(Euronews) Explained: how France’s newest party is copying Farage in a bid for Frexit
What has happened?
Florian Philippot, who quit as right-hand man to Marine Le Pen last year, has set up his own right-wing political party.
The new movement is called Les Patriotes (The Patriots) and it was formally founded at a special congress in northern France on Sunday (February 18).
His departure from Le Pen’s Front National (FN) has been acrimonious. Philippot has called his former employer “pathetic and stuck in the mud,” while Le Pen said at the weekend her ex-aide was “only out for himself”.
What does the new party stand for?
The crucial difference between Front National and Les Patriotes is on membership of the European Union.
Les Patriotes want France to quit the Brussels club, while Front National has softened its stance on quitting the Euro.
Le Pen’s policy shift came after she lost out to staunchly pro-European Emmanuel Macron in last year’s presidential elections.
Some experts have accused Philippot of copying and pasting much of Front National’s policy from his time there.
The party’s website has a 26-point policy charter that includes an aim to “strongly reduce” immigration to France.
It adds that being French should not be influenced by “a person’s beliefs, origins, skin colour or sexual orientation”.
There are also policies you might expect to find in the programme of a Social Democrat party, according to Dorit Geva, an expert on French politics from Central European University in Budapest.
For instance, the charter includes commitments to protecting the environment, promoting scientific research and fighting discrimination.
Why are comparisons being made to UKIP?
Geva told Euronews that Philippot had mimicked Nigel Farage’s success with UKIP in taking policies from the left and right in a bid to reach out to more people.
“I think he is trying to do what Farage did with UKIP,” she said.
“Also in the way that UKIP was seen as less extreme as the British Nationalist Party, for example, it’s a similar strategy.
“But I do think it shares similarities to Farage. Taking a bit from the left, a bit from the right and claiming that the old political categories are tired and irrelevant and we have to create a new political movement.”
What does Nigel Farage say?
Farage, who quit as leader of UKIP, came out in support of Philippot’s new venture in a video shared on Les Patriotes’ Facebook page over the weekend.
He said: “I’ve watched French politics and I’ve seen all sorts of shades of Euroscepticism over the course of the last 20 years.
“Never before have I seen a French political party clearly and unequivocally say ‘France should be an independent country that makes its own laws, controls its own borders and has its own currency’.
“Well that’s kind of changed now, hasn’t it? You guys are saying just that thing.
“I have the impression I’m the grandfather of the rebellion movement in Europe and all I can say to you is bonne chance (good luck), I’m with you.”
What does Philippot say?
“For our salvation, we need to leave the European Union, do a Frexit and not continue to make our compatriots believe that we will reform Europe and that we can make do with the Euro and Schengen,” Philippot told around 500 activists on Sunday.
“Patriotism is the future, patriotism is peace, it is unity, it is the historic opportunity to reconcile definitively what remains of the left and what remains of the right on one idea: France.”
What are the party’s prospects?
Philippot, who represents France in the European Parliament, has two other MEPs and one MP in its ranks.
It’s claimed the party has 3,000 members.
“It doesn’t look to me like there’s a lot of promise there,” added Geva. “I think it’s really hard to get voters excited and mobilised by economic policy. And a party whose central aim is to try to transform French economic and monetary policy (by leaving the EU) is not really going to get a lot of people out onto the streets.
“Frexit could [get people on the streets] but French voters are contradictory. There are certain fears around EU membership but there’s also a pragmatism and an understanding that in order to be a player in the global economy they have to plug their nose and accept this is a way for France to still matter globally.”
Where does this leave Front National?
“It leaves the Front National more vulnerable, with a faction having split off,” added Geva. “It has a long history of factions splitting off, so this is one more in its books.
“It has quickly reverted to looking like it did under Jean-Marie Le Pen, mainly concerned about immigration and Islamic extremism.”