LYON, France: The niece of far-right leader Marine Le Pen launched a political academy on Friday that she hopes will serve as a "finishing school" for would-be luminaries on France's right wing, but denied she was plotting a political comeback.
Marion Marechal withdrew from party politics after her aunt's bruising defeat in last year's presidential election but remains hugely popular among the rank and file of the National Front party, now rebranded as National Rally.
"This is not a political project, this school is not affiliated to any political party, nor will it be the lapdog of any political party," said Marechal, who previously went by the surname Marechal-Le Pen, but has dropped Le Pen.
The photogenic 28-year-old former lawmaker, granddaughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, is viewed by many as a possible future leader of the French far-right.
Her aunt's defeat to Emmanuel Macron in last year's presidential election exposed deep rifts within the National Front, with Marechal openly questioning Le Pen's unbending stance on seeking an exit from the euro currency.
Marechal's Institute of Social, Economic and Political Sciences will open in September with the stated aim of "finding and training the leaders of tomorrow" and open to postgraduate students from all strains of the political right.
"What interests us is adversarial debate. We're not going to teach mainstream ideological conformism," Patrick Louis, who will serve as co-president of the school with Marechal, told local news website Lyonmag.com.
Among the academy's supervisory board members, according to the academy's website, is Raheem Kassam, former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London and a former adviser to Nigel Farage, the former leader of Britain's anti-EU UK Independence Party.
The complicated relations within the Le Pen family have for years made French headlines. Marechal is more socially conservative and economically liberal than her aunt, closer to the mould of her grandfather, who fell out with Marine when she kicked him out the party.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Macron's centrist administration would keep fighting far-right ideology as a wave of populism sweeps across Europe.
"Perhaps we will have succeeded if the Le Pen party, whatever the Christian name of the person at its head, fails to reach the second round of the 2022 election," he said.
(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Lyon with additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing Richard Lough; Editing by Peter Graff)