Marine Le Pen’s niece backs far-right rival in French election

Move shows how control of France’s far-right is up for grabs amid rift in Le Pen family

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.

Ms Maréchal will appear at a rally for MR Zemmour on Sunday in Toulon, said people familiar with the matter, ending weeks of speculation about her intentions. The endorsement formalises a family rift that had brewed for years.

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 – Ms Maréchal was more conservative on social issues such as same-sex marriage and more liberal on the economy – and they also clashed on whether to build bridges with the traditional right.

The conflict led Ms 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 Mr Zemmour.

Presidential election

Against the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, French president Emmanuel Macron remains heavily favoured 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 Mr Macron, who is expected to formally declare his candidacy by Friday.

After early bursts from Mr Zemmour and conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse, polls show the race is back to where it started. Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen are predicted to go through to the second round, in what would be a repeat of the 2017 election. Ms Le Pen is polling at 17.3 per cent of first-round voting intentions, according to the Financial Times poll tracker, followed by Mr Zemmour with 14.2 per cent, and Ms Pécresse with 12.9 per cent.

Ms Le Pen and Mr 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.

Mr 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 unfavourable ratings than other candidates, especially among women. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022