Having recently joined her competitor Francois Fillon in facing the French legal system over possible embezzlement charges of her own, after her chief of staff and bodyguard were detained by police last week, the push to isolate and crack down on the anti-establishment presidential candidate moved to the European Parliament where EU lawmakers lifted Le Pen’s EU parliamentary immunity on Thursday for tweeting pictures of Islamic State violence.
Le Pen is under investigation in France for posting three graphic images of Islamic State executions on Twitter in December 2015, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Le Pen’s immunity shielded her from prosecution. By lifting it, just over a month before the first round of the French presidential election after a request from the French judiciary, the parliament is allowing any eventual legal action against her.
The vote on Thursday by a large show of hands in the plenary of the EU Parliament confirmed a preliminary decision taken on Tuesday by the legal affairs committee of the EU legislature. In the report underpinning parliament’s decision, eurosceptic 5 Star Movement lawmaker Laura Ferrara said that although the images posted by Le Pen were easily accessible on several websites, “this does not alter the fact that their violent nature is likely to undermine human dignity”.
Le Pen’s move was seen as not appropriate for a member of the European Parliament, the report said. Ferrara also said that there was no reason to think Le Pen was being persecuted judicially because “the speed at which legal proceedings have been taken against Marine Le Pen is comparable to the pace of other proceedings in matters relating to the press and other media”.
The EU parliament decision, reported by Reuters, grants the prosecutor looking into the affair power to bring Le Pen in for police questioning.
Among the possible next steps, the prosecutor could drop the case, appoint an investigating magistrate to delve further into it, or send it straight to trial. The most likely outcome of what many have blasted as a politically-motivated decision is the last one. A trial date ahead of the election in April and May would require the French legal process to go much faster than it normally does.
If Le Pen is convicted for the offence under consideration, which incidentally is “publishing violent images”, the presidential candidate can face a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($78,930).
Naturally, Le Pen has denounced the legal proceedings against her as political interference in the campaign and called for a moratorium on judicial investigations until the election period has passed. Le Pen has already seen her earnings as MEP cut for a different case involving alleged misuse of EU funds.
Meanwhile, despite her recent legal troubles, Le Pen’s polling remains strong in the first round where she is expected to win but lose in the runoff (then again, polls lately have been… off).
More importantly, the polls show that her legal battles seem to have little effect on her supporters.
Le Pen’s immunity has been lifted before, in 2013, by the EU parliament. She was then prosecuted in 2015 with “incitement to discrimination over people’s religious beliefs”, for comparing Muslims praying in public to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two. Prosecutors eventually recommended the charges be dropped.