LILLE, France (Reuters) - Former White House strategist Steve Bannon on Saturday waxed lyrical about Marion Marechal-Le Pen, the young niece of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, seeing a great future ahead of the "rising star".
The champion of Donald Trump's "America First" agenda, who was invited to speak at the National Front party congress in northern France by Marine Le Pen, spoke only about her 28-year old niece at their joint press conference.
"She is not simply a rising star on the right in France. She's one of the most impressive people in the entire world," Bannon, an American nationalist who ran the right-wing Breitbart News, told reporters, without mentioning his host Marine Le Pen.
Bannon met Marion, who temporarily withdrew from politics after her aunt's presidential election defeat last May, at the CPAC conservative conference in Maryland last month, where he said she was "absolutely electrifying." [nL8N1QA2R5]
Marion's U.S. speech was widely commented on in French media as posing a challenge for Marine Le Pen.
Asked by reporters how she felt about Bannon's comments, Marine Le Pen turned to the American and said that journalists were trying to stir up competition between the two women.
"They don't understand that we defend the same ideas, in the education field for her and in politics for me," she said.
"They're asking me how I feel about the good things you said about Marion, to which I reply: they make me glad."
Bannon then quipped: "We call that fake news."
Marine Le Pen was hoping that the National Front congress in Lille would help her reassert her authority, after her defeat to pro-Europe centrist Emmanuel Macron prompted criticism of her style and policies.
Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a former lawmaker, is more socially conservative and economically liberal than her aunt. She was not present at the congress in Lille on Saturday, having said she is now working on an education project.
Addressing the FN congress earlier, Bannon was given a standing ovation, as he told party members history was on their side and would eventually lead them to victory.
"What I've learned is that you're part of a worldwide movement that's bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary, bigger than all of us," he said.
"I did not come here as a teacher, I came here to Europe as an observer and to learn," he added, pointing at recent elections in Italy as a sign of a rising populist wave.
Bannon was fired by the White House last August, though he continued to speak with Trump and tried to promote the president's agenda.
(Reporting by Simon Carraud; Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Peter Graff)