PARIS (Reuters) - Criticism of the anti-euro stance of France’s National Front is growing among party officials, who fear the position is a key reason the party is failing to turn growing popularity into election victories.
The issue was to be discussed at a rare three-day strategy meeting of the FN that began on Friday, after the far-right party attracted strong support but failed to win any councils in two sets of local elections last year.
Since taking over from her father, Jean-Marie, in 2011, Marine Le Pen has reworked the image of the FN to make it more mainstream. The party has done better, election after election - in the first round. But it still loses in run-offs, and now controls less than a dozen small and medium-size municipalities.
Its protectionist, anti-euro policy appeals to some voters but puts off others, particularly older ones who are key to wining elections, analysts and some within the party say.
“I’d rather we kept the euro and worked on building a different Europe,” Gilbert Collard, one of two deputies backed by the FN in the lower house of parliament, told Le Parisien newspaper. “More and more people internally are on this line.”
Even Louis Alliot, Marine Le Pen’s partner, told Le Figaro last month the FN was too focused on opposing the euro and was neglecting other questions, especially from small businesses.
“Their concerns are very far from our discourse,” he said. “There are elements missing in our economic strategy.”
Under Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN was pro-business, anti-state and anti-tax. It has since become a protectionist, pro-public services party, largely under the influence of Marine Le Pen’s deputy, Florian Philippot, whose roots were on the left.
An annual TNS Sofres poll published on Friday showed that both the FN’s and Le Pen’s image had deteriorated, with 56 percent seeing the party as a danger to democracy - 2 points more than last year and back to a level last seen before Marine Le Pen took over the party.
While more than 50 percent backed the FN’s views on immigration, its euro stance was the least popular policy, the poll showed.
France is a founding member of the euro. While many blame the single currency for price increases, the poll showed only 26 percent want to ditch the currency and go back to the franc.
However, before the meeting, Philippot insisted the FN’s position on the euro would not change, despite the criticism.
“The FN’s stance is the one backed by Marine Le Pen, that is to say the end of the euro and the return to national currencies,” he told Reuters. “The FN is a pro-sovereignty party. One cannot cherry-pick sovereignty, you cannot be for it one some issues and not others.”
The party has already moderated its tone. Le Pen has said she would hold talks with France’s EU partners, organize a referendum on the euro, and not quit the currency unilaterally.
Analysts said addressing the issue was crucial at the meeting, which will discuss strategy for the 2017 presidential election.
“The euro is today the FN’s main problem,” said Gilles Ivaldi, a political science researcher at Nice University.
“But at the same time, that call to leave the euro is key to the FN’s radical image. It’s the only party calling for a euro exit, and that’s appealing to voters who want to give a good kick to ‘the system’.”
Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Callus