Anti-immigration candidate Éric Zemmour has won an important ally in his campaign for the French presidency – Marion Maréchal, the niece of rival candidate Marine Le Pen and granddaughter of the founder of France’s original far-right party.
The move shows how control of French far-right politics is up for grabs after decades of domination by the Le Pen family.
Marshal will appear at a rally for Zemmour on Sunday in Toulon, said people familiar with the matter, ending weeks of speculation about her intentions. The endorsement formalizes a family rift that had brewed for years.
Christèle Lagier, a professor at Avignon University who studies the far-right, said Maréchal’s endorsement was not likely to change the course of the election but it laid “the groundwork for the future and potential recomposition of the right and far-right”.
The 32-year-old was an elected member of parliament for the National Front from 2012 to 2017 and her popularity in the party led to a rivalry with her aunt Marine Le Pen. The two disagreed on policies – Maréchal was more conservative on social issues such as gay marriage and more liberal on the economy – and they also clashed on whether to build bridges with the traditional right.
The conflict led Maréchal to retire from politics in 2017 and she went on to found a private political science school in Lyon, although she remained active in rightwing circles and has long been close to Zemmour.
Against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron remains heavily favored to win and secure another five-year term in the two-round presidential election set for April. The main uncertainty concerns who will make the run-off against Macron, who is expected to formally declare his candidacy by Friday.
After early bursts from Zemmour and conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse, polls show the race is back to where it started. Macron and Le Pen are predicted to go through to the second round, in what would be a repeat of the 2017 election. Le Pen is polling at 17.3 per cent of first-round voting intentions, according to the Financial Times poll trackerfollowed by Zemmour with 14.2 per cent, and Pécresse with 12.9 per cent.
Le Pen and Zemmour have been battling it out on the far-right for months, and several high-profile defectors have left her camp since January, including European MEPs such as Nicolas Bay and Jérôme Rivière.
Zemmour, a veteran journalist who was convicted in January of hate speech, has enjoyed unexpected success for a political novice. But his harsh positions on everything from disabled children to feminism have left him with higher unfavorable ratings than other candidates, especially among women.
He recently said he did not want France to take in Ukrainian refugees because it would “not be good to destabilize even more a France that is already submerged by immigration”. Le Pen’s National Rally party criticized his position as too extreme, adding that it stood in “solidarity” with Ukraine, a “European country that is under bombardment”.
Lagier said Maréchal’s move was symbolically important but “will not likely change the game since many of her political allies and supporters are already with Zemmour”.
Maréchal did not respond to requests for comment, and it could not be determined what role she planned to play in Zemmour’s new political party or campaign, if any. The party, which is called Reconquest !, will field a list of candidates for legislative elections in June.
Le Pen said earlier this week that she did not understand her niece’s expected alliance with Zemmour. “It saddens me personally and leaves me perplexed. . . because I am the only one who can win against Emmanuel Macron. ”