Before Marine Le Pen’s latest defection to far-right newcomer Eric Zemmour, her party accused a MEP of passing strategic information to her rival.
It’s a sign of the bitter battle that has raged on this wing of French politics since television pundit Zemmour entered the race to be France’s next president.
He is fourth in the polls and threatens to split the right-wing vote, cutting off support for Le Pen and right-wing candidate Valérie Pécresse.
In recent weeks, several politicians from Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), in particular, have defected to Zemmour’s campaign.
It’s an indicator of both infighting within his decades-old far-right party and hope that newcomer Zemmour can launch a more successful presidential bid.
Jérome Rivière, one of Le Pen’s MEPs who joined Zemmour, told Euronews he thought the television pundit had a better chance of winning.
“I realized that in fact the weight of the name of Marine Le Pen and the weight of the name of the National Rally were too great to overcome the bad reputation of the party,” said Rivière, who previously led the European parliamentary group. party.
Le Pen and Zemmour both want to drastically reduce immigration and prevent immigrants from accessing social finance, but have divergent positions on other economic issues.
Le Pen condemned the defections, telling Le Figaro it was behavior that “disgusts the French” and saying she has little interest in “little political games”.
“It’s consistent because these are people who since the start of the campaign have criticized me for defending the purchasing power of the French as a priority,” she said.
The last elected to leave the National Rally is Nicolas Bay, whom the party accused of “sabotage” before having the opportunity to defect to the Zemmour camp.
Bay, a former general secretary and deputy chairman of the party, said the suspension came as he called a meeting to discuss an internal party ‘crisis’, but it was rumored for weeks that he could do so. defection for the campaign of Zemmour.
In a message this week to party staff, the executive office of the National Rally wrote that attempts by “a handful of people to destabilize (the party) cannot taint the work done on a daily basis by elected officials and staff. movement”.
Those who left include four MEPs, a senator, a local elected official and Le Pen’s own niece, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, who is expected to join Zemmour’s campaign.
Le Pen told cable channel CNews in January that her niece’s choice not to support her in 2022 was “brutal, it’s violent, it’s hard for me.”
Bay announced on Thursday that he would join Zemmour’s campaign, saying Le Pen had unsettled his constituents by changing his mind on a series of issues.
He claimed that the accusations of sending strategic information to Zemmour were false and that he had sued for defamation.
Jean-Yves Camus, director of the Observatory of Radical Politics at the Jean Jaurès Foundation, said that among some National Rally politicians there is a feeling that this is the third time Le Pen has run for president. and that Zemmour has more than one winning call.
Although Zemmour is likely to face massive defeat in the second round of elections if he finishes in the top two, some believe he has a better chance of uniting the right, Camus said.
Regional electoral defeat
Rivière says the National Rally’s inability to win a single region in last year’s regional elections influenced his choice to leave the party.
Far-right candidate Thierry Mariani suffered defeat in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur region to the mainstream right-wing incumbent as the opposition rallied against him.
“Mariani came from the old (traditional) Les Républicains comme moi party, had a profile that should appeal to the broad-based right-wing electorate. But he didn’t win despite his best efforts,” Rivière said.
Le Pen worked for years to bring his movement into the mainstream with a campaign to “de-demonize” the National Rally, including changing the name of the political party founded by his father Jean-Marie Le Pen.
She expelled senior Le Pen from the party in 2015 for his controversial views which included minimizing the Holocaust.
But after the regional defeat in the south, many party members said the effort did not work.
MEP Gilbert Collard, who has since defected to Zemmour’s campaign, called the effort to de-demonize the party a “trap” after regional elections.
Le Pen’s effort influenced the party’s performance, according to the polls, with her likely to get a much higher percentage of votes in the second round against Macron, Camus says.
But this effort to bring the party into the mainstream “will not mean that it will be able to cross the 50% threshold”, he added.
“A reshuffling of the playing field”
Rivière, who reportedly had disagreements with RN leaders, became Zemmour’s spokesperson and says his candidacy is changing the election.
“It completely reshuffled the playing field because suddenly we have a different offer, much closer to all the subjects I fight for,” Rivière said.
He called Le Pen too left-wing on socio-economic issues, including retirement. She was previously in favor of lowering the retirement age to 60, but has now clarified that this will only apply to people who started working early. Zemmour wants to raise the retirement age to 64.
Erwan Lecoeur, a specialist in the French far right, told franceinfo last week that it was unprecedented to have 30% of voting intentions in the first round going to the far right.
“It’s the first time that there are really two important candidates on the right of the right,” he said.
Le Pen said there are big differences between their two campaigns, including that Zemmour is not “interested in social issues.” She says that in her opinion there is no “religious war” either.
Zemmour, on the other hand, supports a far-right conspiracy theory that non-Europeans will replace Europeans with mass immigration.
Republican candidate Valérie Pécresse drew heavy criticism after raising the same conspiracy theory at a major campaign event on Sunday.
French anti-racist organization SOS Racisme condemned its use of the term, saying the presidential debate had collapsed into “mediocrity, irrationality and violence” under the influence of the far right, in a statement published in several French newspapers.
The theory was referenced in the manifesto of the terrorist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.
Members of his party were quick to clarify that there is no ‘great replacement’ in which immigrants alter the demographics of Europe, once again trying to separate the right-wing party from the ‘far right.
His party has also seen several defections from both Zemmour’s campaign and incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.
For now, the three right-wing candidates are now neck and neck in the polls, about 10 points behind Macron, who claims to be centrist.
Every weekday, Uncovering Europe brings you a European story that goes beyond the headlines. Download the Euronews app to receive a daily alert for this and other news notifications. It is available on Apple and android devices.