PARIS — It’s Macron vs. Bannon in the final days of the European Parliament election campaign.
Steve Bannon, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former strategist, has set up shop in a luxury suite at the Bristol Hotel in Paris — a stone’s throw from the Elysée Palace — and given multiple interviews to French media directly attacking President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron “wants the United States of Europe… [the European Parliament election] is a referendum on him and his vision for Europe,” Bannon told French newspaper Le Parisien on Friday.
He also took credit for “whispering” to Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally (RN), which holds a narrow opinion poll lead over Macron’s party ahead of this week’s election.
Macron countered the far right’s nationalism with some of his own. He reportedly called Le Pen’s party “the enemy from without” at a small gathering of his lieutenants on Sunday. He accused Le Pen’s party of being under foreign influence and encouraged his followers to attack the RN over its ties to Bannon and Russia, according to radio station France Inter.
The National Rally took out a loan from a Russian bank linked to President Vladimir Putin in order to bankroll Le Pen’s 2017 presidential bid, after French banks refused to lend it money.
The president’s troops have not been slow to follow his instructions. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe sought to turn the tables on the far right, arguing that the European Union gives France greater sovereignty, not less.
“A strong Europe is the condition of our sovereignty, I can see it bothers Steve Bannon and Donald Trump… what I don’t understand is how French people who pretend to be defending the people and the nation act like proxies for those who want to weaken Europe,” Philippe said during a Facebook Live Q&A session Sunday night, referring to Le Pen.
Fabienne Keller — a French senator who is on the candidate list of Renaissance, as Macron’s European election campaign is known — took aim at the RN’s Russia ties. “What the National Rally is advocating for is the Europe of Russia, one of collusion and war in Crimea,” Keller told POLITICO.
Le Pen said Monday that Bannon is not a political adviser to her party’s campaign for the European Parliament election and that he is in town to sell one of his companies to a French bank.
She also attempted to turn the spotlight on Macron and Philippe’s ties to the United States, tweeting a link to a 2016 newspaper story that mentioned both Macron and Philippe had taken part in a Young Leaders program organized by the French-American Foundation.
The foundation has been running such a program since 1981, bringing together promising French and American leaders in politics and business to deepen cooperation between the two countries, according to the its website.
The RN is currently expected to win 22 seats in the European Parliament versus 21 for Renaissance, according to POLITICO’s projections. The election runs from May 23 to May 26 across the Continent and takes place in France on Sunday.