19 April 2017

The Guardian: “The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France”

Philippot was 28, studious and shy, the son of teachers from a quiet suburb of the northern city of Lille. A junior civil servant in the interior ministry, he belonged to the establishment detested by the far-right. He had never voted Front National, but he says that from childhood, he had nursed a passion for French national sovereignty. His parents had encouraged an early fascination with politics by taking him to watch electoral counts and to the childhood home of General de Gaulle. Philippot also had a visceral loathing of the European Union. Aged 11, he burst into tears when France voted for the Maastricht Treaty that paved the way for the creation of a single European currency. I was really young, but emotionally I’d understood that our coins, francs, were going to disappear and I found that really sad. It was a little irrational and emotional, it wasn’t very political, but I was interested in it. It was the first campaign I really followed, he told me.

Philippot later said that there were two key moments in his life when he cried – when his mother died in 2009 and his tears of joy when Britain voted to leave the EU.

To see something happening in a major European country, which is exactly what we’re proposing for France, we’re thrilled, he told me the morning after the vote. Brexit was a vindication of his own strategy. To radical right parties across Europe, globalisation was failing and the nation state was back.

Angelique Chrisafis

A little irrational?! Somewhat understandable for an 11-year-old, but you would think he has matured in the 20 years since – evidently not.

This is exactly the kind of perverted passions that fueled Brexit and Trump’s election: irrational emotions combined with little reasoning. It proved a good way to win elections, but unfortunately not a solid base for sustained governing.

Marine Le Pen with Florian Philippot
‘Marine Le Pen described their meeting as an intellectual love at first sight. Soon they were finishing each other’s sentences.’
Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images

Even if Marine Le Pen manages to win the upcoming French Presidential elections, I’m not sure she can implement her program of exiting the EU, because her party has a very small presence in the Parliament. So why is she even running? Just to stir negative feelings and boost her ego?

Still, the younger Le Pen’s rebranding efforts alone may not be enough. Dr. David Lees, a researcher on French politics at Warwick University, told me last November that though Le Pen’s outsider status has certainly helped her anti-establishment image, it could also pose a challenge.

“The FN has only got two members of the National Assembly in France… so if she does win, she wouldn’t be able to form a government”, Lees said. “She would find it very hard to govern without having any sense of support in Parliament. She just wouldn’t get anything through because the options of ruling by decree in France are very small for a president.”

Yasmeen Serhan

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