French far-right battles new racism allegations ahead of vote

French politician Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is a former education minister (Sameer Al-Doumy)
French politician Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is a former education minister (Sameer Al-Doumy)

France's far-right National Rally (RN) faced new accusations of racism Friday two days before a high-stakes parliamentary election, with a senior MP declaring that a former education minister of Moroccan descent should never have got the job because of her origins.

RN lawmaker Roger Chudeau declared that Najat Vallaud-Belkacem's appointment to the education portfolio in 2014 was "not a good thing" for France, saying that her French and Moroccan citizenship meant she had "conflicting loyalties".

Chudeau, who is tipped to become education minister if the party wins the two-round June 30-July 7 election, said that while Vallaud-Belkacem, a Socialist, had presented her Moroccan origins as a "good thing" for the job he saw it as more of a "problem."

He argued that cabinet posts should be held by "Franco-French" politicians, referring to people born in France to French parents.

The latest RN remarks about dual nationals have caused outrage in the run-up to the first round of the National Assembly vote Sunday.

"They try to hide their game but the real face of the RN is still there: unabashed racism and a hierarchy among the French," outgoing parliament speaker Yael Braun-Pivet wrote on X.

The RN's longtime leader Marine Le Pen rebuked Chudeau for his remarks about Vallaud-Belkacem, saying it was "totally contrary" to the party's programme.

Speaking on C News channel, she said it was too late to find another candidate to replace him in his Loir-et-Cher constituency in central France but expected party leader Jordan Bardella to take action against him.

- Dual nationals 'humiliated' -

The anti-immigration RN has been on a mission over the past decade to cleanse itself of the jackbooted image bequeathed by Le Pen's father, party co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The younger Le Pen's strategy of detoxifying the party's image by purging members accused of anti-Semitism and appointing the telegenic 28-year-old Bardella party leader has been highly successful in expanding its voter base.

But the party is still dogged by accusations of racism, which were fuelled this week by its announcement that it would, if victorious in the election, bar dual nationals from holding "highly sensitive" jobs in, for example, state security or intelligence.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal accused the RN of creating a climate of suspicion around France's 3.5 million dual nationals that left them feeling "insulted and humiliated".

Bardella, who hopes to become prime minister, has downplayed the furore, saying the restrictions on dual nationals concerned an "infinitely small" number of positions and suggesting that the concerns of foreign meddling target mainly Russian passport holders.

But the accusations of racism and discrimination have not gone away.

President Emmanuel Macron's centrist camp has mapped over 100 constituencies where it says the RN is fielding candidates with extremist or fringe views on everything from race and gender relations to same-sex couples and climate change.

Several incidents since the RN's historic score in this month's European election have raised fears of a surge in racism.

In a widely-shared incident, the host of a current affairs TV programme, whose father is Moroccan, Karim Rissouli, shared pictures on Instagram of an anonymous letter he received, declaring that the RN's rise was proof the French were "sick and tired of all these 'bicots'" -- a highly pejorative term for north Africans.

The incidents have done little to dent the popularity of the RN, however.

An Opinionway poll of 1,058 people published on Friday in Les Echos newspaper predicted the RN would win 37 percent of votes in the first round, ahead of the leftist New Popular Front on 28 percent and Macron's alliance on 20 percent.