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Trump election casts long shadow over France

November 18, 2016

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's chances of running for and possibly winning the French presidency in 2017 have apparently been boosted by Donald Trump's victory in the US. Other parties look increasingly alarmed.

Marine Le Pen
Image: Picture-Alliance/AP Photo/C. Paris

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the European Union could be in danger of breaking apart if France and Germany, in particular, fail to work harder to stimulate growth and employment and heed citizens' concerns.

"Europe is in danger of falling apart," Valls said at an event organized by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in the German capital.

"So Germany and France have a huge responsibility," he added.

Speaking during a visit to Berlin earlier, Valls mentioned that the two countries had overcome several challenges, such as tackling the refugee influx, a growing lack of solidarity between member states, Britain's looming exit from the bloc, and the threat of terrorism. He also stressed that the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's election victory in the US showed how important it was to listen to angry citizens.

Rise of the populists

Prime Minister Valls warned that French far-right leader Marine Le Pen had a chance of winning next year's presidential election. He said her image had also been boosted by Trump's victory and Brexit, strengthening her anti-immigration National Front (FN) party's standing.

Deutschland Manuel Valls Wirtschaftsgipfel der Süddeutschen Zeitung
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned the rise of populism across the world could have serious consequences for FranceImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. MacDougall

"All the opinion polls have the candidate Marine Le Pen making it to the second round" of the French presidential race in May 2016, Valls said.

"If she does make it to the second round, she will face either a candidate of the left or the right. This means that the balance of politics will change completely," he added. Valls stressed, however, that there were important differences between Trump and Le Pen, stressing that Trump was the candidate of a mainstream party.

Polls show that Le Pen would likely be defeated in the second round of the election in May if she faces a candidate from the mainstream right wing party, the Republicans.

The next French president

The Republicans are meanwhile gearing up to choose their candidate, having finished the last of three debates ahead of a first round of primaries to pick a nominee later this week. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing off against former prime minister Alain Juppe.

National Front expects huge protest vote

The Republican nominee is most likely to become the overall winner of next year's election. Sarkozy and Juppe are presently running neck-and-neck for the nomination. Former prime minister Francois Fillon is also in the running.

Fillon wins debate

Fillon was widely seen as the winner of the final debate, which took place on Thursday, before the vote on who gets the conservatives' candidacy in the presidential election, a poll showed. It's another upset for favorite Juppe, who has for months been ahead in polls. Whoever wins the two-round primaries on November 20 and November 27 has a strong chance of becoming France's next president.

Fillon saw his ratings suddenly start rising a week ago and was seen as the most convincing by 39 percent of conservative and center-right voters who watched the debate on Thursday evening, versus 26 percent for Sarkozy and 25 percent for Juppe.

"The French are proud and don't like to be told what to do," he said. "Don't be afraid to contradict opinion polls and the media that had decided it all for you ... Vote for what you believe in," he said.

A social conservative with economically liberal ideas who admires late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Fillon, 62, was Sarkozy's prime minister during his five years as president in 2007-12.

With current President Hollande's approval ratings having hit an all-time low, Manuel Valls himself is also suspected of having presidential ambitions, potentially challenging Hollande's candidacy for the Socialist Party. Valls is yet to confirm whether he will be running.

The Socialist Party wants to make sure it finds a candidate it can get enough votes for to send all the way to the second round of elections, which is a run-off between the two strongest candidates. The party last failed to do so in 2002, when the founder of the FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen, defeated the Socialist candidate, facing Jacques Chirac in the presidential run-off, who then won.

Further father-and-daughter FN drama

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen's father, had been ousted from the FN after a series of inflammatory remarks about the Holocaust. He had repeatedly claimed the gas chambers of the Nazi regime were a mere "detail" of history.

Front National-Gründer Jean-Marie Le Pen
Jean-Marie Le Pen's family feud with his daughter appears to have been largely resolved in a legal compromizeImage: Reuters/C. Hartmann

FN leader Marine Le Pen herself disavowed her 88-year-old father from the party last year, accusing him of "political suicide" and of allegedly tarnishing the party's reputation. Jean-Marie Le Pen sued against the motion; however, a French court on November 17 upheld the decision to strip him of his party membership.

At the same time, the court in Nanterre outside Paris also ruled that he should still be allowed to remain as the party's honorary president, forcing the party to invite him to all its leadership meetings. From now on, the FN will face a fine if it fails to do so. The FN was also ordered to pay the party's founder 23,000 euros ($24,500) in damages and fees, after his lawyer had asked the court for 2 million euros ($2.1 million).

The elder Le Pen meanwhile also said that he hadn't decided whether he would support his daughter's presidential bid. The party's support has only grown despite the family feud.

ss/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP)