French President Emmanuel Macron attacked his far-right rival Marine Le Pen for her links to Russia during a televised presidential debate on Wednesday, accusing her of being “dependent” on the Kremlin.
“You are dependent on the Russian government and you are dependent on Mr Putin,” Macron said, referring to a loan agreed by Le Pen’s party with a Czech-Russian bank which he said was “close to the Russian government”.
Le Pen replied that she was “an absolutely and totally free woman” and said the loan was a “matter of public knowledge”.
“It was because no French bank wanted to give me a loan,” she replied.
The exchange was the first major clash between the two, with Macron also highlighting Le Pen’s decision to recognise Crimea as Russian after the Ukrainian territory was annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.
“Under international law, we rarely recognise… territories that have been annexed by force,” he said.
Le Pen stressed that she was in favour of all the sanctions against Moscow announced since Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine on February 24, and she backed supplying arms to Ukraine.
“The aggression that Ukraine has been a victim of was unacceptable,” she said.
Le Pen created waves last week when she proposed closer ties between the Western military alliance NATO and Russia once the war in Ukraine was over.
She also reaffirmed her intention of repeating France’s 1966 move of leaving NATO’s integrated military command, while still adhering to its key article 5 on mutual protection.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen proposed changing the name of her party to the National Union on Sunday as part of efforts to improve its image after she was re-elected for a third term as leader.
At a party conference in the northeastern city of Lille, the 49-year-old suggested scrapping the existing name of the National Front (FN), which it has used since 1972 when it was co-founded by her father Jean-Marie.
The switch is meant to signal a new beginning and a decisive break from the toxic past of Jean-Marie who has a long history of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
He was finally banished from the party on Sunday, marking the final act in a vitriolic and highly personal power struggle between him and his daughter who took over the party in 2011.
Le Pen said the National Front name was “associated with a glorious and epic history that no one can deny” but she said it was also an impediment that prevented the party winning power in elections.
“For a lot of French people, even those who are sincere, it’s a psychological barrier,” Le Pen said of the historic name, adding that it stopped people becoming members and casting their votes for her.
National Front members are to be asked to vote on the name change and she promised to abide by their decision.
Le Pen scored a lower-than-expected 34 percent as she lost to President Emmanuel Macron in last May’s national election and has since struggled to assert her authority after admitting to mistakes during her campaign.
She addressed the party faithful after being re-elected as their leader with 100 percent of votes on Sunday morning after standing unopposed.
– Bannon support –
The divorced mother of three won a major boost on Saturday from former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon who appeared alongside her at the National Front conference and told delegates that “history is on our side”.
Bannon’s appearance reinforced the links between the Trump campaign and France’s far-right party which hold similar views on immigration, Islam, trade, the European Union and Russia.
Trump came close to endorsing Le Pen as she sought to defeat Macron last year.
“Let them call you racists, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour. Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker,” Bannon told the audience.
The presence of the former head of Breitbart News drew a stinging response from Macron’s government.
“The king of fake news and of white supremacists at an FN summit… why am I not surprised?” remarked parliamentary affairs minister Christophe Castaner, who is also the head of Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move party.
“Change of name but not of the political line.”
– Name debate –
Le Pen’s bid to change the party’s name does not have unanimous support at the grassroots level and has been heavily criticised by Jean-Marie, who sees it as an attack on his legacy.
The party canvassed 51,000 members last year about the new name proposal and on Saturday it emerged that just 52 percent had voted in favour among the 30,000 who responded.
That compared with 90 percent of respondents wanting a referendum on continued EU membership and 98 percent wanting to cut immigration to France.
Speaking Saturday, FN youth leader Gaetan Dussausaye admitted the party had to “swallow its pride” as “the FN brand is still a block for voters”.
The National Front was co-founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 and led by him for nearly 40 years until he was replaced by his daughter Marine in 2011.
She attempted to banish him from the party in 2015 after he repeated his belief that the Nazi gas chambers were “a detail of history”.
The party voted to strip him of his role as honorary president on Sunday.
French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen was placed under formal investigation on Friday as part of a probe into the alleged misuse of European Union funds to pay parliamentary assistants.
Le Pen, who is being investigated for breach of trust, has previously denied any wrongdoing in a case that she has said is politically motivated.
The European Parliament believes the money went to National Front employees working for the party in France rather than those working for the party’s lawmakers in Brussels. Last February, Le Pen’s chief-of-staff Catherine Griset was placed under formal investigation by a financial court, while her longtime bodyguard Thierry Legier was questioned.
The formal investigation of Le Pen comes less than two weeks after she won a seat in the French National Assembly. She is no longer a member of the European Parliament.
Centrist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron extended his lead in the polls over his far-right rival Marine Le Pen on Friday, the final day of a tumultuous election campaign that has turned the country’s politics upside down.
The election is seen as the most important in France for decades with two diametrically opposed views of Europe and France’s place in the world at stake. Le Pen told RTL radio she was confident she possessed the backing of the people and that Macron’s programme was one of “social deconstruction”.
According to an Elabe poll for BFM TV and L’Express, Macron will get 62 per cent of the votes in the second round compared to 38 per cent for Le Pen, an increase of three points for the centrist candidate compared to his projected score in the last Elabe poll.
Macron’s strong showing in a debate on Wednesday and another poll this week that showed his En Marche! (Onwards!) political movement was likely to emerge as the biggest party in the June legislative elections have lifted the mood among investors who had worried about the upheaval a Le Pen victory could cause.
France’s Far-right National front (FN) party has suffered a shocking defeat in the second round of municipal elections after preliminary results showed that it failed to win a single region.
This means that the party has been beaten into third place, despite leading in six of 13 regions in the first round of voting.
Former President, Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right republicans are set to win most seats ahead of the ruling socialists.
Acknowledging defeat, FN Leader, Marine Le Pen, pledged to keep fighting. She blamed the outcome on the mainstream parties which joined forces to keep the FN from power, telling her supporters they had been “disenfranchised in the most indecent ways by a campaign of lies and disinformation”.
She had stood as a regional presidential candidate in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, while her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, was the FN’s candidate in the race in Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, in the south.
After both led with more than 40 per cent of the vote in the first round on December 6, the Socialist candidates in those regions pulled out so their voters could support Republican candidates in the second round.
The FN actually increased its votes in the second round to more than 6.8 million, from 6.02 million on December 6 as more people voted, according to the Ministry of Interior (In French). But the FN share of the vote went down slightly from 27.73 per cent to 27.36 per cent.
The Republicans increased their share from 26.65 per cent to 40.63 per cent and the Socialists from 23.12 per cent to 29.14 per cent.
The overall turnout increased from 22.6 million on December 6 to 26.2 million on Sunday. Sunday’s figures were based on a count of 98 per cent of votes so far.