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Le Pen borrows from father’s company to fund presidential campaign

Marine Le Pen will borrow €6m from a company owned by her father to fund her campaign for the French presidency this year, after the leader of the far-right National Front failed to secure financing from traditional banks.

Florian Philippot, the deputy head of the party, told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that the money would come from a group called Cotelec, which is owned by Jean-Marie Le Pen, and was being taken because “the French banks refuse to finance us.”

The loan will give Ms Le Pen some breathing room, after struggling to secure funding to run a full presidential campaign. Unable to borrow in France, in 2014 her party borrowed €9m from a Russian-backed bank, but it subsequently became insolvent.

The Cotelec loan, however, highlights the still existing ties between Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie, the party’s former leader, at a time when she is trying to carve a fresh image for the party ahead of the presidential contest.

Mr Le Pen, who has been convicted several times of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, was expelled from the party in 2015 after he repeated previous remarks about Nazi gas chambers being a “detail” of history.

This was a turning point. Ms Le Pen has been trying to appeal to a wider segment of the French population, many of whom wavered in their support of mainstream parties in the face of economic malaise and high unemployment.

She has focused on populist economic issues, such as leaving the euro, not just issues of national identity and has notched up a series of impressive electoral results — including coming first in the 2014 European elections. 

Opinion polls show Ms Le Pen getting through to the second round of the French presidential election with around 25 per cent of the vote, although the polls then show her loosing to centre-right candidate François Fillon in the second round.

Mr Philippot on Sunday defended taking the €6m loan, saying that it was not from Jean-Marie himself but a company that was set up specifically to finance National Front campaigns. Cotelec takes money from donors and packages them up to larger loans for the party. 

He also reiterated calls for a new law in France to force local banks to lend to all political campaigns, saying that the financial system was trying to shut them out of the democratic process. “Why do the banks finance [far-left leader] Jean-Luc Mélenchon and not us?” he said.

The comments came hours after President François Hollande, who last month bowed out of France’s upcoming presidential race, made his final New Year’s eve address to the nation as head of state.

Mr Hollande used the speech to warn against rising nationalism around the world and to criticise the politics of the National Front.

“It is not possible to imagine our country crouching behind walls, reduced to its domestic self, returning to a national currency and increasingly discriminating based on peoples’ origins. It would no longer be France. That is what is at stake,” he said.

Mr Philippot on Sunday countered that a “peoples spring” was gripping the western world, citing the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the US election of Donald Trump and Italy’s rejection of a the prime minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reforms.

He said that a victory by the National Front in the French election was the next step in this trend. “I believe it will happen . . . it must happen,” he said.

Via FT