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article imageAfter 35 years Jean-Marie Le Pen bids farewell to Europe

By Anne RENAUT and Clare BYRNE (AFP)     Apr 15, 2019 in World

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the father of France's far-right, will bid farewell to the European Parliament on Tuesday after 35 years of using it as a platform to bash European integration and immigration.

The 90-year-old, who co-founded and led the far-right National Front for 40 years before handing the reins to his daughter Marine in 2011, is one of the longest-serving members of the assembly, which meets in Strasbourg and Brussels.

In an interview with AFP in January Le Pen admitted he would have liked to run for another five-year term in May's European elections, likening himself with customary swagger to French playwright Moliere "who wanted to die on stage."

But while the curtain only officially comes down on his European career on July 1, Le Pen -- who has loomed large over French and European politics for nearly half a century -- plans to use the parliament's last plenary session to share some parting thoughts.

MEPs could be in for a rough ride.

Le Pen outside the European parliament building in Strasburg in 1984  the year he was first elected ...
Le Pen outside the European parliament building in Strasburg in 1984, the year he was first elected to the chamber
JEAN-CLAUDE DELMAS, AFP

"I hope that I will get at least a minute or two to tell my colleagues what I think of this institution, the way it has evolved and its programmed ruin," Le Pen, a fierce critic of free movement across borders and the euro single currency, wrote on his blog.

It is one of the great ironies of Le Pen's career that Strasbourg has set the stage for some of his greatest victories.

He was first elected an MEP in 1984, the first of seven straight European election wins, compared with just two years served as a French MP, from 1986 to 1988.

The year of his election to Europe was the year the eurosceptic National Front (renamed the National Rally in 2018) first made a big splash, winning over 10 percent of the vote in France to take 10 seats in the EU parliament.

In an interview with AFP he remembered it as his "first victory after a long period spent roaming the desert".

- Giant echo chamber -

The European Parliament acted as a giant echo chamber for Le Pen's ideas and allowed him to build his party's profile internationally.

Last year Jean-Marie Le Pen presented the first volume of his autobiography
Last year Jean-Marie Le Pen presented the first volume of his autobiography
GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT, AFP

A master provocateur who has delighted in causing outrage he became a "figurehead of the European far-right and its chief orator" French political analyst Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist on the National Front, told AFP.

But Le Pen also regularly crossed swords with the assembly.

Fellow MEPs have voted three times to lift his parliamentary immunity, mainly over remarks baiting blacks, Jews, or other minorities but more recently over claims that the National Front defrauded the European Parliament of millions of euros in funds -- charges the Le Pens deny.

"I won't have many hands to shake when I leave," the former paratrooper, who has several convictions for anti-Semitism and racism, told AFP.

Looking back on Le Pen's contribution to the parliament's work, veteran French Socialist MEP Pervenche Beres, told AFP that apart from "taking up a lot of space with his security details he did nothing."

- Bitter family feud -

In the end it was his own daughter and political heir who delivered the final blow.

Four years of tensions between father and daughter erupted into open feuding in 2015, with the younger Le Pen kicking her father out of the National Front for repeating his shock claim that the Holocaust was but a "detail" of history.

There have been signs recently that Marine Le Pen may be mending her relations with her father
There have been signs recently that Marine Le Pen may be mending her relations with her father
Philippe Huguen, AFP

Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was runner-up behind Jacques Chirac in France's 2002 presidential election, first sat as a non-attached member of the European Parliament before joining Europe's far-right nationalist Alliance for Peace and Freedom.

But with no party back home in France Le Pen has now run out of options.

He has however ruled out retiring from politics altogether, announcing plans for a May 1 rally in Paris -- a National Front tradition.

And despite still having "disagreements" with his daughter he plans to support her party in the European election.

In a sign that relations between the pair may be on the mend Marine Le Pen told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview Saturday: "I have to tip my cap to him for his whole career. The least one can say is that he put up a good fight... He blew on the little flame of nationhood which is now coming into its own."

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