Last Tuesday Marine Le Pen claimed Donald Trump’s former advisor “had no role in the campaign” for the European elections. It's a bit more complicated than that.
The time for public embraces now seems long gone: in March 2018, the leaders of France’s National Rally (Rassemblement National) gave Steve Bannon a very warm welcome at their party conference. In recent months, however, Marine Le Pen has kept her distance from Donald Trump’s former advisor.
Asked on Tuesday morning by franceinfo about Bannon’s presence in the French capital, the National Rally leader claimed that she “didn’t know he was in Paris”. Le Pen also said that the American “had no role” in her party’s campaign for the European elections.
According to Le Pen, the last time she met Bannon was “three months ago”. “We approached him for two reasons: he’s a political advisor, and he’s a financial advisor”, Le Pen told her interviewer. “We were looking for a European bank to secure funding. So we asked him if he knew of any European bank that would offer us a loan [...]. He couldn’t find one either”. Apparently, Bannon also shared his experience of the American presidential campaign, with a particular focus on raising funds from the general public.
Bannon claims to be “an informal advisor”
On Friday, Bannon claimed that he “never gave any capital” to National Rally (RN). In an intverview with Le Parisien, the former Goldman Sachs banker clarified his role: “I’m an informal advisor, I’m not getting paid”. He explained that his role involves “shareing observations with certain parties and giving advice on fundraising”.
So, an advisor and nothing more? In March 2018, the Front National, which hadn’t yet become Rassemblement National, rolled out the red carpet for Bannon during their party conference in Lille. The party’s vice president, Louis Aliot, tweeted a warm welcome for Bannon. Marine Le Pen, for her part, thanked the American “for his visit” and for “his instructive and rousing speech”.
Meetings between RN and Steve Bannon
A few weeks later, in Rome, Louis Aliot and Jérôme Rivière, spokesman and member of the FN’s national council, posed beside Bannon and Raheem Kassam, former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London.
This, explained the party’s vice-president in September, was just one in a series of three meetings between Aliot and Bannon. The elected councillor went on to say that the National Rally “supports Bannon’s project but isn’t yet a member of his foundation”.
Indeed, Bannon has launched a foundation called The Movement, a rather vaguely defined project which has had mixed results: Eastern European political leaders have expressed some reservations, while the Austrians seem suspicious.
In Autumn, Le Pen keeps her distance
In autumn, Le Pen seemed to be keeping her distance from Bannon’s project. “Bannon doesn’t come from Europe, he’s American”, she claimed during a joint press conference with Matteo Salvini. According to Le Figaro, the the RN leader said that “the political force which will emerge from the European elections is us, and it’s only us who will shape it”.
Three days later, Le Pen and Bannon had a meeting, as Louis Aliot confirmed. According to Le Figaro, it concerned a “clarification”. As Le Pen explained after the meeting: “[Bannon] confirmed in no uncertain terms that his intention is not to politically intervene in Europe, but rather to create a think-tank facilitating research, studies and conferences on important subjects which are of common concern [...], such as savage globalisation, the financialisation of the economy, migrants”.
Participation in a meeting
In December, the two appeared together publicly for what is still the last time. Le Pen and Bannon participated in a meeting held by far right Flemish party Vlaams Belang, to voice their opposition to the UN’s Global Compact for Migration.
Meetings between RN members and Bannon continued until spring. In April, Paris Match reported that the party’s spokesman had dined with the American. Rivière apparently met Bannon a dozen times, according to franceinfo.
Bannon “gives no money” to the RN, according to a party official
Envoyé Spécial, a weekly investigative news show, obtained images of a meeting between Jérôme Rivière, Louis Aliot and Steve Bannon which took place in the summer of 2018 in London. According to the documentarist following Bannon at the time, the two men “talked money” with the American.
Jérôme Rivière explained to the news program that Bannon didn’t “give them money”. This is also what Bannon says: the discussion was simply about how to repay a loan. “All I did was say ‘here are my proposals: either you refinance your loans, or you raise funds from supporters’”, he told Envoyé Spécial.
“Exchange sessions” with Bannon
A few days later, Louis Aliot told a similar story: Bannon “was there in connection with a possible banking institution and a loan application in the European economic area. [...] It didn’t work out.”
The last meeting between senior members of the National Rally and Steve Bannon was last Friday. According to Le Parisien, Jérôme Rivière and Nicolas Lesage, member of the party’s national council, met that day with the American in Paris. “These were exchange sessions, not advisory sessions”. explained Jérôme Rivière. “He tells us about his campaign in America, and we pick out what interests us”— with an eye towards Sunday’s election?