentrate on themselves and on what they say. For example, the more the centre-right UMP party talks about Islam the more they give legitimacy to the National Front.”
Tuesday’s decision to strip Le Pen of her immunity comes at a significant time for the National Front, with just nine months to go before municipal elections where the far-right party is hoping to make significant ground on the mainstream centrist parties.
With a year to go before the next European elections, the National Front is neck and neck with the French Socialist party and the centre-right UMP with 21 percent of voting intentions, according to a survey by the Ifop polling agency.
“I think in the next elections the National Front could achieve a significant breakthrough. If they make agreements and deals with the conservative right in certain seats, then that will be a significant development, not only in France but for the whole of Europe.
“It’s too early to tell how the loss of immunity will affect the National Front at the elections but if she ends up being prosecuted for her remarks in the run up to the municipal elections, then I can really see her taking advantage of it.”
Not everyone agrees with Camus' view however. Lawyer Philippe Schmidt from the International League against Racism and anti-Semitism (LICRA) in France said the European Parliament had to set an example, no matter what the fallout.
"What Marine Le Pen said was disgraceful. When we take people to court as an organization we always ask ourselves: 'Is this person going to get publicity out of it and will they benefit?', but you cannot decide on these grounds," Schmidt said.
"If the person simply has to be prosecuted for what they've said, then that's the most important factor to consider, especially if it's the state that is prosecuting. The most important thing to consider is not whether she will be able to claim she is a victim but simply whether what she said was illegal.
"The European Parliament have sent the message that they will not tolerate this kind of speech. We have to be vigilant and make sure people who preach hate cannot just say what they want."