Thursday, 2 March 2017

FRANCE: Le Pen- Losing EU Parliament Immunity

The French political landscape is heading for some dramatic changes as Francois Fillon is pressured to drop off in the presidential race, following allegations of ''fake jobs'', Benoit Hamon's lacklustre campaign. Now ''Front National'' leader Marine Le Pen dominates the news for the wrong reasons.

The European Parliament has voted to strip Marine Le Pen, France’s far right presidential candidate, of her immunity from prosecution in a case relating to violent images she posted on Twitter. Voting in Brussels on Thursday, parliamentarians concluded that the Front National leader’s posting of images of executions by ISIS was likely to have violated “human dignity.” Ms Le Pen is under investigation by French authorities over the incident, which involves photos from 2015 showing the killing of three hostages.

Front National leader's, Marine Le Pen, tweeted the images with the remark “This is Daesh,” in an apparent reaction to comments made by an academic linking support for the Front National to the rise of the terrorist group. The investigation is unrelated to a separate probe into Marine Le Pen concerning allegations of having systematically misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Union Parliament. 

Marine Le pen's immunity shields her from prosecution. lifting it would pave the way for legal action to be taken against her. The offence being considered is ''publishing violent images, which under certain circumstances can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros. It is not the first time that Marine Le pen's immunity is lifted. Marine Le Pen's immunity was lifted before in 2013. She was then prosecuted in 2015 with incitement to discrimination over people's religious beliefs, for comparing Muslims praying in public to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Prosecutors eventually recommended the charges to be dropped.

In the race for the French presidency:one candidate after the other has stumbled. Nationalist Marine Le Pen campaign is the latest to come almost undone after the European Parliament lifted her immunity.  Currently, a big question mark is hovering over Marine Le Pen candidacy, who has looked until now one of the promising contenders. But the European Parliament vote ( stripping Marine Le Pen off her immunity from prosecution ), puts a gigantic stain on her white vest.

Europeans are keeping close tabs on France in this decisive election year, and the French are giving them plenty to watch. Two months before the final round of voting in the presidential election on May 7, a good portion of the political establishment has already been weeded out of the race. And it currently looks as though the purge won't be slowing down any time soon.

Right from the get go, President Francois Hollande's disastrous showing in the polls prevented him, the incumbent from running for re-election. His then prime minister Manuel Valls, also got derailed. The conservative Francois Fillon is under immense pressure within the his own party to drop off.

Now the slate of contenders has completely changed and is considerably more exciting than what had been anticipated only a few short weeks ago. France's third most popular sport behind football and rugby--that of calculating the probability of every possible ( and impossible) post-election coalition--has begun filling myriad columns and television programs.

Marine Le Pen has transformed the fascist clique surrounding her father into a modern party, the right-wing populist Front National, with her at the center. Yet even as she hits the stump, she is comfortably secure in the knowledge that she has the support of at least one quarter of the country's voters no matter what she says, and no matter what European Parliament might say about her. 

Indeed, a look at the line-up of candidates with two months to go before the final round of the election leads one unavoidably to the conclusion that the greatest threat facing Front National and Marine Le Pen is the party itself. The European Parliament vote, stripping Marine Le Pen of her immunity, could speed up prosecution case against the Front National leader in another unrelated allegations of misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Union Parliament, derailing her presidential ambitions.

Nevertheless, it remains unlikely that Marine Le Pen will become France's president. The polls may show her making it into the second round of voting, but once there, the current data also shows that she would likely be defeated by an opposing candidate, no matter who it is. At the moment, for example, polls show Macron getting 65 percent of votes in a run-off against Maine Le Pen. One of the certainties you can rely on in France is that Marine Le Pen is constantly seen as the greatest of two evils.

Still, the rest of Europe is gripped by a feeling of uneasiness as it looks to France in this decisive election year. People have not forgotten that it looked as though Brexit wasn't going to happen until the British actually did vote to leave. And in the U.S., there was widespread confidence, even a week before the election that Donald Trump wouldn't win. In France, the party primaries followed the exact same pattern, the favorites, praised by those in the Paris bubble and in the media, all lost. And outsiders won. Will that trend continue? We won't know until May

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Author/International Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: AFP photo of Madam: Marine Le Pen, au Salon de l'Agriculture, le 28 février 2017