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Marine Le Pen has described her shock and hurt after her niece hinted she could back Right-wing rival Eric Zemmour for the French presidency in what would be a damaging blow to her campaign. 

In the latest chapter in a deepening family feud, Ms Le Pen, 53, said Marion Marechal’s penchant for Mr Zemmour, a 63-year old former TV polemist, was all the more painful as she had “raised her” like her own daughter.

Ms Maréchal, 32, who has dropped her former Le Pen surname, reportedly told Le Parisien newspaper that she would not support her aunt’s electoral bid under any circumstances because she had “changed political tack too often” to be credible.

Mr Zemmour, on the other hand, had “made a lot of progress in his stance, tone and seriousness”, she said.

In a separate interview with Le Figaro, she added: “His coherence, vision and strategy make me sway towards Eric Zemmour that’s for sure.”

Asked whether she would throw her weight behind Mr Zemmour, she told the paper: ”I’m thinking about it, no decision has been taken”. She will reportedly make an announcement next month.

While Ms Le Pen, the National Rally candidate, remains currently well ahead of her hard-Right adversary, there is reportedly genuine concern in her camp that her niece’s active involvement in the Zemmour campaign could trigger a stampede in his favour.

Ms Maréchal, who withdrew from public life in 2017 to run a conservative political sciences school in Lyon and raise a family (she is expecting a baby in June), also confirmed her intention to return to politics after five years out of the spotlight.

However, she made it clear: “If I support Eric, it’s not just to pop by and say ‘hi’…It’s a real life change, a big decision.”

Ms Maréchal said the idea of returning to frontline French politics had been “niggling me for some time” but that she didn’t want to “create any family splits”. “There is a family issue,” she said.

French far-right politician Marion Marechal looks on next to the logo of the ISSEP political science school in Lyon Marion Maréchal has made it clear she has more faith in Eric Zemmour’s presidential bid than her aunt Marine’s Credit: AFP

Stung by the comments, Ms Le Pen reacted on Friday by saying: “If I told you I wasn’t affected by this, you wouldn’t believe me.”

“I have a particular history with Marion because I raised her with my sister for several years of her life, so naturally, it’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s difficult for men” she told CNews.

She accused her niece of breaking a promise to back the nationalist candidate most likely to reach the presidential runoff in April, saying that she was “unquestionably” best-placed to to so. The latest polls suggest that Ms Le Pen will reach the second round against Emmanuel Macron but go on to lose.

Valérie Pécresse, the conservative candidate for the Republicans Party is currently in third place and Mr Zemmour trailing in fourth, most polls suggest.

However, Ms Maréchal said that Mr Zemmour had the potential to mobilise a bigger swathe of the electorate among the working classes and abstentionists than Marine Le Pen among the upper classes. “It is difficult to get rid of an image in politics,” added the former MP.

She also slammed her aunt’s refusal to call for the mainstream and hard-Right to join forces.

“Marine Le Pen has never been for the disappearance of this dividing line. She only wants to succeed on one side,” she told Le Figaro.  

Mr Zemmour, meanwhile, has welcomed both ex-RN defectors and Guillaume Peltier, formerly the vice-president of the centre-Right Republicans.

Tensions have been high between the two family members in recent years, in particular since Ms Le Pen’s defeat to Mr Macron in 2017 after a disastrous second-round TV debate.

While Ms Le Pen has sought to soften her National Rally’s once jackbooted image, Marion Maréchal, a darling among hard-Right traditionalist Catholics, is seen as far closer to Mr Zemmour both regarding his virulently anti-Islam and anti-immigration rhetoric but also his socially conservative views on family.

French far-Right National Rally presidential candidate Marine Le Pen delivers her New Year's greetings to the French press in Paris on January 26, 2022. Marine Le Pen has slammed her niece Marion’s decision not to back her as “violent” and “brutal” Credit: AFP

She has notably clashed with her aunt over her party’s support of full public reimbursement for abortions and her social economic plans, including backing the 35-hour week and a return to retirement at 60.

Mr Zemmour has received the backing of Sens Commun, a staunchly traditionalist Catholic group, along with activists who oppose gay marriage. He is far more economically liberal than Ms Le Pen.

While Ms Le Pen famously fell out with her firebrand father Jean-Marie, her niece is known to go over for fireside chats with her grandfather at his manor in Montretout outside Paris. He said on Friday he intended to speak to both “in the coming days” before speaking publicly.

Meanwhile Ms Le Pen and Ms Maréchal are barely on speaking terms. Marine didn’t go to her niece’s wedding to rightist Italian MEP Vicenzo Sofo.

The Le Pen camp lashed out at Ms Maréchal’s comments on Friday, claiming: “Even if she did go for it, it wouldn’t boost Zemmour by one per cent. She represents a microcosm, she would be trapped in an extreme-Right ghetto,” one Le Pen aide told BFM TV.

The gleeful Zemmour camp said the reverse was true. “It’s all-out panic in the National Rally”, one campaign aide is cited as saying. “They don’t realise the popularity Marion Maréchal wields within their own electoral base.”

Ms Le Pen has dismissed a couple of high-profile defections from her camp to the Zemmour one in recent days as anecdotal but the Zemmour team claim that “this time, it could be fatal for her candidacy”.

Ms Le Pen hopes to burnish her international credentials as the go-to French candidate at a major gathering of European nationalist leaders in Spain on Friday and Saturday attended by the prime ministers of Hungary and Poland.

According to Politico, the Le Pen delegation will include MEP Nicolas Bay, who is rumoured to be a potential Zemmour supporter.

“If (defections) are limited to two people, it’s fine, but if there are other heavyweights leaving…,” one member of the Le Pen politburo is cited as fretting.

On Friday, the RN’s only senator, Stéphane Ravier, said he had “many friends” in the Zemmour camp and remained a Le Pen supporter “for now until I don’t know when”.

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