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French right-wing leader backs Le Pen alliance in snap polls

French President Emmanuel Macron called elections after a drubbing by the far right in last week's EU elections — a gamble many worry could backfire.

PARIS (AFP) — The leader of France's main right-wing party on Tuesday backed an alliance with the far right of Marine Le Pen in snap legislative elections, triggering a crisis within his own party and fury from the government.

The stunning announcement by the Republicans, or LR, leader Eric Ciotti in a TV interview is the first time in modern French political history that a leader of a traditional party has backed an alliance with the far-right National Rally, known as RN.

President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday called the elections on June 30, with a second round on July 7, in a major gamble after the RN scored more than double the number of votes of his centrist alliance in the EU elections.

With less than three weeks to go before the first round, Macron is facing opposition alliances crystalizing on the left and right amid warnings that his bet could backfire.

A Harris Interactive-Toluna poll published on Monday suggested just 19% of people would back him, compared to 34% for the far-right National Rally.

But in an interview, Macron ruled out resigning after the election.

The forthcoming ballot has set alarm bells ringing across Europe, as it risks hobbling France — historically a key player in brokering compromise in Brussels and support for Ukraine against Russian invasion.

"We need to have an alliance while remaining ourselves ... an alliance with the RN and its candidates," Ciotti told TF1 television, adding that he had already held discussions with Le Pen, a three-time presidential candidate, and RN party leader Jordan Bardella.

Le Pen praised "the courageous choice" and "sense of responsibility" of Ciotti, saying she hoped that a significant number of LR figures would follow him.

End of ‘sanitary cordon’

The LR traces its history back to postwar leader Charles de Gaulle and is the political home of ex-presidents such as Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Now "40 years of a pseudo sanitary cordon — which caused many elections to be lost — is disappearing," Le Pen, now head of RN deputies in the lower house National Assembly, told AFP.

But Ciotti's move, which he said was aimed at creating a "significant" group in the new National Assembly after the elections, risks tearing apart his own party.

"I see all those currently agitating for coalitions, for alliances, for little combinations. I'll say right away: I don't believe in it," said Laurent Wauquiez, the leader of the central Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region seen as a presidential prospect for 2027.

Ciotti "lied to us" about his plans, said Bruno Retailleau, head of the Republicans in the Senate upper house.

"This is disloyalty. It's a failure to be upright," he added.

The LR speaker of the Senate, Gerard Larcher, a heavyweight figure, said he would "never swallow" an agreement with the RN and called on Ciotti to resign.

But speaking to reporters after the interview, Ciotti said he would not resign and emphasized that his mandate depended on party activists.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, a past defector from the LR to Macron's alliance, described the move as a "dishonor to the Gaullist family" and compared it to the Munich accords with Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II.

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‘Right decision’

Macron's office delayed until Wednesday a major news conference initially slated for Tuesday afternoon, while insisting that the nationwide vote would put a choice before the French people of "Republican forces on one side and extremist forces on the other."

Macron told Figaro Magazine he ruled out resigning, "whatever the result" of snap elections.

Macron scoffed at a question about whether he was "crazy" to dissolve parliament and call for elections at such short notice.

"I am only thinking of France. It was the right decision, in the interest of the country," he said, adding that he was prepared to debate head to head with Le Pen. 

With just 19 days until the first round on June 30 — the shortest campaign since France's Fifth Republic was founded in 1958 — Macron's task to shore up support for his centrist camp is formidable, according to polls.

The Medef big business federation said it would support "projects favorable to economic reform and European ambition, with respect for social democracy."

France's fractious left-wing parties appeared to quickly set aside differences that had shattered their parliamentary alliance, notably their conflicting responses to the war in Gaza.

Socialists, Greens, Communists and the hard-left France Unbowed said they would "support joint candidates, right from the first round" of the election — the same strategy that gleaned them a total 151 seats in the 577-seat parliament in June 2022.


Categories / Elections, International

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