Marine Le Pen steps down as leader of France’s Front National

By    Henry Samuel, Paris Peter Foster, Europe Editor , http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/24/marine-le-pen-steps-leader-frances-front-national-bid-widen/ 24 April 2017

Marine Le Pen announced on Monday night that she was temporarily stepping down as head of France’s Front National party in a bid to widen her appeal ahead of next month’s presidential election run-off.

The far-Right candidate will face Emmanuel Macron, the centrist, on May 7 with the country divided as never before over Europe.

By distancing herself from the party founded by her father in 1972, Ms Le Pen hoped to reach out to potential voters who backed the Eurosceptic and protectionist far-Left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélénchon, and François Fillon, the defeated conservative, some of whose harder-line supporters could vote FN.

“I have always considered that the president is the president of all the French,” she said. “Under this banner, he or she must unite all the French.

“Tonight, I am no longer the president of the Front National. I am the presidential candidate.”

“I will be above partisan considerations,” she added.

Ms Le Pen had already airbrushed out her party’s name, and her own surname, from campaign posters in a bid to woo voters from the Left and Right, as well as in recent years “detoxifying”  her party’s racist, anti-Semitic image.

Sunday’s first round upturned France’s political landscape as candidates from the mainstream Left and Right were eliminated and the two finalists both claimed to be “anti-system” champions.

The final results saw Mr Macron, an independent centrist who created his movement En Marche! (Onwards) only a year ago, take pole position on 
 24.01 per cent, with Ms Le Pen of the far-Right Front National second on 21.3 per cent.

François Fillon, the conservative runner, was a close third on 20.01 per cent, just ahead of Communist-backed Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 19.58 per cent, while Benoît Hamon, the official candidate of the ruling Socialist Party, came fifth on just 6.36 per cent.

A startling electoral map of the country showed Mr Macron as having come top in most of the départements, or counties in the West, while Ms Le Pen, was on top in most of the East.

Ms Le Pen scored very highly in rural and so-called “peri-urban” areas. She has pledged to protect “forgotten France” from austerity, globalisation and immigration.

Mr Macron romped home in most towns and cities with more than 15,000 residents with his “neither Right nor Left”, pro-European promise of modernisation.

“Emmanuel Macron attracted in his wake France that is doing well, an optimistic France, while Marine Le Pen has attracted the France that has been left behind by globalisation,” said Adélaïde Zulfikarpasic of BVA Opinion.

Mr Mélenchon also fared well in some big cities, such as Marseille and Lille.

For Jacques Lévy from the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, the map of the Le Pen vote almost mirrors that of the “no” vote in the 1992 referendum on the Maastricht treaty and Mr Macron’s mirrors the “yes” vote, which just won the day.

Despite Mr Macron’s plans to “relaunch” the EU, the combined scores of staunch Eurosceptics Ms Le Pen, Mr Mélenchon and nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan add up to around 46 percent of the vote.

For Le Monde editorialist François Fressoz, the French have thrown out mainstream candidates in favour of a “new split” over Europe. French EU divisions were left to fester after the country rejected the 2005 constitutional treaty but subsequent leaders “behaved as if this consultation never took place”.

After Sunday’s “silent revolution”, she said, the match over Europe will finally take place over the next two weeks, coming to a head during a televised debate between the finalists on May 3.

Ms Le Pen, who reached the second round promising to quit the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership opened hostilities on Monday by calling Mr Macron a “hysterical, radical ‘Europeanist’.”

Europe’s political establishment also rushed to back Mr Macron yesterday, arguing that it had “no choice” but to support the centrist Europhile over a candidate hell-bent on the bloc’s destruction.

Putting aside convention, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, announced support for Mr Macron against Ms Le Pen.

The EU’s open support for Mr Macron, which contrasted with its efforts not to intervene publicly in last year’s Brexit referendum, was echoed in Berlin, Rome and Madrid.

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