French conservatives' chief wants election deal with far right, in major shift

french conservatives' chief wants election deal with far right, in major shift

Marine Le Pen, President of the French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National - RN) party parliamentary group, is surrounded by journalists as she arrives at the RN party headquarters in Paris, France, June 10, 2024. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Elizabeth Pineau and Tassilo Hummel

PARIS (Reuters) - The leader of France's conservative Republicans on Tuesday called for an alliance between his party's candidates and the far right National Rally in a snap parliamentary election - a political shift that will have wide repercussions.

french conservatives' chief wants election deal with far right, in major shift

FILE PHOTO: Member of parliament Eric Ciotti attends a debate on the pension reform plan at the National Assembly in Paris, France February 17, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/FILE PHOTO

"We say the same things so let's stop making up imagined opposition," Eric Ciotti told TF1 television. "This is what the vast majority of our voters want. They tell us 'reach a deal'."

Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration, eurosceptic National Rally (RN) is widely expected to emerge as the strongest force after President Emmanuel Macron unexpectedly called snap elections for June 30 and July 7, although it may fall short of an absolute majority.

french conservatives' chief wants election deal with far right, in major shift

A general view shows the hemicycle during the questions to the Prime Minister session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, April 3, 2024. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

The RN was therefore looking for allies to secure control of parliament and it immediately applauded Ciotti's comment. But this in turn means The Republicans (LR) is likely to implode.

Ciotti's comments also signified that a decades-old consensus in France's political establishment to join forces to keep the far right from the power was blowing up.

The Republicans, and its previous versions - all heirs of Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac's parties - were in power for large chunks of France's modern political history.

But LR is a shadow of its former self, with far fewer lawmakers, and had already lost key members to Macron's centrist party and the far right.

Other mainstream parties to the left and right have also been weaker since Macron was first elected president in 2017 on a neither-left-nor-right platform with an upstart party that wanted to reshape France's political landscape.

Philippe Gosselin, an LR lawmaker, told Reuters he would leave LR over Ciotti's comments and that LR lawmakers would create a new group.

"It is unthinkable for me (and many LR MPs) that there could be the slightest agreement, the slightest alliance, even local, or personal, with the RN," Gosselin said.

Other LR veterans lined up to reject any deal with the far right. An LR parliamentary source estimated that only about a sixth of LR lawmakers would accept such a deal.

Olivier Marleix, who heads the LR group of the lower house of parliament, said on X: "What Eric Ciotti is saying is valid only for himself, he must leave the leadership of the Republicans."

DIVIDED

Macron's camp was quick to say Ciotti's comments were shameful and, according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, a former LR member, reminiscent of the 1938 Munich agreements signed by France and Britain with Nazi Germany.

All French political parties have been rushing to find alliances - and trying not to fall apart - since Macron announced the snap election following a poor performance by his Renaissance party in European Parliament elections on Sunday.

France's divided left-wing parties pledged to work together and nominate joint candidates in the elections, but are yet to strike a formal deal.

The euro dropped as did French stocks and bonds after Macron's announcement.

Rating agency Moody's warned of the risk that political instability triggered by the snap election meant for France's already challenging fiscal picture.

The RN calls for protectionist "France first" economic policies and a radical cut in immigration. It would restrict childcare benefits to French citizens and withdraw residency for migrants who are out of work for more than a year.

It has also proposed higher public spending, despite already significant levels of French debt, threatening to further raise financing costs at banks.

Speaking to Le Figaro, Macron said he was in for the win and that calling a snap election "was the right decision, in the interest of the country" and that it would clarify things.

He ruled out resigning, whatever the result of the election.

Marine Le Pen's party would win 235 to 265 seats in the National Assembly, a huge jump from its current 88 but short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority, according to the survey by Toluna Harris Interactive for Challenges, M6 and RTL published Monday.

The same poll sees LR with 40-55 seats, so the two combined might eke out an absolute majority, but with no certainty.

(This story has been refiled to remove the repeated paragraph 11)

(Additional reporting by Michel Rose, Nicolas Delame, Blandine Henault and Sudip Kar-Gupta, writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ros Russell)

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