PARIS Marine Le Pen must quickly resolve her far-right party's stance on the euro, top officials in France's National Front said on Friday, as a row over the issue heated up following her presidential election defeat to centrist Emmanuel Macron.
In a party where dissent is rarely expressed publicly, officials and allies have become uncharacteristically vocal since Le Pen's May 7 defeat to Macron on whether to abandon plans to ditch the euro, which some blame for the loss.
"It is clear that Marine will have to decide very quickly," Jean-Richard Sulzer, one of Le Pen's economic advisers, told Reuters. "This cannot wait for the congress," he said, referring to a crucial party meeting scheduled for end 2017 or early 2018.
The party's position on the euro may be a factor in parliamentary elections due in June, although the issue is unlikely to be resolved by then.
Gilbert Collard, one of only four National Front (FN) lawmakers, has said the party must scrap its plans to ditch the currency, while Le Pen's deputy Florian Philippot, who has had a major influence on her policy, said he would quit if that happened.
"In this very centralised, very autocratic party, we find ourselves at the moment where the pressure cooker is about to explode because there has been too tight a lid on internal dissent for too long," said Nice university researcher Gilles Ivaldi, a specialist of the FN.
Some top FN officials privately acknowledge that the anti-euro policy, which Le Pen tried to soften in the last days of the campaign, likely played a key role in her bigger-than-expected defeat.
But they disagree on whether that was because the plan was watered down, with a longer timetable and plans to keep some form of monetary cooperation, or because it was too radical.
"Everybody knows the euro is dead," said Bernard Monot, an FN economist who is also EU lawmaker and was part of Le Pen's campaign committee. "But there have been too many shortcuts on communication and people thought we wanted a brutal, radical euro exit. This scares people," he told Reuters, adding that the FN must "draw the necessary conclusions from this."
"LOSE OUR SOUL"?
At stake for the FN, after it gathered more votes than ever in the presidential election but nevertheless did less well than it hoped, is whether it can become France's main opposition party, as it has billed itself.
Referring to the mid-June election of lower house of parliament representatives, which will be key both to Macron's capacity to enact his reforms and to the future of the FN, Monot said: "The parliamentary elections will take place first, and then we will meet to discuss this (the euro policy)."
While a large majority of FN supporters back ditching the euro, opinion polls indicate three-quarters of French voters want to keep Europe's single currency.
"We must work on making ourselves better understood on this," said Jean Messiha, who was in charge of coordinating Le Pen's presidential election manifesto and is a candidate in the June ballot.
Unlike Collard but like Philippot, Messiha insists the party must stick to its trademark policy of a return to a national currency. "Otherwise we would lose our soul," he told Reuters, criticising what he called "pressure from the politico-mediatic establishment to abandon some of the crucial points of our program."
With the question of the euro and of who is to blame for Le Pen's defeat also simmering on pro-FN websites, some grassroots activists worried about the divisions.
"We must all be in it together," said Aymeric Durox, 31, a history teacher in Fontainebleau near Paris and a candidate there in the parliamentary elections. As far as he's concerned, the FN "should not completely give up on its euro policy."
(Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Toby Chopra)