Le Pen's Daughter Takes Over National Front Party
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
A far right party in France has a new leader and is seeking new political life. The party is called the National Front. Under its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, it gained support in the past with its attacks on immigrants and extreme nationalist views. Now the founder's daughter Marine Le Pen wants to move her party closer to the mainstream. Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.
U: (Foreign language spoken)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Marine Le Pen took the stage in triumph in January at her party's convention, standing next to her aging father Jean Marie Le Pen. He founded the party in 1972, and shocked the country when he reached the final round of the French presidential campaign in 2002. The party declined after that, but Marine believes she can lead it back to national prominence. She laid out her vision for the future.
M: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Prosperity, influence and French grandeur are within our reach, she told the crowd. Together we can resurrect the eternal France that has inspired humanity for centuries.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
M: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: During the last six months, as Le Pen has campaigned for the leadership, the party says membership has doubled. Twenty-eight-year-old Marie Dubois is one of the party's new members.
M: (Through translator) With her we can have a dignified presidential campaign. She's a bulldozer, but at the same time she has a respectable image.
BEARDSLEY: But the tactic backfired. The increasingly unpopular Sarkozy is accused of pandering to extremists and giving legitimacy to the National Front's platform. Now Sarkozy could see the far right eroding his support in the 2012 presidential election.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
BEARDSLEY: But Jean Yves Camus, an academic who studies the far right, says agreeing with ideas and voting for a candidate are two different things.
M: That's a big difference between the extreme right in Europe and, I would say, what is an acceptable arch conservative right in the United States is. In Europe the extreme right is dependent on the fascist legacy.
BEARDSLEY: Just recently, Marine Le Pen sparked a storm of protest when she compared Muslims who pray in the streets outside of mosques in France to the Nazi occupation during World War II. She made no apologies for her remarks.
M: (Through translator) There are some good polemics - like those that push the real issues the French are interested in to the forefront. No one wants to talk about these things, but I'm ready to kick the anthill, stir things up and make the political class confront these issues.
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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