French far-right seeks second wind at watershed conference

US President Donald Trump's former top strategist Steve Bannon will address a gathering of France's far-right National Front (FN) party on Saturday, just days after observing Italy's immigration-focused national elections.

"Let them call you racist", he told the crowd.

Bannon spoke at the National Front's annual convention in the French city of Lille after traveling through Europe in recent weeks for meetings with populist leaders of various parties.

"History is on our side", Bannon said to hearty cheers.

But the pair had a bitter public falling out and Bannon was sacked by the White House last August, though he continued to speak with Trump and tried to promote the president's agenda.

"It cares about one thing: Are you a citizen of the United States of America?"

The upcoming speech will be the second in Europe for former senior adviser to US President Donald Trump Stephen Bannon who recently gave an hour-long address to a fullly-packed arena in Zurich, Switzerland, saying that the rise of populist parties was a positive development.

At a news conference following the address, Bannon waxed lyrical about Marion Marechal-Le Pen, the niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, seeing a great future ahead of the "rising star". The proposal she plans to make at the party congress Sunday symbolizes the ongoing makeover to rescue the National Front from the political netherworld it plummeted into after Le Pen lost last year's presidential election to Emmanuel Macron. That figure presents a striking contrast with the 34 percent of the popular vote that Le Pen won in the presidential election, and her party can not be labeled the opposition.

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He called the Italy vote "an earthquake" that has boosted far-right movements across Europe.

Further humiliation is in store for the 89-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen when the party votes to strip him of his role as honorary president, severing his last formal link to the movement he co-founded and led for almost four decades. "Let them call you nativists", he said.

"You fight for your country and they call you racist. Wear it as a badge of honor".

In the presidential election, it appeared this strategy paid off, as Le Pen gained more than 10 million votes (33.9 per cent) in the final round, despite her freaky and catastrophic performance in a debate with Macron, which cost her support.

The congress would mark a significant break with Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front in 1972 and has called a name change a "betrayal".

The party canvassed 51,000 members previous year about the name change proposal and on Saturday it emerged that just 52 percent had voted in favour among the 30,000 who responded.

In French media, Jean-Marie Le Pen - noting that Bannon was widely perceived as the "most radical" of Trump's advisers - cast doubt on the value of his daughter's American guest. "It went from a party of protest first in its youth, then from a party of opposition to a party of government", Le Pen said on French broadcaster France 2.

An election next year for members of the European Union's lawmaking arm will be the National Front's first chance to test whether its rebranding strategy leads to a comeback. She bowed out of politics after her aunt's presidential defeat, but is expected to come back in a new role.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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