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France’s far-right party on verge of split after election defeat

France’s National Front is on the verge of a split between its leader and her chief deputy, four months after a heavy electoral defeat.

Marine Le Pen said on Wednesday that her deputy, Florian Philippot, must decide between his party role and a think-tank group he has set up, which is focused on an anti-euro policy.

“I’ve asked Florian to choose. I‘m going to meet him. If he doesn’t accept (to choose), I’ll choose for him,” Le Pen said, adding, “He’s created a conflict of interest. If we can’t settle the differences, I’ll take the necessary decisions.”

Elsewhere in her remarks, she said Philippot needed to make up his mind quickly.

Le Pen’s relationship with Philippot, for years her closest aide, has become strained since she lost the presidential election to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

A rupture would mark an important change for Le Pen because she has for years defended Philippot’s anti-euro, protectionist line against critics in the party. She also built her 2012 and 2017 presidential campaigns on his advice.

Philippot, however, has been under fire in the party over its setbacks in this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. A graduate of France’s top ENA administrative school, Philippot has stood firm, maintaining that opposing the euro is a vote winner.

In the presidential run-off, Le Pen secured 34 percent of the vote against 66 percent for Macron, its strongest election performance but still a disappointment. In June’s parliamentary election, the National Front won only eight seats.

In recent weeks, Le Pen has increasingly distanced herself from Philippot, focusing on the party’s anti-immigration, identitarian roots in speeches rather than the party’s stance on the euro.

The departure of Philippot could be followed by others in the party with a similar profile walking out, depriving the party of figures who were key to policy making.

Le Pen and her party might, however, see long-term gains as his exit could enable her to reassert her authority and make it easier to shift policy on the euro.

Jean Messiha, who coordinated Le Pen’s presidential manifesto, said the party was in a difficult phase where it was adapting to France’s changed political landscape. “We need to get our act together and, most importantly, we need Marine Le Pen to reaffirm, to reassert her authority.”

French leader of the far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen, bottom right, delivers a back-to-work speech on September 9, 2017 in Brachay, eastern France. (Photo by AFP)

Europe learned lesson from Trumps win in US

Since the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, Western European voters have delivered mainstream candidates to office despite a post-November sentiment that an anti-immigrant populist wave was washing over the Western world.

The anti-EU Le Pen’s larger-than-expected defeat in elections was a crushing reality check for the far-right forces who seek to overthrow Europe. The right-winger wants to stop all Muslim immigration, ditch the euro and re-impose national borders.

In addition to France, far-right candidates in Austria and the Netherlands have also faltered. In Germany, the euroskeptic far-right party has already collapsed in last polls ahead of September elections.

Elsewhere in Europe, the euroskeptic Five Star movement, though not a far-right party, now tops Italian opinion polls ahead of elections that must be held before spring 2018.

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