Paris (CNSNews.com) – As European Parliament elections loom, populist right-wing leader Marine Le Pen is coming under growing criticism over associations with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, with rival politicians alleging outside influence designed to weaken the European Union.
Le Pen’s euroskeptic National Rally and President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic in Motion movement are running neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of the elections this weekend, far ahead of the other parties campaigning for France’s 74 seats in the 751-seat parliament.
The latest polls put them at 23.5 and 23 percent respectively, with the Republicans in third place at 12.5 percent, and all other parties at below 10 percent.
Macron in an interview with a group of regional newspapers raised concerns about the presence in France of Bannon, President Trump’s estranged former advisor, who says he is visiting France as an observer.
He described Bannon as a lobbyist close to U.S. power, and denounced what he called “a connivance between nationalists and foreign interests to dismantle” the E.U.
Macron also said that the Russians “and some others” have never in the past been as deeply involved in financing right-wing parties as they are in this election.
He accused National Rally members of the European Parliament of having consistently voted against the interests of France, and charged that “their project weakens France and divides Europe.”
Some of Le Pen’s opponents claim Bannon is in France to help the National Rally to win, accusing him – and by extension Trump – of improper intervention in French politics.
“The praises of Trump’s former adviser for Marine Le Pen serve the interest of the U.S. president who is trying to divide or weaken Europe,” claimed Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, a Republican.
“Bannon does not even hide his desire to interfere in our polls,” complained Republic in Motion candidate Nathalie Loiseau.
“The new international right-wing is preparing to destroy the European Union, and today the National Rally is the Trojan horse of Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Pascal Canfin, also a Republic In Motion candidate in the election.
Le Pen herself denied Bannon was involved in her election drive, telling reporters that the American was “in Paris for business but it has nothing to do with the campaign.”
Bannon told the BFM television news channel on Monday that he came to Paris as an observer. Noting that he was in Germany a day earlier, he said he was “very interested in the E.U. elections.”
Bannon did not hide his hopes to see nationalist parties in France, Italy and Hungary win the elections. He has long supported populist, euroskeptic parties across the continent, sharing platforms with Le Pen and other leaders.
It’s not clear how long Bannon plans to stay in France, or if he is still here.
Le Pen meanwhile has been pushing policies long promoted by her party, focusing on issues like migration.
Criticizing the leftist movement Rebellious France, she said it should be called “Islamist France” for opposing border controls, wanting to hand out French citizenship to whoever wants it, supporting votes for immigrants and the recognition of “climate refugee” status.
Responding to her remarks on his Facebook page, Rebellious France lawmaker Adrien Quatennens – whose party is sitting at 8.5 percent in the latest opinion polls for the European Parliament election – denounced “the rotten methods of Marine Le Pen’s rancid far right.”
Recent polls show that 15 percent of respondents remain undecided, while 34 percent indicated that they could still change their voting intention.
In a final debate on Thursday, candidates from 11 parties will aim to win over some of the undecided and wavering voters. They will also hope to help ensure a better turnout than the 44 percent of registered voters currently predicted in the polls.
A total of 34 party lists from France are competing for the 74 seats, each requiring a threshold of at least five percent of the total votes in order to enter parliament.
Once Britain leaves the E.U., its seats will be distributed among other member-states, with France in line to get five.