The former leader of France’s Front National (FN) political party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, announced yesterday that he is suing the party he founded over 40 years ago. The MEP is contesting his suspension from the FN, now led by his daughter Marine, at a court in Nanterre, close to Paris.
Since winning the leadership of the FN in 2011, with her father’s endorsement, Marine has tried to take the party in a more democratic and traditionally republican direction to the nationalist path it previously followed.
In doing so she has attempted to rid the FN of its racist and anti-Semitic image which has prevented it from achieving a breakthrough to more widespread electoral support. The reforms are seen as part of her plans to stand at the next French presidential election in 2017.
The Local reports that Marine’s efforts to modernise the FN suffered a major setback earlier this year when her 86 year old father repeated inflammatory comments he made in the past which were intended to play down the Jewish Holocaust. He described the gas chambers used in Nazi extermination camps as a mere “detail of history.”
In an interview he gave to the French nationalist weekly, Rivarol, Jean-Marie also said he thinks post-war governments were “too harsh” with France’s Nazi collaborator Maréchal Pétain, whom he has never considered a traitor, and that supporters of Pétain’s Vichy regime “have their place” in the FN.
In response to her octogenarian father’s comments Marine said he had “entered a spiral between a scorched-earth strategy and political suicide” and initiated moves which saw him suspended from the FN in early May. FN members will be ballotted on whether to scrap the role of honorary party chairman which Jean-Marie has held since his daughter’s leadership election.
Jean-Marie reacted angrily, describing his suspension as a “criminal act” and saying he wanted to disown his daughter ordering her to give up the name Le Pen. He also spoke of creating a new political grouping, not a party but “a formation that will not compete with the FN.” He explained that the new group would be “a parachute in case of disaster; a way of putting pressure to return to the political line that has been followed for decades.”
The International Business Times reported that it seemed by mid-May the family feud had weakened, with Jean-Marie describing his daughter as “a stand-up person, who shoulders overwhelming responsibilities.” That moment of détente has now passed, however, with Jean-Marie’s confirmation: “I am contesting my exclusion as a member.”