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Is Le Pen the winner of the fight on the French right?

Though France’s National Front party is benefiting from the leadership crisis that has split the right-wing UMP, far-right head Marine Le Pen should not be celebrating quite yet. spoke to an expert for some insight.


“The [right-wing party] Union for a Popular Movement is dead,” Marine Le Pen, France’s far-right National Front party leader, stated recently.

Indeed, since the start of the crisis that has split France’s main right-wing party in two, Le Pen and other National Front heavyweights have made no secret of their satisfaction in press interviews and on social networks. But while the party is widely seen as the main beneficiary of the UMP’s implosion, Sylvain Crépon, a French researcher at Paris West University Nanterre and expert on the National Front, says the reality of the situation is more complex.

Here are highlights from our interview. Since the beginning of the UMP’s leadership crisis, National Front heavyweights have been aiming most of their attacks at Jean-François Copé. Strategically speaking, would they rather see François Fillon at the head of the party?

Sylvain Crépon: Because he has strived to move the UMP to the right, Copé has emerged as a rival for the National Front, while Fillon represents the wing of the UMP that draws a sharp contrast with the far right. That would explain, in part, the virulence of the attacks aimed at Copé over the last few days.

Still, the National Front’s strategy is contradictory. Political analysts have noted that elsewhere in Europe, whenever the mainstream right wing has hardened its stances, the far right ultimately benefits. In that sense, if someone like Jean-François Copé were at the head of the UMP, the National Front would not be undermined.

F24: Should we expect an exodus of UMP voters, and perhaps even local officials, toward the National Front if the UMP leadership crisis continues?

S.C.: National Front supporters and leaders are gleeful, because their party can now aim to become the principal opposition party against President François Hollande’s Socialists in the eyes of French voters. With a weak, divided UMP, Marine Le Pen has a way forward. If the UMP leadership crisis continues, leaving a vacuum on the right, one can expect to see Le Pen take on the role of virulent critic of the Socialist administration.

Still, it’s unlikely that local UMP officials will defect to the National Front. It’s possible that the National Front has seen an increase in membership over the last few days. But nothing indicates that the UMP has been haemorrhaging officials or members – especially since Copé’s strategy of shifting to the right seems to be popular among UMP members.

F24: What longer-term impact can the UMP crisis have on the National Front?

S.C.: Ironically, the UMP crisis Marine Le Pen has so been hoping for has come too early for the National Front to really get much out of it. If elections were being held in three or four months, they would certainly benefit. But the next elections (local) won’t be until 2014. The UMP is lucky in that sense, because between now and then its leaders can get their party in order.

On the other hand, if the crisis persists and results in a permanently fractured UMP, the National Front could draw some former UMP voters – or see them abstain from elections, which is also advantageous for the far right. It’s up to Marine Le Pen to show that she is capable of manoeuvring to her party’s advantage before local elections, especially in terms of forming new alliances. She has recently said that she would be open to welcoming various right-wing candidates – possibly including certain UMP mayors – into the National Front tent. If she attacks the UMP too much now, that could be complicated.

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