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France

Le Pen’s National Front fail to woo Britain’s Eurosceptics

© AFP

Text by Karen KISSANE

Latest update : 2014-05-04

Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, might have thought it a marriage made in heaven; it was she who this week proposed that Eurosceptics in Britain and France should unite as a bloc in the European Parliament.

But the groom stood her up; Britain’s Nigel Farage, leader of the UKIP party, declined her hand, and his party issued a statement citing the reason as Front National (FN) ''prejudice and anti-Semitism''.

Le Pen had said she would welcome ''with open arms'' a coalition with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the European Parliament, ''as long as it’s in the interest of the European people for us to join together in a common project to fight the European Union''.

Le Pen said that although there were strategic or tactical differences between the two parties, Farrage was ''undoubtedly a charismatic leader'' and there were obvious similarities in in the party’s policies, such as a ''refusal of massive immigration'' and ''people’s freedom to decide for themselves'' - as well as Euroscepticism.

''People have progressively realised the EU has brought them nothing but unhappiness, devastation, identity loss and unprotected frontiers,'' she told BBC’s Newsnight programme on Thursday. ''If (Farage) understood how serious the EU’s situation is, he would support the reunion of all patriotic movements.''

UKIP issued a blunt statement of distaste for the proposal, saying that despite Le Pen’s attempts to modernise the FN, UKIP was ''not interested in any deal'' because ''in the party’s DNA there is prejudice, and anti-Semitism in particular''.

Racist elements of FN

Le Pen’s father and the founder of the party, Jean-Marie, notoriously called the Holocaust a detail of history, and Marine has been trying to ''de-demonise'' the party by banishing open racists and anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim language. However, her efforts have been undermined by racist comments on the internet by some of her recent municipal candidates and by defectors who left complaining of racist discourse in party meetings.

In some of his own public comments, her fellow MEP Farage seemed to let Le Pen down more gently, saying he felt she had taken her party ''to new highs and is achieving remarkable things … I make no bones about it, she’s got some good qualities''.

The policies of both parties are designed to harness popular dislike of the EU, nationalistic anti-immigration sentiment and widespread disenchantment with established politics. Both parties are on a roll with voters, with UKIP registering its highest ever standing of 20 per cent in an opinion poll this month, and Le Pen’s FN celebrating its biggest victory ever in French local elections in March with 12 mayoralties and more than 1000 council seats.

Key European elections

But in the run-up to elections for the European Parliament in May, Farage has chosen instead to link up with another and much smaller French party, Debout la Republique (''Stand up, the republic!'', or DLR). Farage made a triumphant appearance on stage in Paris last week at the launch of the Euro 2014 campaign of DLR’s leader, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, with the crowd roaring “Nigel! Nigel!”

Farage told the gathering he had chosen DLR over Le Pen because Eurosceptics had to show the world that they were not political extremists and that wanting national sovereignty and one’s own currency were normal aspirations. He said the FN had too much political baggage and could never free itself of its anti-Semitic past.

Le Pen had been hoping to attract kindred far-right parties from across Europe in a broad alliance aimed at uniting in the European Parliament to highlight their political aims and to weaken the existence of the EU from within. The voting for the 751-seat European Parliament, based in Strasbourg in eastern France, takes place in each of the EU’s 28 member states over four days from May 22 .

Her party currently holds three seats, one of them hers. She has ruled out Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik as potential partners but last November she linked up with the anti-EU, anti-Islam Party for Freedom in the Netherlands led by Geert Wilders.

Le Pen said of Farage’s decision to throw her over for the DLR, ''Nigel Farage appears to have chosen to campaign along with a candidate who reaches scores of 1 percent in France. I am still wondering why he made that choice, as Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s political choices are very close to ours.''

Le Pen attacks Farage

Initially, she said the door was still open for Farage, and if he decided he did want to collaborate, she would rise ''above personal considerations''. But by Sunday, she had taken the angry path of a party-leader scorned. In an interview with Britain’s ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper, she accused Farage of slander over his party’s description of hers as “anti-Semitic”.

She said Farage had made "defamatory" and "extremely disagreeable declarations" in an attempt to boost his popularity and that he was not in a position to cast aspersions on others. "He is often reproached for the behaviour and comments of a certain number of his party members," she said. "Slandering your neighbour to try to make yourself look whiter than white, it's not correct. He's doing it simply for electoral purposes."

Farage, meanwhile, was battling renewed claims that he had in the past used the word “n***er”, an allegation he has always vigorously denied. But at the same time, a new opinion poll put his party in first place in one UK constituency, a first for UKIP, with 32 percent of the projected vote.

Le Pen’s presidential aspirations have not been dented by the setback with Farage. “We will be in power within the next 10 years,” she told the “The Sunday Times”. “It could be in three years or it could be in eight. Great political changes are on the way.”

Date created : 2014-04-19

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