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Marion Maréchal-Le Pen: ‘We’ve won the battle of ideas’

PARIS — In 2007, at age 22, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen became the youngest person ever to be elected to French Parliament. The niece of current presidential contender Marine Le Pen and the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, Maréchal-Le Pen is already the heir apparent to the National Front's political future and the darling of the global far-right. Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist, proclaimed her a “rising star,” and Sarah Palin disclosed a “political crush” on the representative from Vaucluse.

Seen as more of a political firebrand than her aunt — who has desperately sought to burnish the racist, anti-Semitic reputation of the National Front in advance of France’s pivotal presidential election — Maréchal-Le Pen is expected to be a force in French politics for years to come.

On the eve of the French presidential election’s first round — in which her aunt is expected to qualify for the runoff — The Washington Post sat down with Maréchal-Le Pen in her Paris office.

In your view, what’s the reason so many young voters are drawn to the National Front?

Our youth want French culture to be defended — and that includes our Christian roots, our Latin roots and our Greek roots. They do not want to see those roots disappear under the pretext that we shouldn’t hurt the feelings of some people. France, our social policy is so generous that so many young people have the impression of paying a lot to welcome all of the miserable of the world, when they themselves are already struggling to find a job, to make ends meet and live in dignity. That creates a huge feeling of injustice.

The Washington Post's Griff Witte explains how French youth contributed to National Front party candidate Marine Le Pen's rise in popularity. (Video: Sarah Parnass, Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post, Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

So it’s not just about the party’s economic promises?

The main concern for the youth is the question of immigration. They have the feeling of being deprived of their own identity. The multicultural model defended by our elite is a model that doesn’t work. This model is at the source of the development of terrorism and radical Islam. I think that’s what frightens them the most.

But France has been a multicultural society for centuries — and some would say to considerable success. What do you mean when you say, “The model doesn’t work”?

Today there is a phenomenon affirming foreign identities, because the elite has developed a feeling of resentment toward France. They’ve been explaining to the young generation of immigrants that France was all about colonization, slavery and collaboration during World War II. This is self-flagellation. Teaching this in schools creates resentment and rejection among young immigrants. We never gave them the desire to be French. They want to go back to their native culture, even though they are third-generation immigrants.

You keep mentioning France’s “Christian roots.” But strictly speaking, this is not a Christian country at all — it’s officially secular, and one of the most proudly secular countries on Earth. Why do those “Christian roots” matter?

France has been forged by 16 centuries of Christianity. There are no reasons to be ashamed of this legacy. I think it’s perfectly possible to be French and Muslim, as long as this legacy is accepted and there are no religious claims in the public space — in companies, in school. Today we have a phenomenon of radicalization where sharia is being applied in immigrant neighborhoods. Women’s rights are losing ground in those neighborhoods. And there are groups that are being more and more vocal in their claims. For example, companies where women go to work wearing the headscarf — they want to impose the headscarf in the working space. They want halal menus in schools.

Recently, quite a lot has been said about personal and political tensions between Marine Le Pen and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. How would you describe your relationship with your aunt?

I have a good relationship with Marine, although we don’t see each other often. I live in the south of France, she lives in the north part of France. She’s an elected member of the European Parliament, and I’m an elected member of the French Parliament. We do not work with the same team.

Would you say you are closer, in terms of your political views, to your aunt, Marine Le Pen, or your grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who co-founded the National Front in the early 1970s?

I am the political heir of Jean-Marie Le Pen. At the Front National, we all are his heirs. He was a visionary. He was right about a lot of things. I did disagree with him sometimes on politics. I never endorsed his provocations. I know what I owe him, and I know what I disagree about.

What about your grandfather’s infamous remark that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history — which he has repeated on several occasions? How do you respond to that?

I disagreed with Jean-Marie Le Pen about the gas chambers — I told him several times. I do not think he meant to harm anyone by saying that. He even apologized for saying it. But he made the mistake to repeat it. It’s a very serious topic, and it can be hurtful to say what he did.

Do you think your aunt will win the election?

Marine can win the elections. A lot of things that are happening in France prove that we are right. We won the battle of ideas. The majority of French people agree with us in all the major issues. Some events unlocked a psychological barrier. The Brexit proved we could question the European Union without provoking a crisis. Trump’s victory proved we could win alone against all. And then there was the victory of ‘no’ in the Italian referendum, and the final score of the FPO in Austria. All those events proved we are not alone — we shouldn't trust the polls.

Would you say you have a future in politics?

I do not have a specific political ambition. I’ll be where people need me.