SHARE
COPY LINK

CRIME

French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen in hate speech trial

The 93-year-old founder of France's main far-right party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, went on trial once again on Wednesday over allegations of inciting racial hatred, this time with comments targeting a Jewish pop singer.

French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen in hate speech trial
French founder of the Front national (FN) far-right party Jean-Marie Le Pen. Photo: JOEL SAGET / AFP.

He already has a string of hate speech convictions that eventually became too much for his daughter Marine Le Pen, who expelled him from the National Front’s leadership in 2015 in a bid to achieve mainstream respectability.

Le Pen senior, however, has continued to relish the outrage prompted by his statements regarding Jews, Muslims, black people and immigrants.

The latest trial stems from a 2014 video on the party’s website in which Le Pen railed against artists who denounced his extremist stances, including Madonna and French tennis star-turned-singer Yannick Noah.

Asked about the French singer and actor Patrick Bruel, Le Pen referred to his Jewish origins with a pun evoking the Holocaust — “I’m not surprised. Listen, next time we’ll do a whole oven batch!”

The taunt sparked a torrent of indignation including from leaders of his own party, with Marine Le Pen criticising what she called a “political error”.

Jean-Marie Le Pen claimed the comments carried no anti-Semitic connotations “except for my political enemies or imbeciles”.

His defence team argued in court on Wednesday he had been speaking figuratively, but prosecutors said there was nothing innocent about his words.

Judges said they would deliver a verdict on October 29th following the one-day hearing  where Le Pen – who did not appear in person – faced charges of inciting anti-Semitic hatred.

Challenges loom

The trial was delayed for years while Le Pen claimed immunity from prosecution as an MEP, a seat he won in 1984 and held until 2019. But fellow lawmakers stripped his legal protections over the case in 2016.

Le Pen, his daughter and others from the party – now rebranded the National Rally – are also facing financial misconduct charges over subsidies earmarked for paying their EU parliamentary aides.

Investigators say they used Є6.8 million in public funds to finance party work in France.

Despite the troubles, Jean-Marie Le Pen remains a regular media presence and a lodestar for many on the far right who brush off his multiple hate speech convictions – not least his repeated insistence that the Nazi gas chambers were just a “detail” of history of World War II.

His shock success in the 2002 presidential election – getting to the run-off stage before being defeated by Jacques Chirac – sent the left-wing Socialists into the political wilderness and proved to his supporters that a rightward lurch in France was possible.

But a new conviction could complicate the bid by Marine Le Pen to take on Emmanuel Macron again for the presidency next year, especially after the National Rally failed to take control of any French region in elections last June.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

French President Emmanuel Macron will get a taste of public resistance to his second-term reform agenda this week during the first nationwide strike called since his re-election in April.

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

The 44-year-old head of state has pledged to push ahead with raising the retirement age having backed away from the explosive issue during his first five years in power.

But having lost his parliamentary majority in June, the pro-business centrist faces severe difficulties passing legislation, while galloping inflation is souring the national mood.

Despite warnings from allies about the risk of failure, Macron has tasked his government with hiking the retirement age to 64 or 65 from 62 currently, with changes to start taking effect next year.

“I’m not pre-empting what the government and the parliament will do, but I’m convinced it’s a necessity,” Macron told the BFM news channel last Thursday.

With deficits spiralling and public debt at historic highs, the former investment banker argues that raising the retirement age and getting more people into jobs are the only ways the state can raise revenue without
increasing taxes.

On Thursday, France’s far-left CGT union, backed by left-wing political parties, has organised a national day of strikes, the opening shot in what is expected to be a months-long tussle.

Though the protests were originally planned to demand wage increases, they are now intended to signal broad opposition to the government’s plans.

“We’re against the raising of the retirement age,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT, told the LCI broadcaster last week. “The government’s arguments don’t stack up.”   

Unpopular

Public opinion towards pension reform and the strikes is likely to be decisive in determining whether Macron succeeds with a reform he called off in 2020 in the face of protests and Covid-19.

An opinion poll last week from the Odoxa group found that 55 percent of respondents did not want the reform and 67 percent said they were ready to support protests against it.

But a separate survey from the Elabe group gave a more nuanced picture. It also found that only a minority, 21 percent, wanted the retirement age increased, but a total of 56 percent thought the current system no longer worked and 60 percent thought it was financially unsustainable.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to work for longer, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they are not going to work for longer,” a minister close to Macron told AFP last week on condition of anonymity.

“Maybe I’m mistaken but I’m not sure that the turnout will be as large as the unions and LFI are hoping for,” he said, referring to the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) political party that has backed the strikes.

The second decisive factor will be how the government introduces the reform in parliament where Macron’s allies are around 40 seats short of a majority.

Some favour slipping it into a social security budget bill that will be voted on in October — a stealthy move that will be denounced as under-handed by critics.

Others think more time should be taken for consultations with trade unions and opposition parties, even though they have all ruled out working with the government.

Macron prefers the quicker option, one senior MP told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In both scenarios, observers expect the government to resort to a controversial constitutional mechanism called “article 49.3” that allows the executive to ram legislation through the national assembly without a vote.

If opposition parties unite against the measure or call a no-confidence motion in the government, they could trigger new elections.

The reform was “ballsy but dangerous,” one ally told French media last week.

Macron II

Success with the pension reform and separate changes to the unemployment benefits system will help the president re-launch his image as a reformer, experts say.

Since winning a historic second term in April, he has been caught up in the Ukraine war crisis amid reports the parliamentary election setback in June left him disoriented and even depressed.

“We’ve slightly lost the narrative of Macronism,” political scientist Bruno Cautres, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris, told AFP recently.

The challenge was giving the second term a “direction” and showing “how it builds on the results of the first”, he said.

“The essence of Macronism, which does not have a long history, is the leader and the programme,” added Benjamin Morel from Paris II university.

Since being elected as France’s youngest-ever president in 2017, Macron has made overhauling social security and workplace regulation part of his political DNA.

“Emmanuel Macron can’t easily back away from a reform because burying a reform, it’s like disavowing himself,” Morel said.

SHOW COMMENTS