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Awkward anniversary as French far-right marks 50 years

France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen said her anti-immigration party was "ready to govern" on Wednesday as it marked 50 years since its founding, an awkward anniversary that has highlighted her troubled relationship with her father.

Awkward anniversary as French far-right marks 50 years
Marine Le Pen (L) and Jean-Marie Le Pen at the party's congress, in Tours, western France in 2011. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

The party’s financial difficulties and the continuing bitterness and rivalry inside the Le Pen family clan mean there are no major celebrations for the half-century landmark.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father and the co-founder of the National Front in 1972, has not been invited to a conference on Thursday which is the only event planned for the occasion.

“From a protest party, we have become a party that is ready to govern,” Marine Le Pen told parliament on Wednesday, with the reference to her father heading a mere “protest party” likely to further displease him.

“Today I wish to pay tribute to all of the activists that for 50 years have worked for the national cause,” she added.

After replacing Jean-Marie as head of the party after his nearly 40-year stint at the helm, Le Pen ejected him in 2015 as part of her strategy of cleaning up the National Front’s image.

Three years later, she changed the party’s name from the National Front to National Rally (RN) as a re-branding exercise intended to further distance herself from the legacy of anti-Semitism and racism associated with her father.

The move has paid dividends at the ballot box, moving the party from the fringes to the political mainstream.

At her third tilt at the presidency, Le Pen scored her party’s highest ever result in April, winning 41 percent of votes against President Emmanuel Macron who was elected for a second term.

Concerns about crime, immigration and the rising cost of living then saw her party increase its representation in parliament 10 fold in June elections to a historic high of 89 seats, making it the biggest opposition group.

“From hope to power, we continue!” the interim president of the party, Jordan Bardella, who replaced Le Pen when she stood forĀ  the presidency, wrote on Twitter.

Moderate image?

Many far-right MPs and senior party figures were reportedly reluctant to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Front (FN) at all, given the associations with Jean-Marie who is viewed as toxic by a majority of the French electorate.

The low-level event on Thursday was seen as a compromise and will focus on the party’s success in spotlighting themes such as immigration, Euroscepticism, job losses due to globalisation, and Islamism.

Jean-Marie is to host a garden party later this month at the family’s chateau outside Paris.

“Marine Le Pen says today that thanks to the FN of her father, questions such as the immigration and the dangers of globalisation have been debated, but at the end of the day for 10 years she has been wearing herself out trying to get rid of her father’s provocative image on every issue,” wrote political journalist Alba Ventura at RTL radio.

After the parliamentary elections in June, Le Pen ordered her new MPs to dress smartly for parliament and is determined to position her party as the most credible opposition party to Macron’s centrist alliance.

According to a major polling study published this week by Le Monde newspaper and the Cevipof political research group in Paris, the hard-left France Unbowed opposition group was seen as “too radical” by 53 percent of French people.

Only 34 percent thought the same of Le Pen’s party.

Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the far-right at the left-leaning Jean-Jaures Foundation, a think-tank, said Le Pen had partially succeeded in distancing herself from her father.

“It’s impossible to completely cut off one’s filiation and the RN can never escape history. But afterwards you’re not defined your whole life by your beginnings,” he told AFP.

If Le Pen become French president one day, it would mark a political earthquake for Europe.

“At some point, if you cultivate your ground for 50 years with a certain zeal, you could end up with the conjunction of a man or a woman and a moment,” Camus said.

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POLITICS

‘A good thing’ for footballers to express values, says France’s PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne - speaking in Berlin - said that footballers should be allowed to express their values, amid controversy over FIFA's stance against the 'OneLove' armband on the pitch.

'A good thing' for footballers to express values, says France's PM

“There are rules for what happens on the field but I think it’s a good thing for players to be able to express themselves on the values that we obviously completely share, while respecting the rules of the tournament,” said Borne at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Germany’s players made headlines before Wednesday’s shock loss to Japan when the team lined up for their pre-match photo with their hands covering their mouths after FIFA’s threat to sanction players wearing the rainbow-themed armband.

Seven European nations, including Germany, had previously planned for their captains to wear the armband, but backed down over FIFA’s warning.

Following Germany’s action, Wales and the Netherlands have since come out to say they would not mirror the protest.

Borne’s visit to Germany was her first since she was named to her post in May.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders signed an agreement for “mutual support” on “guaranteeing their energy supplies”.

Concrete measures outlined in the deal include France sending Germany gas supplies as Berlin seeks to make up for gaping holes in deliveries from Russia.

Germany meanwhile would help France “secure its electricity supplies over winter”, according to the document.

France had since 1981 been a net exporter of electricity to its neighbours because of its nuclear plants. But maintenance issues dogging the plants have left France at risk of power cuts in case of an extremely cold winter.

The two leaders also affirmed their countries’ commitment to backing Ukraine “to the end of” its conflict with invaders Russia.

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