Members of the European Parliament have revoked the parliamentary immunity of Marine Le Pen, the fiery leader of France’s far-right National Front, paving the way for her to face charges in her country for inciting racial hatred.
A majority of MEPs in Strasbourg voted yesterday (2 July) by raised hand in favour of the waiver.
French prosecutors opened a case against Le Pen in 2011 after she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France. The complaint was filed by anti-racism movement MRAP.
Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikström, who drafted the Parliament report on the case, had recommended that Le Pen should lose her legal immunity. The decision by the whole Parliament followed a similar vote in the legal committee last month.
Wikström said in a statement: “I am pleased that the European Parliament with a wide majority chose to follow my recommendation, namely to waive the immunity of Marine Le Pen. Now it's up to the French judiciary to try her case.”
The European Parliament is strictly neutral faced with such immunity cases, but MEPs may decide if there are sufficient grounds for rejecting or granting a judicial request for lifting immunity.
“With an overwhelming majority, European lawmakers have considered that her statements present no link with her European mandate, which is the only pertinent criterion for benefiting from parliamentary immunity,” said Marielle Gallo, a French MEP in the European People’s Party (EPP), the Parliament's centre-right political group.
The case against Le Pen relates to comments she made at a political rally in December 2010. "For those who like to talk about World War II, to talk about occupation, we could talk about, for once, the occupation of our territory,” she told French media. “There are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation all the same and it weighs on people.”
On Monday Le Pen defended the comment saying her only crime was to have “dared to say what the French think” and called the charges a “thought crime”.
“I will go to court with my head held high to explain that there have to be people in this country who tell the French the truth,” she told French broadcaster LCI.
If French prosecutors find her guilty, Le Pen could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a possible €45,000 fine.
Her father and predecessor as National Front president, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was convicted of inciting racial hatred and was stripped of his immunity for having minimised the Holocaust in 1998. He dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail” in Second World War history.
Marielle Gallo, a member of France’s centre-right UMP party said in a European People’s Party statement: “I am pleased with this decision by the European Parliament. It is up to the French judge to consider, in complete independence, if [Le Pen’s] comments incite racial hatred”.