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France's far-right says ready to work with former Trump aide Bannon

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen met Donald Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon and backed his plan to advise euroskeptic parties ahead of next year’s European elections, a senior lawmaker in her party said on Friday.

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A few days earlier, Le Pen had appeared to distance herself from Bannon. At a meeting with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini on Monday, she said Bannon was American and it was up to European parties to shape their own politics.

But at their meeting on Thursday, Bannon, an architect of President Trump’s 2016 election victory and former chairman of Breitbart news, may have won Le Pen round, according to Louis Aliot, a senior member of Le Pen’s National Rally and also her partner.

“Bannon wants to create a think-tank, and particularly wants to provide technical support to euroskeptic parties,” Aliot told BFM TV. “We’re not going to say no since he’s not creating a political party.”

In July, Bannon said he aimed to create an organization called The Movement to unite Europe’s far-right ahead of the May 2019 European Parliament elections. But he has generated little support from parties so far.

Aliot said any misunderstandings between Bannon and Le Pen had been reconciled during their meeting.

“We’ve seen that there was a convergence of views,” Aliot said, adding that Bannon would not campaign in the European elections or provide financing, but would offer advice and expertise.

Le Pen, who has struggled to rebound since losing last year’s presidential election to centrist Emmanuel Macron, is banking on the European election to boost her party, which came first in France in the last such vote, in 2014.

The campaign is shaping up as a battle between Macron’s vision of a more integrated, united European Union and Le Pen’s view that too much national identity has been surrendered to Brussels.

In a survey by pollster Elabe last week, the number of French voters who regard the EU as having more benefits than drawbacks dropped by eight percentage points from a year ago, to 24 percent.

Thirty-eight percent said the EU brought more drawbacks than benefits, while nearly two-thirds said they did not think Macron would be able to change the EU for the better, despite it being one of his main policy goals.

Bannon won resounding applause for a speech at a Le Pen’s party congress in March and has maintained regular contacts since, party officials said.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Simon Carraud; Editing by Luke Baker and Robin Pomeroy