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Financial woes and membership drop hit Le Pen’s far-right party

media French Member of Parliament and leader of the far-right National Rally (RN) party Marine Le Pen at the National Assembly in Paris on June 5, 2018. Bertrand Guay/AFP

The precipitous membership drop for France’s far-right National Rally (RN, formerly National Front), reported Monday by French daily Le Figaro, comes as the party faces a court-ordered funds seizure.  

The past year hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for RN leader Marine Le Pen. After losing to President Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the 2017 presidential election, being charged over alleged fake jobs at the European Parliament, and facing a potential funds seizure of up to two million euros, Le Pen must now contend with a considerable slump in her far-right party’s membership.

According to French daily Le Figaro, RN membership has dropped 60 percent since last April, from 83,000 people to 31,000. A setback not only for the party’s image, but also for its coffers, as membership fees constitute some 15 percent of the party’s annual revenue, according to the paper.

The news comes as the party awaits French magistrates’ decision on whether to withhold two million euros of its public subsidies over alleged abuse of European Parliament funds. The RN has been accused of illegally using the EU funds earmarked for assistants to Members of European Parliament (MEPs) to pay France-based staff instead.

The judges’ order, issued in June, was appealed by the RN in July. Le Pen has called it a “death sentence” for the party.

Under French law, political parties can earn state subsidies depending on election results. They are entitled to this government aid if they receive one percent or more of the vote in at least 50 constituencies in legislative polls. This mechanism saw Le Pen’s party (the National Front at the time) allotted more than four million euros based on its score in the 2017 parliamentary election.

If the judges’ order is upheld next month, roughly half of the party’s state funds will disappear. With this outcome in mind, the party has launched – to some success – a public fundraiser with the aim of raising 500,000 euros. Nicolas Bay, an RN MEP, told Le Figaro that the party had raised as much by early August, but that little has come in since then. Leaving him “worried about the movement’s financial survival”, according to the paper.

Le Pen’s National Rally name change in June sought to turn a fresh page for the party and distance it yet again from her father Jean-Marie, the controversial founder. But the recent stumbling blocks have cast doubt over whether the rebranding effort has been a success, a question all the more pressing as French political parties prepare their return from the summer holiday and set their sights on next year’s European Parliament elections. 

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