France: Police raid Marine Le Pen’s Front National party HQ in EU fake jobs probe | Telegraph

French police raided the headquarters of Marine Le Pen’s Front National party on Monday as part of an investigation into alleged misuse of European Union funds to pay parliamentary assistants. The European parliament has accused Ms Le Pen, a French presidential candidate and MEP, of paying FN party staff with EU funds which it says should only be spent on European parliamentary assistants. It has demanded Ms Le Pen pay back nearly €340,000 (£290,000) and, faced with her refusal to repay the money, has said it will start docking her salary in order to recover the funds. The search at the far-Right party’s headquarters in Nanterre, west of Paris, was confirmed by FN officials, who said it was the second time the offices had been raided. They accused the French judiciary of conducting a political smear campaign.

France: National Front Gets a Boost in French Regional Elections | The New York Times

Sunday’s election results changed the political center of gravity in France. Although President François Hollande has earned widespread approval for his handling of the terrorist attacks here, and Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor, is still pursuing a comeback plan to propel him and his center-right party back into power, the most significant political figure in France — some would argue the most powerful — is Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right. Ms. Le Pen led her far-right National Front to a first-place finish in the initial round of regional elections on Sunday, a huge step forward in her plan to transform a fringe movement into a credible party of government.

France: Far-Right National Front Gains in Regional Elections | The New York Times

The far-right party of Marine Le Pen was poised to make major gains after the first round of voting in regional French elections on Sunday in the wake of terrorist attacks that traumatized the country last month. When the votes were counted, Ms. Le Pen’s National Front party was pulling far ahead in two of France’s 13 regions and leading in four others. Trailing were the right-leaning parties, including the Republicains, led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Even further behind were the Socialists, whose best-known figure is President François Hollande.

France: Court annuls far-right’s mail-in vote to drive out National Front founder | The Globe and Mail

A French court on Wednesday annulled a special mail-in vote organized by far-right leader Marine Le Pen to try to end her father’s influence on their National Front party by stripping his title of honorary president. The court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre ruled that the vote by party members, currently under way, represents a breach in party statutes. The judge said that the mail-in consultation deprived Jean-Marie Le Pen of any means of expression. It was the second court victory in less than a week for Jean-Marie Le Pen, a co-founder of the National Front, and a setback for daughter Marine, the president.

France: Vote blunts rise of France’s far-right National Front | Associated Press

France’s governing Socialists never expected to do well in Sunday’s first-round elections, and their strategy worked just as planned: Their conservative rivals took first place. Before the elections for 2,000 local councils, the Socialists urged people to vote, hoping that turnout would blunt the rise of Marine Le Pen’s far right National Front, even if it meant Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP would be the victor. Initial projections gave the UMP party 31 percent of the vote compared with 24.5 percent for the National Front and 19.7 percent for the Socialists and their allies. Turnout was 51 percent, compared with about 45 percent in the same elections in 2011. With little air of a man in third place, Prime Minister Manuel Valls was the first to praise the far right party’s defeat. “This evening, the extreme right, even it is too high, is not at the forefront of French politics,” Valls said. “When we mobilize the French, it works.”

France: National Front Party Accepts Loan from Russian Bank | VoA News

The National Front in France has admitted taking a huge loan from a bank controlled by Russia. National Front leader Marine Le Pen announced last week that her party had taken an 11-million-dollar loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank. She made the announcement during a visit to Moscow. Her admission came as the French government delayed an agreement to deliver two warships for Russia. The French president’s office said the situation in Ukraine did not permit delivery of the warships, which carry helicopters.  The ships are being built in the port of Saint Nazaire. The National Front has campaigned hard for the warship agreement to be completed. The party’s Gauthier Bouchet spoke to VOA in October. “Our position is to protect our industry, to protect our right to trade with every country that we want.”

France: €40m of Russian cash will allow Marine Le Pen’s Front National to take advantage of rivals’ woes in upcoming regional and presidential elections | The Independent

The financial and political firepower of Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) is to be transformed by a €40m (£32m) loan from a bank with links to the Kremlin, it has been alleged. Ms Le Pen confirmed earlier this week that a Russian bank was lending her cash-strapped, far-right party €9m. This is part of a growing pattern of connections between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and far-right and Europhobic parties in the European Union. Ms Le Pen dismissed as “fantasy” a report that the €9m was the first instalment of loans totalling €40m which will allow her to mount an unbridled challenge to France’s mainstream parties in regional elections next year and presidential elections in 2017. However, other senior FN officials told the investigative website Mediapart that there was an agreement that the First Czech-Russian Bank would provide most of the party’s funding needs up to the presidential election in 30 months’ time. “A first instalment has been agreed of a €40m loan,” a member of the party’s political bureau told Mediapart. “The €9m has arrived. Another €31m will follow.”

Editorials: Ukraine’s rebels and the Eurosceptics: Potemkin observers | The Economist

Rebel commander Alexander Zakharchenko smiled only slightly on hearing that he had won this weekend’s elections in Donetsk, Ukraine (pictured). The results were never in doubt: Mr Zakharchenko’s nominal opponents openly supported him, and his face was the only one on campaign billboards. Nonetheless, eastern Ukraine’s separatist republics went through the motions of democracy, including inviting international election observers. Those proved hard to find: while Russia has said it will respect the vote, America, the European Union, and the United Nations have all condemned it. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe refused to monitor the elections. The European politicians who did show up to observe were drawn from a smattering of far-right parties, including Hungary’s Jobbik, France’s National Front, and Italy’s Forza, as well as a few far-left ones. While they may not have done much to legitimise the vote, their presence was significant as a marker of Russia’s growing relationship with Europe’s political fringes. The elections in the breakaway pro-Russian regions were marked by armed men standing next to ballot boxes and a disturbing absence of voter rolls. This did not bother the European observers, who pronounced the voting free and fair. Many of them had arrived in Donetsk with luggage bearing “ROV” airline tags, code for the Russian city of Rostov, where they had flown in before crossing the border by car into separatist-held territory. Russia has been courting European fringe parties for years, part of a multi-pronged strategy aimed at “undermining the EU project”, argues Thomas Gomart, a Russia scholar at the French Institute of International Relations.

France: Far-right National Front gains ‘significant foothold’ in French elections | AFP

French President Francois Hollande is set to take the axe to his beleaguered government after it suffered humiliating losses in local elections in which the far-right National Front (FN) made historic gains. The outcome of the first nationwide vote since Hollande was elected in 2012 was described as “Black Sunday” by one Socialist lawmaker. The FN won control of 11 towns and was on track to claim more than 1,200 municipal council seats nationwide, its best ever showing at the grassroots level of French politics and a stunning vindication of leader Marine Le Pen’s efforts to extend its appeal. It was also a night to savour for France’s main opposition, the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy performed strongly across the country, seizing control of a string of towns and cities, including some once considered bastions of the left.

France: National Front party wins bellwether by-election | BBC

A candidate for the French far-right National Front (FN) party has won a by-election in the south-east, amid signs the party is gaining in strength. Laurent Lopez won a seat in the Var regional council, defeating the centre-right UMP with 53.9% of votes. Speaking on TV, FN leader Marine Le Pen said the results showed “a real desire for change by the French”. The party, once seen as a pariah in French politics, has made significant gains in popularity in recent months. It has been expanding its appeal to disillusioned Socialist and opposition UMP voters with promises on crime and illegal immigrants. Sunday’s run-off poll was for a seat in the town of Brignoles, near Toulon. Observers say the FN win there suggests the party may make gains in the 2014 municipal and European Parliament elections.