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French conservatives boot leader over far-right pact call

June 12, 2024

France's center-right party Les Republicains says it has kicked out its own leader Eric Ciotti, after he recommended an alliance with Marine Le Pen in upcoming snap elections. But Ciotti says the procedure was invalid.

 French right-wing Les Republicains (LR) Member of Parliament and 2022 presidential candidate Eric Ciotti
Ciotti tried to strike a surprise election deal with the far-right National Rally ahead of snap pollsImage: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP

Members of the political committee of the French center-right party Les Republicains (LR) unanimously voted to expel the party's own chairman Eric Ciotti, party official Annie Genevard said on Wednesday. 

"The Republicans will present candidates to the French public with clarity and independence" for the snap vote on June 30 and July 7, Genevard said.

This followed Ciotti suggesting on Tuesday that it was time for the mainstream conservative party to drop its longstanding taboo against forming an alliance with  Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN).

It was seen as a radical suggestion for a mainstream conservative even as Ciotti said it live on air, and within a day the party's bid to eject its own leader in response materialized.

Macron defends calling snap elections

Ciotti pledges legal battle, says still in his post

However, Ciotti's first responses were combative, saying he didn't believe the vote had followed the party's own rules and that he considered his position to be unchanged. 

Ciotti called the committee's decision "a flagrant violation of our statutes" that was illegal and void. 

"I am and remain the president" of the party, he wrote in a post online.

Both communications, expelling Ciotti and declaring him to still be the rightful party chairman, were signed in the party's name.

A public or potentially even a legal battle seemed to beckon. 

Parties rushing to realign after European vote, with Macron departure nearing

French politics is reeling after President Emmanuel Macron called snap legislative elections this week.

He did so after the far-right RN emerged as by far the largest party in European Parliament elections last week. 

Macron says he's worried about leaving behind a fractured party landscape on departure, and the latest turmoil in LR is a reflection of these same concerns. 

There are several credible parties broadly to the left of Macron's centrist party of governement, including hard-left groups like Jean-Luc Melenchon's La France Insoumise, that are planning to team up for the snap elections, as they did in the last legislative ballot

But the only places where LR can seek potential support are either from Macron's own alliance — whose future seems insecure when the president who founded it has to step down in 2027 — or from Le Pen and RN.

Right-wing alliance in France: DW's Sonia Phalnikar

Party of Chirac and Sarkozy reduced to 7%  

The party now known as Les Republicains can trace its roots, under several different names, back to a period of electoral dominance under past Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. It even shares a legacy with France's longstanding leader after World War II, Charles de Gaulle.

But the days of LR and its center-left rivals the Parti Socialiste  (PS) being the largest opposing forces in French politics are long gone, not least under Macron. 

Both major parties had been heomarrhaging supporters for years to either the far right, now known as the National Rally (RN) under Marine Le Pen, or to far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon. 

Then Macron came along and completed the hollowing-out of the major parties from the center, starting up his own movement that rapidly claimed more moderate members and voters from both groups. 

LR in it current form is struggling to remain relevant in French politics. It won barely 7% of the votes in European Parliament elections last week.

By contrast, Le Pen's RN was the largest single party with 31.4%.

As such Ciotti was not just recommending some kind of alliance, he was effectively voicing a willingness to be a junior partner.

Le Pen's RN may fare slightly less well in a French legislative election, where turnout is usually fractionally higher, also among people without strong views on the EU.

France's two-round voting system also encourages voters to oppose those candidates they dislike in a second-round runoff, which sometimes hurts popular parties with more radical stances. 

fb, msh/wmr (Reuters, AFP)

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