National Front in confusion after Paris attacks

Aymeric Chauprade, a National Front MEP, said France was "at war". [Screenshot/Youtube]

The National Front has struggled to take a united stance on this month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, expressing contradictory views on the situation. MEP Aymeric Chauprade was removed from his position of advisor to Marine Le Pen after publicly calling for the “de-Islamisation of France”. EURACTIV France reports

The recent terrorist attacks have changed the French public’s perception of their leaders: approval has risen from 19% to 40% for President François Hollande, and from 45% to 61% for Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

The head of state’s popularity soared after very publicly carrying out his role as head of the French armed forces, as well as bringing together 50 world leaders for the march through Paris on 11 January.

Conversely, the events appear to have overwhelmed the extreme right. The National Front, which won 25% of the vote in the European elections last May, has struggled to find a convincing, firm position on the subject of terrorism.

The slogan “Keep calm & Vote Le Pen”, broadcast by Marine Le Pen at 5pm on 9 January, with the police still engaged in armed operations against the two Charlie Hebdo attackers and the supermarket hostage taker, was not well received.

The question of the party’s participation in the march on 11 January, commemorating the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack, also caused a stir.

Marine Le Pen tried to cast herself in the role of a victim, claiming not to have been “invited”, before organising her own march in Beaucaire, in the south of France, which was considered something of a failure.

“We can see that the National Front is not comfortable, it has not been able to affirm its stance. The executive immediately found the right words and displayed strength in its actions and rhetoric, as did the opposition, with a thorough display of national unity. The extreme right, on the other hand, foundered by refusing to let go of its favourite topics, like the clash of civilisations,” said Bruno Cautres, a specialist in French politics at Cevipof.

MEP reprimanded over calls to de-Islamise France

Aymeric Chauprade’s anti-Islam comments put a new thorn in the side of Marine Le Pen, who removed him from his post as her “advisor on Foreign Affairs”. The MEP posted a video on the Internet on 15 January, recorded in the European Parliament building in Strasbourg and entitled “France is at war”, in which he stated that “the roots of violence and totalitarianism can be found within Islam itself”.

He went on to say that “we must take on the fight to de-Islamise France,” and elaborated on the theory of the clash of civilisations, saying that between 15% and 25% of Muslims, or “almost one million Muslims in France,” would be tempted by the forces of radicalisation.

Chauprade had previously found himself the centre of media attention over an editorial, in which he called for potential jihadists to be eliminated by the security services.

>> Read: National Front MEP calls for the ‘elimination’ of French Jihadists

Clashes of opinion within the National Front

This comes at a time when Marine Le Pen is trying to occupy a moderate position, diametrically opposed to that of her former advisor. Her calls for a differentiation between Islam and Islamism, in a New York Times editorial, published on 20 January, are part of her attempts to drag her party into the acceptable mainstream of French politics.

Far from denouncing the rhetoric of her colleague, the National Front’s only parliamentarian in France, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, recommended the link to a video of his speech to her 49,000 Twitter followers on 20 January.

An EU response to terrorism, essential for the medium-term

But for the National Front, the bumps in the road will not last. “In the medium-term, fear of terrorism could benefit the NF if France and the EU fail to respond, if the member states and the European Parliament continue to pass the buck over the PNR, for example,” Bruno Cautrès believes. The collection and sharing of information on air passengers has been the subject of heated debate between member states and the Parliament for several years.

>> Read: Donald Tusk implores Parliament to accept European PNR

Since Jean-Marie Le Pen established the French National Front in the 1970s, bringing together a wide range of extreme right political movements, the party has always been home to a number of very distinct movements.

The strategy of normalisation run by the party's current president Marine Le Pen is similar to the operation undertaken by other extreme right European parties, which call for a "chauvinistic" welfare state, which protects only one part of the population.

With one eye on France's 2017 presidential elections, Marine Le Pen is trying to distance herself from the racist language used by other European parties as well as some members of her own party. 

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