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French right-wing party leader Ciotti backs Le Pen alliance ahead of snap elections

The leader of France’s main right-wing party on Tuesday said he 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. 

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The stunning announcement by the Republicans (LR) leader Eric Ciotti in a lunchtime television 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 (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.

Read moreFrance’s Macron calls snap election in huge gamble after EU polls debacle

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

But in an interview, he ruled out resigning after the poll.

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’      

She hailed the move as a historic break with the traditional right’s refusal to work with the far right in France.

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.

“Forty 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.

“A political party is not just one person,” said the head of the Republicans in the upper house Senate, Bruno Retailleau. 

The LR speaker of the Senate, Gerard Larcher, a heavyweight figure, said he would “never swallow” an agreement with the RN.

“Eric Ciotti is only speaking for himself. He must leave the presidency of the Republicans,” added the head of the Republicans in the National Assembly, Olivier Marleix.

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

‘Right decision’           

Macron’s office delayed until Wednesday a major press 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.

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

Macron’s prime minister, Gabriel Attal — who reportedly warned against calling the election — told party MPs he would “do everything to avoid the worst”, his office said.

This election “has more dramatic and historic stakes than that of 2022” because “the extreme right is at the gates of power”, he added.

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 (LFI) 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.



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