WASHINGTON (Reuters) - France should follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s lead and fight for “France first”, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, seen as a potential leader of France’s far right, told U.S conservatives on Thursday in her first public appearance in months.
The 28-year-old former lawmaker, granddaughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and niece of party leader Marine Le Pen, temporarily withdrew from politics after her aunt’s presidential election defeat last May.
But she has long been viewed in France as a possible future leader of the National Front, and the fact that she was a keynote speaker at a conference that both Trump and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence were addressing was widely commented on in French media as posing a challenge for Marine Le Pen.
“I’m not offended when I hear President Donald Trump say ‘America first’. In fact, I want America first for the American people, I want Britain first for the British people and I want France first for the French people,” she said.
“I came here today to tell you there is a youth ready for this fight in Europe today,” she told thousands of activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
Marechal-Le Pen, who is more socially conservative and economically liberal than her aunt, did not say if or when she was planning to return to an active role in French politics, instead mentioning her plans to open a management and political science school, which she said should train tomorrow’s leaders.
But the reception for Marechal-Le Pen, who has been praised by right-wing U.S. media such as Breitbart, was in contrast to her aunt’s visit to Trump Tower in New York in January last year, during the French presidential campaign.
Marine Le Pen, who has long aimed to burnish her credentials with foreign appearances, did not meet either Trump or anyone from his team during that visit and was photographed having coffee in a public area of the building.
While Le Pen has over the past months softened her anti-EU, anti-euro comments, Marechal-Le Pen lambasted the bloc, which she said was “slowly killing” ancient nations.
Blaming immigration and political correctness, she said in a speech delivered in English: “France is in the process of passing the eldest daughter of the Catholic church to the little niece of Islam.”
Marine Le Pen is hoping that a National Front congress mid-March will help her reassert her authority.
But in the complicated Le Pen family, whose rows have made French headlines for years, another possible problem for her is her father, who she expelled from the party but who said he would gate-crash the congress.
Meanwhile her niece told the activists: “Let us build on what you have achieved here so that on both sides of the Atlantic, conservatism may prevail.”
Writing by Ingrid Melander in Paris; Editing by Alison Williams