PARIS French far-right leader Marine Le Pen called for an orderly debate on Monday as her National Front party launched an inquest into a disappointing election performance and a policy review which could lead to it softening its hostility to the euro.
A little over a month ago, the anti-immigration, anti-euro Natonal Front (FN) was dreaming of Le Pen winning the presidency and demanding a renegotiation of European Union treaties. But Le Pen was comfortably beaten by now-President Emmanuel Macron.
Her defeat prompted a public row between senior party officials, and more barbs were traded after Sunday’s parliamentary election which saw the party fall short of the 15 lawmakers required to form a parliamentary group, though it did quadruple its MP count to eight.
Le Pen told reporters in her Henin-Beaumont stronghold that the phase of “overhauling” the FN had started.
“I want this debate to be polite and friendly … I will demand that this be the case,” Le Pen said.
She expressed irritation at bickering among party officials, much of which focused on her close aide and deputy Florian Philippot, architect of her anti-euro economic policy that gives state intervention a big role.
“It was neither the time nor the place to do so, on social media networks, and therefore publicly, right in the middle of parliamentary elections,” she said.
The task for Le Pen is whether she can transform her party’s growing popularity into more votes and real power. France’s two-round voting system in both presidential and parliamentary elections has traditionally impeded the FN, which seeks a more proportional system of voting.
RIFT OVER EURO
Central to the party debate will be whether it sticks with its policy of calling for an end to use of the euro currency and a return to the French franc.
Polls show that most French oppose a switch away from the euro currency and Le Pen herself hinted she might soften her anti-euro stance, saying: “We need to ask ourselves what went well and what did not.”
The party will also be looking at whether it continues to follow a strategy of calling itself “neither Right nor Left” with both right-wing anti-immigration policies and left-wing protectionist policies.
Some party officials want to see the FN seek allies with other hard-right parties to try and break its political isolation.
The findings of the party debate, including a meeting of top officials in late July, will go to party members in a much-broader party congress, expected to take place at the end of this year or the beginning of next.
Philippot, seen by some within the party as exerting too much influence over Le Pen, failed to win his seat on Sunday and may now find his position imperiled.
Gilbert Collard, another close Le Pen ally, who was re-elected and has long pressed for the FN to drop its anti-euro stance, told Sud Radio that Philippot spent “too much time in the media.”
Philippot, who has said he will quit if the party drops its anti-euro policy, told BFM TV that the party had to avoid “hysteria”. None of Philippot’s closest allies won a parliamentary seat.
Another challenge for Le Pen will be how to handle her estranged father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The two have been at odds since Marine Le Pen ousted him from the party and then moved to bring the party closer to the mainstream, cleaning up its image as a xenophobic party under the former paratrooper.
He is expected to show up at a FN political bureau meeting on Tuesday, at which his daughter has said he is not welcome.
(Additional reporting by Simon Carraud; editing by Richard Lough and Richard Balmforth)