High stakes as Le Pen mulls booting father out

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen declared open war on her father this week claiming he was "holding the party hostage". Some analysts say she must exclude him from the party before the 2017 presidential elections. But can and will she she do it?

High stakes as Le Pen mulls booting father out
Will Marine Le Pen oust her father from the National Front? Photo: AFP

The crisis engulfing France's far-right National Front party deepened on Thursday, the day after it was plunged into an “unprecedented crisis”, as the leader Marine Le Pen described it.

She had just declared that she would oppose her 86-year-old father’s candidature at the regional elections later this year and accused him of pursuing a path of “political suicide”.

Marine Le Pen, who has worked hard to improve the image of the party since she took the reins in 2011 scolded her father for “taking the party hostage” through his "damaging" comments about everything from the gas chambers in World War II to defending the leader of Vichy France.

Although these type of outbursts were nothing new from the man who founded the party, it appears his daughter, who is two years away from the presidential elections, has decided enough is enough.

"She has to do something about him, there's no doubt about that now,” French political analyst Bruno Cautres from Sciences Po’s centre of political research Cevipof told The Local.

'Marine Le Pen may want me dead'

While some analysts claim Marine Le Pen’s public trashing of her father is just a media stunt to make her look better, others like Cautres say she must find a way of ousting him from the party if she wants to stand any chance of making the run-off vote in 2017.

But it won’t be easy, given that Le Pen senior is the honorary president of a party that he himself founded and can still rely on staunch support from some of the older militants.

And Le Pen himself is in fighting mood.

"If this decision were taken, it would be completely crazy because the prestige that I obviously still have within the National Front would provoke a considerable stir, and a loss of influence for her (Marine) that she probably doesn't gauge," he told TRL radio on Thursday.

"Marine Le Pen may want me dead, that's possible, but she must not count on my co-operation."

PROFILE: Jean-Marie Le Pen – France's far-right master provocateur

Even if she really wanted to expel her father from the National Front the waters are muddied given the fact he holds the title of “honorary president for life".

“The question of his exclusion from the party is a judicial one, which could end up in front of court,” Jean-Yves Camus, French political commentator and specialist on the extreme right, told The Local.

In the party’s constitution, nothing states that the honorary president is a role "held for life", contrary to what Jean-Marie Le Pen has often declared.

Le Figaro newspaper notes Marine Le Pen has said in the past she was in favour of removing this symbolic function, but it is not clear in the party statutes whether he can be stripped of the title of honorary president.

The party’s constitution also states a member can be expelled for “serious grounds”, without giving more explanation. It is only on this point that Jean-Marie Le Pen could in practice be kicked out of his own party.

It appears that it is with this in mind that Le Pen called an emergency meeting of the party chiefs on April 17th. 

On Thursday National Front party big wigs were circling the party's founder with two of the five vice presidents suggesting he should either quit or be kicked out of the party.

Florian Philippot, both a vice president and an MEP, said Le Pen senior should resign and refused to rule out officially excluding the party founder.

“He has very clearly distanced himself from the current party line. What’s the point of him staying in a party with which he doesn’t share the same ideas?,” he told RMC radio on Thursday.

And Steeve Briois, the FN mayor of Henin-Beaumont pointed out the party risks being accused of double standards after expelling members in the past who brought outrage against the party.

"We can't punish a militant who compared [Justice Minister] Christiane Taubira to a monkey and let Jean-Marie Le Pen do and say anything just because he founded the National Front.”

But French political analyst Professor Philippe Marliere believes Le Pen won’t want to give the media a field day and risk chaos in her party by kicking her father out.

“Jean-Marie Le Pen is 86 years old. He has no power in the party, ” Marliere told The Local.

“I don’t think she will want to put herself in the position where the party ends up in turmoil. He still has strong support among the old guard.

“She will probably reprimand him and keep telling him off as she does, but unless he does something completely absurd, then I don’t think she will kick him out."

Marliere believes it may be more beneficial to Marine Le Pen to keep her father within the party and within the reach of journalists' microphones so “she can continue to use him to show that her party has moved on”.

by Chloé Farand / Ben McPartland

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France’s far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France's far-right National Front party, refused to submit to police questioning last month as part of an EU funding inquiry, claiming immunity as a European Parliament lawmaker, his adviser said Sunday.

France's far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Le Pen is one of several party MEPs suspected of using European Parliament funds provided for assistants to pay more than 20 France-based party staff.

If convicted, the party could be ordered to repay €7 million ($8.2 million), and the judges pre-emptively seized the subsidies.

An EU tribunal has already determined that Le Pen must reimburse €320,000.

But when police from France's anti-corruption squad tried to question him last month at his office just outside Paris, he claimed MEP immunity and ordered them to leave.

“He was prepared to receive them, but they had such arrogant attitudes which Jean-Marie Le Pen refused to accept,” his adviser Lorrain de Saint Affrique told AFP, confirming a report in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Le Pen, 90, sits as an independent after being thrown out of his party by his daughter Marine Le Pen in 2015 for saying the Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail” of history.

He has also often made disparaging statements against Muslims and Roma which have earned him a string of hate speech convictions.

His daughter has renamed the party the National Rally in an effort to shed its xenophobic and anti-Semitic image.

The EU funding inquiry has led French judges to withhold €2 million of public subsidies for the party, a move which Marine Le Pen has denounced as a “death sentence”.

Without the funds, she warns the party will be bankrupt by September.