Five months after leaving Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front, Florian Philippot held the first congress of his Patriotes movement. He made his opening speech to a few hundred of the 6,500 members he claims.
Florian Philippot, member of the European Parliament (MEP) for eastern France and former right-hand man to France's far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen, held the first Patriotes party congress on Sunday in the city of Arras about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of the capital, Paris.
"We are building a new force, credible, working, capable of exercising power," Philippot said as he addressed delegates with a plan to stand against the FN in elections and lead France's anti-EU movement.
The 36-year-old also spoke out in familiar terms against migration: "Massive immigration can no longer continue," he said, "because it dries up entire regions, in the countries of origin, it is the opposite of the compassion that we owe to the poorest of all humanity."
The event was held five months after Philippot left the FN because of differences over policy towards the euro and other political issues. Le Pen has attacked the new movement and criticized what she described as Philippot's ambition: "Florian Philippot is not a leader; his movement will not exist," Le Pen said on Sunday.
The constituency of northwestern France is where Le Pen's primary stronghold lies. Le Pen has been a deputy of the National Assembly for Pas-de-Calais's 11th constituency since June 18, 2017. The city of Arras, where Sunday's congress was held, is within the department of Pas-de-Calais.
According to the far-right party's website, The Patriots want to follow in the footsteps of the UK and see France leave the EU, in what has been dubbed "Frexit."
Philippot said the party had attracted more than 6,500 members since it was announced in September last year. In comparison, the National Front claims to have more than 50,000 members.
Departure from the National Front
Philippot left the FN in September 2017, following a falling-out with its leader and failed presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen.
He found himself under pressure after his call for France to leave the eurozone failed to resonate with voters in the campaign earlier that year.
The FN has since held back on the issue of leaving the EU, and Le Pen has wanted to rebrand the FN by giving it a new name. Le Pen said the word "front" had military connotations, French news agency AFP reported.
Le Pen wants to free the FN of far-right associations. Her father and the founder of the FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was removed from the party in 2015 for continually dismissing the Holocaust as a "detail" of history.
He maintained his position as an honorary member, but a proposal to strike this role is also in the cards for an upcoming congress on March 10-11. He has promised to vote down any efforts to change the party name at the upcoming congress.