Father-daughter feud splits France’s National Front

NY Times News Service, PARIS

Fri, Apr 10, 2015 - Page 7

Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, has openly split with her 86-year-old father and the founder of her party, calling his recent comments, including those on German gas chambers, “political suicide” and an attempt to harm the party.

In recent years, Le Pen, trying to clean up the image of her party as racist and anti-Semitic, has kept her distance from her firebrand father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his more extreme statements, even as he continued as honorary chairman of the party.

However, Jean-Marie Le Pen could not stay out of the headlines in the last week, once again claiming that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” in history, praising France’s collaborationist wartime leader, Marshall Philippe Petain, and questioning whether France’s Spanish-born prime minister was really loyal to France.

His outbursts appeared to be more than Marine Le Pen and her entourage could put up with.

In a statement on Wednesday, she said that she would block her father from running in the coming regional elections and that she was calling a meeting of the party’s executive bureau “to find the best way of protecting the interests of the movement.”

“The National Front does not want to be hostage to his crude provocation,” she said.

Marine Le Pen’s deputy and spokesman, Florian Philippot, wrote on Twitter: “The split with Jean-Marie Le Pen is now irrevocable and definitive.”

However, her father later responded via a statement, warning her against “a crisis that could have serious consequences.”

The family feud extends another generation to Marion Marechal Le Pen — Jean-Marie’s granddaughter — a rising star in the party, who attacked his gas chamber comments as a “useless provocation.”

What to do with the elder Le Pen has been a problem under discussion within the National Front for years, experts say. He founded the party 43 years ago and spent most of his energy running for president.

His daughter also has presidential ambitions, but she is trying to build a more mainstream party from the bottom up.

Distancing herself from her father, some experts say, will likely only do her good. It may also help her put some of the party’s more recent mistakes behind her.

Additional reporting by AFP