Marine Le Pen

Passing on the Right

Ms Le Pen during an election campaign event on Sept 6 2015 in Marseille, France. Source picture alliance / AP Images
Marine Le Pen at an election campaign event in Marseille in September. Source picture alliance / AP Images
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Under the leadership of anti-immigrant politician Marine Le Pen, a possibility after presidential elections in 2017, France’s role in Europe could dramatically change.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Marine Le Pen leads France’s right-wing, anti-immigrant party National Front and is among the most popular French politicians.
    • Ms. Le Pen is expected to run for president in France’s 2017 elections, in a bid to succeed President François Hollande.
    • Her party could grow in popularity following the Islamist terror attacks in Paris two weeks ago, which killed 130 people.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Marine Le Pen likes to speak in blockbuster metaphors. “For the French, it’s like in Titanic,” she says, “down on the second and third-class decks, they’ve already figured out what’s going on, but in first class, they hardly even see the water rising.”

If she’d been at the helm, you’re probably supposed to think, even the Titanic might have been saved. When she talks about European refugee policy, she says, “It’s Mission to Mars!” The underlying message: the refugees are a meteorite on its way to wipe out our highly developed civilization.

Marine Le Pen likes drastic images, because everyone understands them straight away. A blockbuster doesn’t have to be clever or subtle. It puts its money on special effects: that’s how it gets a big audience.

A typical blockbuster genre is the president film. In these films, the nation is always under threat, and there’s always a moment when the president addresses the people. That’s the kind of role Marine Le Pen is looking to play today.

It is Saturday, day 1 after the Islamist terror attacks in Paris, where 130 people were killed. Ms. Le Pen is actually on the campaign trail – there are regional elections at the beginning of December. The 47-year-old claims has suspended her campaigning, supposedly out of respect. She announced it on Twitter on the evening of the attacks. But the following afternoon, she is already giving a press conference at the party headquarters of the National Front. Through the camera, three French flags can be seen, arranged like a outstretched trident. Ms. Le Pen is there to be seen, too, on the podium. Stony-faced and deep voiced, in a statesmanlike tone: “My dear fellow citizens. We are living through a national tragedy. France weeps for its dead, and I also weep.”

“Marine Le Pen will be the next President of France!”

Le Pen Supporter, On Twitter

Her voice striving for gravity, she expresses her condolences to the families of the victims. She praises the selflessness and professionalism of the security services, as if they were working for her.

Marine Le Pen is already practicing what it is like to be head of state.

Her followers quickly got the picture. On Twitter, their celebratory notes stood out against the backdrop of mourning: “Marine Le Pen will be the next President of France!”

“The name of the next President is Le Pen,” tweets another.

There were similar comments coming from Germany too.

Marine Le Pen’s statement ended with a list of measures. She announces what needs to be done now: Win back control over France’s borders, no matter what the European Union says; Re-armament: build up resources for the military, the police, the secret service and the border police; Shut down radical mosques and expel any foreigners found preaching hate; Any Islamists with dual nationality to be stripped of French citizenship and expelled from the country; Deport all illegal migrants.

It is what she has demanded for a long time. But never have her demands sounded so completely up-to-the-minute. The election campaign isn’t over, it’s not even suspended.

The regional elections in December are also a rehearsal for the 2017 presidential elections. The latest polls, taken before the attacks took place, put Marine Le Pen in first place. She looks likely at least to make it to the run-off election between the top two candidates.

Looking at France from its neighboring countries now feels like looking into a crystal ball. Things seem to be taking place which could happen elsewhere in future: here in Germany, in a stable democracy, the protest vote is becoming the new normality. There is the Alternative for Germany and the right-wing anti-immigrant Pegida movement. In Italy, there is the Liga Nord, in Britain UKIP, in Denmark the Danish People’s Party, in Belgium the Vlaams Belang, in the Netherlands the Freedom Party. In Europe, being a right-winger has become the modern thing to do.

The Paris attacks could work like a fire accelerator. France could end up led by a politician who is somewhere between a right-wing populist and a right-wing extremist. This, in the country which saw the invention of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Marine Le Pen often speaks about the values of the Republic. But what does she mean by equality, liberty, or fraternity? Is she a normal politician, perhaps even a modern one? Is she a more bearable version of her father, a man convicted dozens of times, for racist and anti-Semitic statements, for assault and battery, for issuing death threats? Just the harmless daughter of a man who, as a Foreign Legionnaire, tortured prisoners in Algeria? Or is her modernity simply a trick of the camera, a special effect?

 

France president Francois Hollande meets in the presidential palace Elysee anti-immigrant politician Marine Le Pen National Front Jan 9 2015 Source picture alliance DPA
French President François Hollande invited Marine Le Pen to the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris to discuss the Islamist attacks on French magazine Charlie Hebdo in January. Source: picture alliance / DPA

 

Only a couple of weeks ago, Marine Le Pen stood before a judge representing the state which she aspires to lead. She wore a black trouser suit and, as she often does, short cowboy boots. Her footsteps echoed loudly as she entered the courtroom in Lyon and made her way to the front. The court was packed. She turned toward the gallery, letting her gaze pass over the crowded scene, over journalists with cameras and laptops, over supporters, opponents, police and bodyguards. She cried happily: “Oh! This reminds me of my youth!”

As a child, Marine often saw her father go to court for saying something illegal. Now, as a grown-up, it is her turn.

She had referred to Muslims praying openly on the street as carrying out an “occupation” of French territory. Occupation – in France, the word calls up traumatic memories. A people humiliated, ruled by Hitler and his henchmen. Every upstanding Frenchman and woman thinks: we must resist.

Several anti-racist organizations brought a case against Marine Le Pen on grounds of incitement to racial hatred, violence and discrimination. It could mean up to a year in prison and a fine of up to €45,000. A court date this close to an election: ordinarily, a politician might regard it as a terrible setback. But in truth, it couldn’t have gone better for Marine Le Pen.

The victim of disenfranchisement and bullying: this is the favorite role of all of Europe’s current batch of right-wing political rebels. Everywhere on the continent they are putting democracy to the test. Marine Le Pen regularly plays the part.

In the courtroom, she had placed a stack of files on the seat next to her. Her lawyer shook down his robe and straightened his neckerchief. The judge read the charge. And then Marine Le Pen let rip: “This is a mockery of a trial!”

“We have to be able to call things by their names.”

“What I said was political analysis.”

She made her “occupation” comment in the winter of 2010. Supporters of the National Front had gathered for an internal party event. At the time, Marine Le Pen was running for party leader, as successor to her father. Up until then, National Front politicians had made little effort to hide their anti-Semitism. Jokes about ovens and camps were normal in this milieu. At the party meeting, Marine Le Pen wanted to convince her party colleagues that anti-Islamism could be more productive than anti-Semitism. The attitude the party used to have toward Jews, was how it should now think – and speak – about Muslims.

With religious Muslims in mind, Marine Le Pen said “Sure, there are no tanks and no soldiers, but it’s still an occupation.”

Five years later, before the court, the prosecutor said the accused’s statement had been formulated with a lawyer’s carefulness. Indeed, Marine Le Pen used to be a lawyer. She had woven an important detail into her comments: the prayers on the street took place, she said, “in 10 or 15 places.” So it could not be claimed that she had targeted all Muslims. No incitement to violence could be shown, said the prosecutor. He had no choice but to ask for acquittal.

A “gigantic wave of migrants” is streaming unchecked towards Europe, Ms. Le Pen says. Terrorists have hidden themselves “among the 3 million who are coming.”

When Marine Le Pen left the courtroom, her supporters shouted “Marine, we’re with you!” and “France for the French!” Her opponents screamed back “Stop the provocation!” From the gallery, court clerks stood looking down on the spectacle, wearing their black robes and formal black scarves with a white pompom. An aging republic, elegant but ossified, deeply disturbed by a woman who is always willing to get stuck in.

A final judgment will not be made until December 15. By then, the regional elections will be over. The attacks will already be a month in the past, and presumably the country will be deep in a new discussion about how far liberty can go, how far it must go.

These days, to get to the Élysée Palace, seat of the French presidency, you have to pass through three security cordons. Steel fences, police cars and heavily armed police in bulletproof vests separate the presidential palace from the rest of the world. Many of the police have dark skin, their North African origin is clear. They are ready to give their lives for this state. And seeing them, it becomes very clear who are the opposing sides in this “war” that everyone is talking about. It is not Muslim migrants fighting against the French. It is religious extremists terrorizing the rest of the population.

In the inner courtyard of the palace, the gravel shines, as if someone had carefully polished every individual piece. The French president, François Hollande, has invited leading politicians from all parties to discuss the situation in private conversation with him. Every half hour, a dark limousine drives up. Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative leader of the opposition and former president, has already been here, so have the presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly.

Marine Le Pen is brought to the palace in a van with darkened windows. Even before the uniformed servant can open the door, she has climbed out and is striding toward the entrance.

For her, the Élysée Palace must be the embodiment of everything wrong with the French political system: a country ruled by a self-contained and self-satisfied elite, a country that has turned into a museum where no exhibit can be moved, where what is up stays up and down stays down. And yet Marine Le Pen is doing her utmost to some day live in this building. She was here in January too, after the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Once again, it is terrorists who have given her an entrée. She has never been closer to her goal than today.

As she leaves the palace, a smile darts across her face. It is quickly suppressed, but unmistakable. Now she is on the same level as the president.

After the Charlie Hebdo attack Mr. Hollande did not listen to her, says Marine Le Pen into the microphone. At least now, she says, he is closing the borders and wants an extended state of emergency. She allows herself to utter the sentence: “In principle, we are in agreement.”

And beyond principle: in practice?

A “gigantic wave of migrants” is streaming unchecked towards Europe. Terrorists have hidden themselves “among the 3 million who are coming.” The “suburban ghettos must be disarmed”: the basements of the banlieues are “crawling with weapons.”

Cécile Alduy, a professor of French literature at Stanford University, has analyzed the language used by Marine and Jean-Marie Le Pen. With the help of a computer program, she and a French colleague assessed more than 500 texts, written statements and speeches, dating from 1987 to 2013. Their algorithm worked out which words the two Le Pens have used with particular frequency, and what verbal creations they have come up with. The result of the analysis: Marine has invented a “new language between violence and euphemism.” A language allowing her to be radical enough to pass as a critic of the system, but normal enough to be a potential president.

 

Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen Nov 29 2014 at National Front party congress in Lyon before the two broke off relations Source AP
Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in November of 2014, before their relationship become hostile. Source: AP

 

Ms. Alduy says that, following the attacks, Marine Le Pen has a “very quiet, very moderate” air. But the moderation is calculated, she thinks. For decades, says Ms. Alduy, the father gave hate-filled speeches. On countless occasions, Marine Le Pen has announced that the country is close to civil war. “In the situation we have now, it is enough for her to make allusions. People already know what she really means.”

Decades of National Front demagogy can echo in a single word. Like “banlieue.” The banlieues are the suburbs which surround the French capital like a belt, where young second-generation migrants grow up completely without prospects.

The train of thought goes like this: banlieue – youths – migrants – Muslims – radical Muslims.

Cécile Alduy says: “Marine Le Pen knows how to walk a very thin line, she always speaks very precisely, so as to avoid prosecution.”

Among the new right-wing and populist movements of Europe – the Alternative for Germany, the UK Independence Party, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands – the National Front feels almost like an honorable old institution. It has been around for 43 years now. In the year it was founded, Marine Le Pen was four years old. For decades, her father, now 87, led the party. In 2011, he handed over leadership to his daughter, and become honorary president.

Marine Le Pen began to radically change the party. Her most important project: de-demonization. The party would no longer be a party of the extreme right, but instead something new: neither right nor left, a party anyone could vote for. Marine Le Pen announced she would sue any journalist who referred to the National Front as being on the extreme right.

The old man thought this softening was the wrong strategy. As long as he said nothing critical in public, this was no problem for the daughter. Then – only about six months ago – Jean-Marie Le Pen gave an interview to the extremist newspaper Rivarol. There, he repeated an allegation for which he had already been convicted and fined twice: he said that the gas chambers were merely a “detail of history.”

Marine Le Pen’s mother left the family when her daughter was still at school. Marine stayed with her father. Later she always called him the man of her life, as if she were a girl who didn’t want to grow up. Now she repudiated him. Since then, father and daughter have carried on their fight in the full glare of publicity. They put out press statements condemning each other, they write open letters, they take each other to court.

On May 1 of this year, at a party event celebrating the May Day workers’ holiday, Jean-Marie Le Pen stormed onto the speaker’s podium uninvited. An old man in a bright red coat, a bunch of lily of the valley in his buttonhole. He looked like an old hobgoblin. He stretched out his arms, clenched his fists and shouted something incomprehensible. His daughter stood next to him, aghast.

First Jean-Marie Le Pen had his honorary presidency taken away, then he was expelled from the party.

Many people are now calling Marine Le Pen a fratricide. But now that the weird old man is gone, the number of people who would consider voting for the party seems to have risen again.

If you phone the National Front looking to join the party, you will be put through to a woman with a Caribbean accent. This is Huguette Fatna. Lately, she has been very busy. The party is attracting more and more young people, more and more middle-class people, left-wingers and women. Huguette Fatna, bearer of the “National Front Flame of Honor,” gathers up this crowd of political homeless, an increasingly diverse group, of all classes and ages.

Huguette Fatna has curly black hair and dark Caribbean skin. She wears a sand-colored leather dress and shiny high heels in pastel colors, an attractive woman of 63. She describes the Le Pens as her family. Huguette is the godmother of one of Marine Le Pen’s daughters.

Marine Le Pen learned from her father's mistakes and knows that you have to hide your true goals, left-wing politician Caroline Fourest says.

It is September, and Huguette Fatna has agreed to a meeting in a hotel lobby. She sits very upright in one of the deep armchairs. Journalists often write something very different to what you say, is the first thing she says, as she presses the record button on her smartphone.

When Ms. Fatna joined the party in 1981, she was 30 years old and still living on the island of Martinique, one of France’s overseas territories. The National Front upholds the legacy of the old colonial empire, that was what made the party attractive to her, she says. In 1987, Huguette Fatna was a married woman with a child. Jean-Marie Le Pen announced a visit to Martinique, but then his airplane was denied permission to land. Ms. Fatna called the party to ask if one of the other family members might come: the main thing was the name “Le Pen.” The party leader sent his youngest daughter, then still a law student. Huguette Fatna showed her the island.

She has made many enemies because of her support for the National Front. Her marriage also failed as a result. You might say she fled to Europe for political reasons. At first, she moved in with the Le Pens, later she got a job with the National Front.

Ms. Fatna says that the Le Pen family feud is about jealousy. The father envies the daughter, now so much more successful than him. The media have refused to give him a platform, he is rarely interviewed. But his daughter can be seen on every media outlet. Quite simply: de-demonization is working.

It’s the Monday after the attacks, November 16. Caroline Fourest arrives at the cafe across from the Paris broadcasting studios in a rush, motorcycle helmet under her arm. Ms. Fourest is one of France’s left-wing intellectuals. She has to leave for a radio program soon.

“Today we fear above all extreme Islamism,” Ms. Fourest says. “But a lot more is on the line for our society.”

Ms. Fourest wrote a biography about Marine Le Pen. Ms. Le Pen sued her afterwards. It’s not an unusual incident; the party employs an army of lawyers. Ms. Fourest and her co-author won the case on most points. They had to change only a few passages about the separation of Ms. Le Pen’s parents, which were ruled to be libel. A fine was imposed.

A new of edition of the book was published with a few corrections. But the battle between Ms. Le Pen and her biographer had become personal. You can see how much they despise each other on live television, when they sit across from one another on political talk shows. Ms. Fourest considers the daughter Le Pen to be more dangerous and radical than the father.

“The father always said what he thought,” Ms. Fourest says. “That cost him his career.”

Marine Le Pen learned from her father’s mistakes and knows that you have to hide your true goals, Ms. Fourest continues. The daughter also knows how to take advantage of an exceptional situation, which is exactly what she will do after the attacks, the biographer warns.

 

Marine Le Pen in 2012 during the presidential election campaign Ian Langsdon picture alliance dpa
Ms. Le Pen during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which she lost to centre-left politician François Hollande.

 

Marine Le Pen has spoken often about how terrible it was to grow up as a child of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Classmates wouldn’t play with her. But above all, there was the bombing.

When Marine was eight, her parents’ house was attacked. The stairwell was blown out and she had to find her way out of her bedroom through smoke and rubble. She learned that day how politics can be violent. Only years later did she understand that a traumatic experience can look good on one’s resume: Marine Le Pen, the attacked, the discriminated. Her followers were able to identify with her that way.

The perpetrator of the attacks was never found, but the bomb was the reason why Marine Le Pen initially swore never to go into politics under any circumstances. She attempted to make a career as a lawyer, and even defended a young Algerian who had no papers, as Ms. Fourest explains in the biography. Otherwise her clients came almost exclusively from the National Front. Other people didn’t want to be represented by a Le Pen.

Ms. Le Pen realized that she would never be able to emancipate herself from her name. Frustrated, she switched to the legal department of the party. And that’s when she began to use the family name for her own ambitions. Caroline Fourest considers Marine Le Pen to be a bitter and aggressive person, hostile even to herself.

“She almost tortures herself,” Ms. Fourest says, “because she wants to achieve something greater than her father. That’s the reason why she wants to seize so much power.”

And that’s why she had to betray her father.

The house that Marine Le Pen and her father once shared is a wine red villa on the hills of the chic Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud. The villa is named Montretout, “show everything,” probably because of the brilliant view of the city.

It’s a palatial home with adjacent buildings, all located in an extensive private park. A cement manufacturer, who supported the ideas of the party, donated the estate to Jean-Marie Le Pen. The family had a new home after the old one was blown up.

Through the estate, a former legionnaire and small-time publisher became a man who had the financial means to support his crude ideas. And Marine Le Pen, who today presents herself as the defender of the have-nots, became a child from a rich home.

It’s the beginning of September. The barred entrance gate opens with a buzz and two black dogs storm forward, though they don’t make any noise. One is big and fat, the other is smaller and skinnier – both are frightening.

“You see, you received a friendly welcome,” says an assistant, whose hair has been cut so short that he doesn’t have a bald spot. It’s not clear if he means the dogs are just in a good mood today or that he was friendly enough to call them off. Inside, there are crooked lamp shades, cloudy crystal chandeliers and peeling paint.

Jean-Marine Le Pen, wearing a dark brown suit with a pocket handkerchief, receives guests in his office, a space that’s stuffed full of odds and ends – a telescope, books and model ships. As he begins to answer the first question, the assistant knocks: “Monsieur le Président, please come one more time.” Mr. Le Pen disappears for a couple minutes and comes back laughing.

What’s he so happy about? “About death,” Mr. Le Pen says. He can’t speak he’s laughing so much. Who died? Mr. Le Pen collects himself. “A despicable individual. Somebody who did a lot of bad things to me. But it has nothing to do with politics,” he says.

The ability to shock is one of the greatest talents of the Le Pens. Jean-Marie Le Pen can do it, his daughter Marine, and his granddaughter Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the new hope of the party. There must be something like a shock gene in the family.

Jean-Marie Le Pen blames the financial difficulties of the French pork industry on the increase in migrants.

Jean-Marie Le Pen says many vicious things during the conversation. He blames the financial difficulties of the French pork industry on the increase in migrants. It was wrong for the West to intervene in Libya, he says, because “when you step on an ant hill, you shouldn’t be surprised when the ants climb up your leg and crawl in your underwear.”

After this comment, he pauses for a minute as if to make sure the analogy between ants and refugees has been understood, and then says: “That will shock your readers.”

Mr. Le Pen is speaking on the same day that the photo of a dead Syrian boy, washed up on the beach of the Turkish city of Bodrum, is published in newspapers around the world.

A year ago, Marine Le Pen still lived in the villa at Montretout. She moved out after the two black dogs killed her cat, as reported by the tabloids. Instead of Marine, her niece 25-year-old Marion Maréchal-Le Pen now lives in the floor above Jean-Marie Le Pen’s office. During the interview, steps can be heard upstairs. “Marion,” says Mr. Le Pen, “holds back.”

Those who are close to Jean-Marie Le Pen say Marion is closer to her grandfather, while those who are close to Marine Le Pen say she’s closer to her aunt. The camps are still sorting things out, but they agree on one point: Marine shouldn’t be the last member of the Le Pen family to influence France’s politics.

Marion is a pretty blond women, the youngest representative in the French National Assembly, as her grandfather once was. She protested against same-sex marriage and listens to rap music. She mixes the traditional and the modern, which is already inspiring media fantasies. Who knows what will become of her one day.

Jean-Marie Le Pen seems a little tired now. He wants to go upstairs to Marion later and toast to her baby daughter Olympe, who just turned a year old.

Weeks later, the public will learn that tax authorities searched Jean-Marie Le Pen’s rooms in the villa at Montretout. This time, he was the one who was shocked.

During the weekend after the Paris attacks, the election campaign is officially put on hold and a period of mourning has been declared. Late Sunday night into early Monday morning, French warplanes bomb the city of Raqqa in Syria, the de facto capital of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.

That afternoon, Marine Le Pen also goes on the offensive. She issues a press release, calling on France to stop accepting all refugees. One of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks had apparently hid among refugees who entered Europe through Greece.

Ms. Le Pen invites the international press into her party’s headquarters in Nanterre. She waits on questions from journalists, who come from all the countries that would be left to sort out the refugee issue on their own, if things go according to her. It’s an election campaign through different means.

Nanterre is also in the banlieue, the Paris suburbs, though not as far out as the high-rise buildings where many migrants live. After the National Front won just 4.3 percent of the vote during the parliamentary elections in 2007, the party went through a financial crisis.

Banks wouldn’t lend the National Front money, and the party had to sell its headquarters near the Le Pen villa in Montretout. The party ended up in Nanterre, where dilapidated single-family homes stand next to modern buildings with gated entrances.

 

Marine le Pen during a demonstration in Paris on May 1 2015 Source Michael Bunel DPA picture alliance NurPhoto
Marine le Pen during a demonstration in Paris on May 1, 2015. Source: Michael Bunel / DPA / picture alliance / NurPhoto

 

Inside the National Front’s headquarters, there’s a blue-linoleum floor and worn-out seats in the waiting area, where a television monitor shows photos of Ms. Le Pen, barefoot by the sea and on a balcony during sundown. The photos resemble snapshots from a family album.

Ms. Le Pen’s office is on the second floor. An attractive young man and an attractive young woman, both well dressed and friendly, sit in the antechamber.

The National Front is a young party these days. Many speech writers are in their mid-20s and the party’s youth organization has 25,000 members. A student group was recently formed at Science Po, one of the elite schools where France’s political class comes from. Being young, educated and having right-wing beliefs is no longer a contradiction.

Marine Le Pen gives interviews in 10-minute intervals. She takes a deep draw from her e-cigarette, leans back and smiles her Marine-Le-Pen smile, biting her teeth together and opening her lips.

Why does she say her party doesn’t belong to the extreme right, when many of her demands sound like they come from the extreme right?

She shoots forward, her index finger pointing upwards: “Racism has no place with us,” Ms. Le Pen says. “We are great democrats and have never fought election results that weren’t favorable to us.”

She believes the real enemy of democracy is the European Union, which rules France through the European Commission, she says. “Only the French people can decide their fate, nobody else!”

And who belongs to the French people? According to Ms. Le Pen, “only those who have earned it, who haven’t committed any crimes, respect French culture and speak the language.”

But where would you deport extremists whose parents emigrated from North Africa and the Middle East 20, 30, and sometimes as long as 40 years ago, and who only have a French passport? Most of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks were French nationals. Where would they be sent?

Ms. Le Pen answers a question with a question, an old rhetorical trick: How do you know they don’t have a second passport?

It’s a long way from the suburb of Nanterre to the presidential Élysée Palace in the heart of Paris when it comes to her political journey. On the way lie the north-eastern French city of Strasbourg, where the European parliament has a seat and Brussels.

Marine Le Pen has been a representative in the European Parliament for 11 years, which she views as nothing more than a tiresome layover on the way to power. She harbors a deep hatred for the European Union.

Ms. Le Pen wants to reestablish national borders, the French franc and the autonomy of the French government. She paints a picture of a bygone golden era from which a shining future should emerge.

In May, during the first of many short and hectic meetings with Ms. Le Pen for this piece, her three assistants sat in the hallway of the European Parliament offices. When a guest isn’t there, they cram into her office, which is the size of a storage closet. It’s crammed full with two desks and a dresser that folds out into a third desk as well as a sofa, and two chairs for visitors.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, a new competition has begun. Who is the most radical in the country? It's no longer clear if the answer is Marine Le Pen.

During the first interview, Ms. Le Pen is still an independent in the European Parliament. She feels like a pariah among the other representatives. A parliamentarian who doesn’t belong to party gets a shoe box for an office and less personnel, less money and less speaking time

“They treat me as a second-class representative,” Ms. Le Pen complains. She gives hints and speaks of international negotiations. Soon, there are enough right-wing representatives to form a parliamentary bloc. The European Parliament’s rules call for at least 25 representatives from at least seven countries.

In June, they celebrate the founding of their bloc, Europe of Nations and Freedom, in Bar Général in the European parliament. Members include representatives from the National Front, the Austrian FPÖ, the Dutch Freedom Party, Italy’s Lega Nord, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Poland’s Congress of the New Right as well as representatives from Great Britain and Romania.

Ms. Le Pen’s office is now next to Manfred Weber, the German head of the conservative bloc. She has a say in parliament’s daily agenda and the allocation of speaking time as well as offices. Ms. Le Pen also has a spokeswoman solely responsible for international media – a red-haired woman, perfectly made up, with tight fitting jeans and high heels.

As the chairperson of a parliamentary bloc, Ms. Le Pen spoke during the October 7 debate not for a mere 90 seconds, as was so often the case in the past, but for a whole four minutes. Four minutes in which she could give her opinion in front of President François Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The two leaders had come to celebrate 25 years of German reunification, the Franco-German friendship and the European spirit. The show of solidarity was supposed to encourage the member states to address the refugee crisis together and divide the burden equally. The president of parliament spoke of a “historical moment.”

It was also an important moment for Ms. Le Pen. Her spokeswoman asks for patience after her parliamentary appearance. “She needs a minute to calm down,” the spokeswoman says.

Ms. Le Pen dictates to a man who hastily types into his smartphone. It’s the speech that she just gave. She repeats it slowly so he can type everything.

“Thank you, Frau Merkel, for doing us the favor of bringing your vice chancellor with you,” she says, smiling at the slight against French President Hollande. The spokeswoman hands the man a Cola Light and an e-cigarette.

“Mr. Vice Chancellor, I would have liked to call you monsieur the president of the republic out of respect for your function…,” she continues.

The man typing is not an assistant but Ms. Le Pen’s partner, Louis Aliot. He’s not the first of her men to have made his career in the party. Mr. Aliot sits diagonally behind her in parliament.

The National Front remains a family matter, even if seven rows now separate Ms. Le Pen and her father in Strasbourg. Jean-Marie Le Pen is now an independent. He wasn’t there when his daughter insulted Mr. Hollande and Ms. Merkel.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, a new competition has begun. Who is the most radical in the country? It’s no longer clear if the answer is Marine Le Pen.

President Hollande’s centre-left government has announced plans to deport radical imams and strip convicted Islamists of their passports if they have dual nationality. President Hollande has spoken of war, while former president Nicolas Sarkozy has called for “total war against terrorism.” Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative party colleagues want conspicuous radicals to be detained in internment camps.

There’s not much Ms. Le Pen can say to top such rhetoric. Even if she doesn’t become president, she’s already won. The terrorist attacks have made sure of that.

 

 

 

This article first appeared in Die Zeit. Elisabeth Rather contributed reporting for this story. To contact the authors: tanja.stelzer@diezeit.de or annabel.wahba@diezeit.de

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