Le Pen Wavers on Euro as Parliamentary Election Looms

By William Horobin and Noemie Bisserbe Features Dow Jones Newswires

Opposition to the euro is wavering inside France's far-right National Front party due to infighting over whether its signature policy is to blame for Marine Le Pen's failed presidential bid.

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Ms. Le Pen's vow to withdraw France from the euro underpinned a presidential campaign that led her to the final runoff in the country's two-round election. Her stinging loss to Emmanuel Macron, who is unabashedly pro-European, has left party bosses pointing fingers. This week Ms. Le Pen waded into the debate, expressing concern that the anti-euro stance might hurt the National Front's chances going into legislative elections on June 11 and 18.

In an attempt to quell tensions ahead of the vote, Ms. Le Pen said the party would review its position on the European Union's common currency after the elections.

"This return to monetary sovereignty worries French people," Ms. Le Pen, who is running for a seat in the National Assembly, told French radio on Monday. "It will be a debate. We will have to open this discussion."

The party's soul-searching is a measure of how popular the euro remains in France despite searing criticism from economic nationalists and populists across Europe. Ms. Le Pen built her presidential campaign around the argument that the currency was stripping France of its economic independence, saddling the country with low growth and high unemployment.

Since the May 7 election, fissures within the party over the euro have risen to the surface.

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Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Ms. Le Pen's 27-year-old niece, said she was quitting politics two days after the vote. One of two National Front-affiliated lawmakers currently in Parliament, Ms. Maréchal-Le Pen had questioned the party's anti-euro stance. Her announcement, which cited reasons both political and personal, shocked many inside the party, who saw Ms. Maréchal-Le Pen as a future leader of the National Front.

"We need to listen to the fact that French people were not convinced by our arguments," said Nicolas Bay, the party's secretary general.

Other senior figures, however, say dropping the anti-euro policy would unravel the party's economic program of recovering full national sovereignty from the EU. National Front Vice President Florian Philippot, a leading euroskeptic voice, has said he would quit the party if it changed its stance. "National sovereignty isn't a salami," he said on French radio Tuesday. "You can't cut it into slices."

The conflict threatens to tear apart the party just as Ms. Le Pen is working to turn her showing in the presidential election into a springboard for the National Front to become France's main opposition party. Ms. Le Pen won 33.9% of the vote, the party's highest ever score in a presidential contest.

Opinion polls show the National Front is likely to fall far short of their parliamentary goal. According to a survey by pollster Opinionway, the National Front would win between 10 and 15 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. While a jump from their current status, that would still only give the party marginal representation.

Mr. Macron's party, La République en Marche, is expected to take the largest share of seats, with between 280 and 300, the poll shows. The second largest group would be the center-right Républicains, with between 150 and 170 seats, with the Socialists in third, with between 40 and 50 seats.

Opposition to the euro was a central plank of Ms. Le Pen's careful rebuilding of the party, as she shifted the National Front toward antiglobalist economic policies and away from the xenophobic legacy of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

During early campaigning, the stance helped Ms. Le Pen draw a line between her antiestablishment party and France's main parties, which embrace the euro. But as Ms. Le Pen sought to lure the support of rivals who had been knocked out in the first round of voting, that line was blurred.

After forging an alliance with nationalist candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Ms. Le Pen appeared to soften her opposition to the euro, saying leaving the currency was no longer a precondition for implementing her economic policies. Then, in a live television debate with Mr. Macron, she said she wanted to return to a national currency while keeping the euro for international transactions.

"We gave the impression French people would have two or three currencies in their wallets," said Mr. Philippot, "and that stressed everyone."

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 25, 2017 05:44 ET (09:44 GMT)