French far-right party gets new name to boost its appeal

June 1, 2018
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French far right leader Marine Le Pen gestures as she delivers a speech to announce a name-change for her National Front party, in Bron, central France, Friday, June 1, 2018. The new name of the party is the National Rally, in a bid to more broadly embrace French voters ahead of next year's European elections. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

PARIS (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced Friday that the National Front party, founded by her father nearly a half-century ago, will now be called the National Rally, a name change that reflects the party’s need to appeal to a broader range of voters ahead of next year’s European elections.

Le Pen all but kicked off the campaign for European parliamentary elections next year with the move, as she also denounced the “arrogant tyranny” of the European Union and the “European oligarchy barricaded in Brussels.”

Under the new name, Le Pen’s goal is to rally people of all political stripes to a victory next year. The elections “can lead to a veritable European revolution,” she told the party’s political leadership at a meeting outside Lyon.

The name change is a “historic moment in the life of our movement,” she said, unveiling a logo that puts its traditional flames inside a partially closed circle to signify new openness.

Party members were asked to vote by mail on the proposed new name and 53 percent cast a ballot. She said that National Rally was approved by nearly 81 percent of those who voted.

Le Pen also hopes that the new populist government sworn in Friday in Italy will boost her anti-immigration party’s fortunes. Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s right-wing League party, which joined in a government with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is a friend of Le Pen.

“Nothing will stop the return of the people to the stage of History!” she tweeted in a bravo.

The EU, she said in her Friday speech, “looks like a sinking boat.”

The National Front scored higher in 2014 European elections than any other French party.

But the profile of Le Pen, a nationalist once at the center of France’s political limelight, has dimmed since she was trounced by pro-globalist Emmanuel Macron in France’s presidential election a year ago.

Le Pen’s niece, a rising star in the National Front until she abruptly left the party after the 2017 presidential defeat, also threatens to steal the thunder from her aunt’s hoped-for revival.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a former lawmaker, recently dropped the family moniker from her last name. Her political ambitions remain undefined but no one doubts she has them. She spoke at the annual conference of U.S. conservatives in February, taking the podium right after Vice President Mike Pence. In September, she is opening a school that teaches about French culture, political science and management in Lyon to train future right-wing elite.

Marine Le Pen has worked to remove the anti-racist and anti-Semitic stigma from the party co-founded by her father in 1972. She said at the party congress she now wants it to be viewed as a potential governing force, not just a protest movement. To make good on that, she formally severed all remaining ties to her firebrand father Jean-Marie Le Pen by eliminating his title of honorary president-for-life.

Marine Le Pen gave her father, and the hard-line far-right sympathizers he represents, a nod Friday, saying that the “emotional” moment “closes a chapter ... started some 45 years ago, but to better open another we hope will be no less glorious.”

The elder Le Pen, 89, was not happy with his daughter’s decision to rebrand the movement he started.

In a statement tweeted Friday, he said undoing the party’s identity is the “toughest blow” the National Front has faced since its founding.

Nothing good can come of “the shameful erasing” of the party’s identity, he added.