February 9, 2018 / 1:38 PM / 4 months ago

Le Pen family feud complicates French far-right rebound congress

PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen threatened on Friday to call on the police to help him get access to the National Front’s congress next month, setting the scene for a possible clash with his estranged daughter Marine Le Pen.

France's far-right National Front (FN) political party leader Marine Le Pen gestures during a news conference in Paris, France January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Le Pen senior, a National Front (FN) founder, and his daughter, its current leader, have been at odds for years, battling in the courts and in the media ever since she kicked him out of the party in 2015 as part of efforts to detoxify its image.

While the feud has calmed down, any new flare-up would be unlikely to help Marine Le Pen at a time when she is already struggling to recover from a disappointing performance in France’s presidential and parliamentary elections last year.

Marine Le Pen has said she wants the March 10-11 congress in the northern French city of Lille to allow the party to revamp itself to rebound, possibly even by changing its name.

FILE PHOTO: French far-right National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen enters his car after a demonstration near the statue of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) as part of the National Front's annual May Day ceremonies in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

“I will go with the help of police forces if needed,” her 89-year old father told Le Figaro newspaper, when asked if he planned to go to the FN congress despite the party saying he would not be welcome there.

On Friday Le Pen senior won in court the right to remain honorary president of the party, although the court upheld the FN’s decision to bar him from being a full-fledged party member.

FILE PHOTO: France's far right National Front party founder and Member of the European Parliament Jean-Marie Le Pen arrives to take part in a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

“My role as honorary president obliges me to follow what the National Front does and the congress is at the heart of the party’s activities,” he said.

His daughter did not react immediately to the court decision but the FN published a statement saying only full-fledged members who have paid their membership dues would be allowed to attend the congress. “Jean-Marie Le Pen will therefore not be allowed in at the Lille congress,” it said.

Opinion polls over the past months have shown Marine Le Pen’s popularity has taken a hit even among party members and that it is the far-left France Insoumise, not the FN, that voters now see as the strongest opponent of President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist government.

Marine Le Pen has said the party needs to learn from its errors and rebrand itself.

Her willingness to water down her opposition to the euro led to the eviction in September of Florian Philippot, who had been her closest aide since she took over the party in 2011.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Simon Carraud, Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Gareth Jones

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