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New blood flows into French political dynasties

Paris — Unfazed by a nepotism scandal that embarrassed the president’s son, young scions of well-known families at both ends of the French political spectrum have launched themselves into public life.

Last week the anti-immigrant National Front party led by Jean-Marie Le Pen unveiled his 19-year-old student granddaughter Marion Marechal-Le Pen on the list of candidates for councillor in the greater Paris region.

"I have been immersed in politics since I was little. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn," she told AFP after her candidacy was announced last week at the party’s regional campaign launch.

Her mother is the party leader’s eldest daughter and her aunt Marine Le Pen its media-savvy vice-president, lined up to take over the party one day. Her father is also a senior figure in the National Front.

Marine Le Pen insisted this week that there was "no comparison" between her niece’s new political career and the scandal over Jean Sarkozy, the 23-year-old son of the country’s president.

Two months ago, Jean Sarkozy was forced to abandon his bid for a job running France’s top business district after howling allegations of nepotism from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s opponents.

Le Pen said her niece, who like Jean Sarkozy is a second-year law student, was a committed party member who has been "mobilising the National Front’s youth for some time."

"Before joining the National Front, I looked elsewhere," Marechal-Le Pen told AFP, saying that she even has "friends who are Communists."

"I wanted to form my opinions myself. Then I came back to the cradle."

At the other end of the spectrum, Marie Bove, daughter of the goat-farming- environmental activist-turned-EU parliamentarian Jose Bove, was named last week as a candidate for councillor in the southwestern Gironde region.

Marie Bove, 34, told AFP she had never before been a member of a political party but decided this autumn that the moment had come for her to press her alternative agenda in the green coalition Europe-Ecologie.

"Some people say you’re only running … because you have a well-known name, because you have a father who was elected to the European parliament," she said. Jose Bove was elected in June.

"But I’ve also received messages of support saying that political life in France can change and that today there are young people of 25 to 35 who can be committed to politics and can offer something different," she added.

"I’m taking up a challenge, not inheriting a kingdom."

The announcements from the young contenders raised eyebrows after the controversy around Sarkozy junior, who in just two years became a major player in his father’s former constituency, the rich Paris suburb of Neuilly.

But observers say that courting charges of nepotism does not faze the rival parties as they field hundreds of candidates to try to expand their regional power next March.

"For the national party leaders, there is no reason that should really hurt them in terms of public opinion," said Stephane Rozes, a political scientist who runs the political consultancy CAP.

"Indeed, in some circumstances that reinforces their image," he added, judging that it was in the interests of the Le Pens to burnish their family name recognition at election time.

"The fact that Jose Bove’s daughter (is running) is an expression of the ecologists’ capacity to seduce the younger generations," Rozes told AFP.

"For the National Front, it’s completely the opposite: the fact that (Le Pen’s) granddaughter has been put on the electoral list shows how much the party is struggling to grow."

Bruno Jeanbart, a researcher at pollster Opinionway, said the Le Pens’ move "could be seen by voters as a form of nepotism" but — by gaining media coverage — the fresh-faced Marion was a worthwhile "media stunt."

Roland Lloyd-Parry/AFP/Expatica