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.
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.
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’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’s resurgent far right is vying for a shining moment this weekend, when the National Front is facing the Socialists in an election for a vacant seat in parliament. Sunday’s vote in the Doubs region is the first electoral test since the January terror attacks. It has raised political tensions as the nation waits to see whether the party’s anti-immigration message captures more hearts than the message of unity the French government is trying to preserve. The National Front’s candidate for the seat, Sophie Montrel, warns against the “Islamic peril” in France, while her Socialist opponent, Frederic Barbier, hopes to capitalize on the unity that bound the nation after the attacks on the satiric Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Kosher grocery store that killed 17. The trauma wrought by three radical Muslims boosted the sagging profile of Socialist President Francois Hollande. Since then, he has worked to limit a backlash against France’s 5 million-strong Muslim population and ensure that youth living on society’s margins become active members of French society.
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.”
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.
October in Kiev has brought a gorgeous Indian summer. The reprieve from autumn’s slow creep towards winter gives the city a feeling of hope as it prepares for parliamentary elections on 26 October. Ubiquitous political advertisements for the 29 parties running appear to indicate that change is coming. However, a deeper look at the socio-political environment in Kiev suggests that this picture of progress may be a façade. For most Ukrainians, the optimistic political advertisements (which were almost completely absent during the presidential election in May) contrast sharply with their own experiences. The war in Donbass and the worsening economic and social situation are likely to bring more people to parliament with no appetite for dialogue. Rather, many will want to fight — literally — for what they believe is right. Petro Poroshenko’s bloc “party of peace” is the darling of pre-election polls. Ukraine’s president has designed the bloc, which has been campaigning in the name of unity, to include civil activists, soldiers fighting in Donbass, oligarchs’ proxies, traditional regional power brokers and former Party of Regions lawmakers.
The European Parliament elections and the vote for a new president in Ukraine dominate the agenda this week. Voters in The Netherlands and the UK begin the EP election process on Thursday (22 May), followed by the Czech Republic and Ireland on Friday, four more countries (Italy, Malta, Slovakia, and Lithuania) on Saturday and the rest on Sunday. The results are due at 11pm Brussels time on Sunday. The latest poll, by TNS, indicates the centre-right EPP will slightly increase its lead over the centre-left S&D and that the Liberal group will shrink. Polls also indicate that the number of populist, anti-EU MEPs of various stripes will grow, with the eurosceptic Ukip and the far-right National Front set to become the leading EU parties in the UK and France, respectively. Also on Sunday, Ukrainians will vote for their new president under the eyes of more than 1,000 OSCE monitors, the largest ever election mission by the Vienna-based multilateral body.
Elections for the European Parliament, to be held later next month, will give EU citizens an opportunity to have an impact on EU policies in the next five years. Elections will be held in all 28 member-countries on May 22-25, and 751 MEPs will be elected for a term of five years.Croatian citizens will elect 11 MEPs, one less than has been the case so far because the number of MEPs will be reduced from 766 to 751. They will, however, elect them for the first time for a full, five-year term.In the May 22-25 elections, close to 400 million EU voters will for the first time elect indirectly, through the European Parliament, a new President of the European Commission. European political parties have for the first time nominated their candidates for EC President so as to attract voters and, by involving them more directly, strengthen the political legitimacy of the EP and the EC. When nominating candidates for the post of EC President, the European Council will for the first time have to take into account election results. MEPs will appoint the new EC President by an absolute majority vote based on the European Council’s nomination, EP Secretary-General Klaus Welle has said.
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.
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.