On September 23, the Paris prosecutor’s office filed a motion to start a trial against former Rassemblement National (RN) leader Marine Le Pen. She and other members of the party are accused of misuse of EU funds, which they received as part of the implementation of European Parliament programs. This case has been dragging on since 2021 and on the surface it is a political order from the Elysée Palace, with the help of Emmanuel Macron who is trying to destroy a dangerous political rival in the person of Le Pen, either by subjecting her and her associates to criminal prosecution or at least by trampling the positive image of the RN. In reality, however, this simplest explanation is superficial, because the attitude of the current French liberal government to the Rassemblement National can be characterized by the word dualism. The fact is that, on the one hand, the nationalists are a dangerous strategic competitor for the establishment, whose values are extremely hostile to the globalists and whose rating is growing year by year, reaching 35-40% at the moment. But, on the other hand, in a local tactical sense, Marine Le Pen has brought a lot of benefits to Macron, acting as an extremely convenient and almost safe opponent for him in any election and because of this, the elimination of the RN, even if the government has such opportunities, seems irrational and even could be harmful for Macron’s political party.
For the first time Marine Le Pen faced Emmanuel Macron in the 2nd round of the presidential election in 2017. It was not expected at the time, and she saw this result as a huge political success. But Macron’s campaign staff found a unique opportunity in this success, and ran a campaign in the spirit of 2002, where Jacques Chirac defeated Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen, building his line in the spirit of a “crusade” against the “fascism” that threatens France. Macron would not be able to replicate Chirac’s result, because French society was already highly disoriented by 2017 and could not effectively rally in front of a mythical “existential evil”, but the logic of the propaganda was similar. This, without any nerves, brought the future president an excellent result of 66,1%. Having perceived such an experience, Macron’s entourage in 2022 already purposefully wished for a repetition of such a scenario, considering it optimal. Both the media and even some functionaries of the Macronist party “La République en marche!” (The Rebublic forward!) directly said that Macron’s camp was deliberately making Marine Le Pen its main and desired opponent. To reinforce this status, confident that the head of state will be re-elected in the event of a new runoff against the national party candidate, Macron’s supporters made her the main object of their criticism. Thus, one of the most prominent government ministers and head of the country’s Interior Ministry, Gerald Darmanin, said during the campaign before the first round that “the most dangerous person for the country is Marine Le Pen”.
It should be understood that such criticism was to the benefit of the RN candidate, because it consolidated around her the rightists, conservatives and nationalists who hated Macron, and took any statements from his entourage literally 180 degrees to the contrary. This suited the Macronists, because as early as 2020-2021, with a tinge of apparent cynicism, many Macron supporters were saying that they would be satisfied to imagine the daughter of Front National founder Marine Le Pen back in the second round of the presidential election. By 2022, this cynicism became even more justified, because Le Pen looked a real gift to Macron against Eric Zemmour and Valérie Pecresse, backed by the ubiquitous businessman Vincent Bolloré, and their chances in the second round were much more tangible. Le Pen’s participation, on the other hand, automatically turned the entire left-wing electorate against her, which hated Macron just as much but was forced to support him just to keep the far-right out. In this situation, the high rating of the RN, which was indeed the highest among the opposition parties, made the Macronists confident in their abilities. For the sake of fairness, by the way, it should be noted that the participation of a left-wing candidate, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, would have produced the same effect, but for the right-wing nationalists.
It was in May 2021, when the election campaign started, where Le Pen was both the main “enemy” and “friend” of Macron that the case of her machinations in the European Parliament arose. She was then suspected of systematically misusing European funds by hiring fictitious assistants in the European Parliament, of which she was a deputy from 2004 to 2017. According to police officers of the Central Office for Combating Financial Corruption and Fiscal Offenses (acronym OCLCIFF in French), the amount of stolen funds could reach up to 6.8 million euros. A total of 17 people, including other members of the RN party, who could either be directly involved in the illegal schemes or who helped to “hide” the traces of the fraud, were involved in the proceedings. The charges were based on the results of a large number of investigations that allegedly began back in 2016. Le Pen then called the investigation an element of political struggle, recalling that she had previously been suspected of similar violations just before the last presidential election. It was about a court case in 2017, when the European Anti-Fraud Office (acronym OLAF in French) believed that two of Le Pen’s aides, head of the chancellery Catherine Griset and bodyguard Thierry Légier, were hired fictitiously. In 2018, the EU Court of Justice ordered Le Pen to reimburse the European Parliament 300 000 euros due to the fact that the politician could not prove the real employment of Griset.
Importantly, the two cases differed in the scope of the investigation, although they both began suspiciously close to the presidential election. Apparently in 2021, the aggravation began because the Rassemblement Union party at that time was seriously strengthened, and according to a number of polls Le Pen had 29-30% in the first round against 25-25% for Macron, and it was urgent to calm her down somehow. Especially frightening were the polls from early 2022, where Macron was beating Le Pen in the second round by a ratio of 52% to 48%, which posed very dangerous risks for Macron. With an understandable legal component, the proceedings became very clear and effective black PR against Le Pen and her RN party colleagues, and there were even rumors that if Le Pen was formally charged, it would prevent her from running in the election race. However, it was obvious to Macron’s headquarters that if Le Pen withdrew from the presidential race, a number of other interesting right-wing candidates, such as Eric Zemmour or Marion Maréchal, could come to the fore, and this would only favor his more dangerous rivals, to whom he would give the popular nationalist electoral field “to loot”. It is because of this that the establishment, which is behind Macron and has serious influence on the French and European judicial system, decided not to escalate and limited the situation to “intimidating” Le Pen and other RN activists.
The activation of “independent justice” was expected in April 2022, exactly between the first and second rounds, in which Macron and Le Pen again faced off. It was then that the European Parliament decided to recover more than 600 000 euros from Le Pen and her associates. The Office for Combating Fraud Sheaf considered that Le Pen and three members of her party, also former European deputies, had misappropriated funds from the budget of the European Parliament for the internal needs of the party. Directly Le Pen was accused of embezzling 137 000 euros. It was again about spending, allegedly committed when Le Pen was a member of the European Parliament. The report of the EU anti-fraud office vividly described that the funds were spent on internal purposes of the party, including the purchase of promotional products, as well as wine for the party congress in 2014, payment of transportation costs and hotel accommodation. Representatives of the Rassemblement National, as they have done on two previous occasions, denied the allegations and pointed out that the investigation took into account the period up to 2017, but the report miraculously appeared in the public domain only now. The analogy was that after Macron’s victory, the case was miraculously “frozen” just as it was in 2017 and 2021 so why did the prosecution resume again in 2023, even though the next election would not take place until 2027?
To sum up, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Macron’s team to keep the balance, and in 4 years those tricks and manipulations that helped him for the 2 previous elections may simply not work. The heir to the presidency, who will be his creator in one form or another, will have to fight the right-wing, which is no longer marginal and which represents between 35 and 40% of the French population. Le Pen has managed to partially reform and rejuvenate her party in recent years, making it more moderate and putting it in the place of the traditional Republicans. The left, led by Mélenchon, is no less of a threat, and if nothing is done, the 2027 runoff could be a left-right battle with no liberal opponent at all. When the threat is so strong, electoral tools of influence fade into the background, and the only reliable option is to bring a criminal case against one’s opponent or to cancel it in exchange for political concessions. This is precisely the path Macron took with regard to Le Pen. It is true that all this can only lead to the triumph of the nationalists, and that would be fair from the point of view of the values of true democracy.