Marine Le Pen has said she would pick a non-member of the far-right National Front party for prime minister if she wins the run-off vote for the presidency. Le Pen herself has stepped aside from the FN leadership.
In a dramatic U-turn, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan followed his endorsement of extreme-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen by becoming her nominee for prime minister, should she become president.
"We will form a government of national unity that brings together people chosen for their competence and their love of France," Le Pen said at a Paris news conference on Saturday, sitting alongside Dupont-Aignan.
Dupont-Aignan had previously refused to countenance support for Le Pen, calling her too right wing. But he said he had signed an agreement on a future government with Le Pen, who would include some of his policy proposals in her election platform.
The 56-year-old Dupont-Aignan has described the euro as a "racket" and strongly advocates France returning to the franc; retaining the euro only as a reserve currency. He wants a referendum on EU membership and advocates controls on immigration.
Dupont-Aignan is a member of the National Assembly and Mayor of Yerres, a suburb southeast of Paris. He had tried to run for the presidency in 2007, 2012 and 2017. In the first round on April 23 he came in sixth with 4.7 percent of the vote.
Dupont-Aignan founded his own party "Debout la France" ("Arise France") in 2008. In a tweet on Saturday, he said it would remain an independent party, he was not "integrating" with the Front National (FN) party of Marine Le Pen.
His backing for Le Pen sparked the resignation of several "Debout la France" officials. However, he did receive the backing of Nigel Farage, Britain's former UKIP leader, who called him an "utterly respectable Eurosceptic."
Dupont-Aignan commented, "I am and remain a free man. I have dared before history to build a government agreement."
Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who opposes Le Pen for the presidency, said in Poitiers on Saturday that Le Pen-Dupont-Aignan was an alliance of the "reactionary right" that was nationalist and anti-EU.
"On one side, there is a reactionary, anti-European right ... and on the other, a progressive movement that supports an EU that protects as well as social and economic reform," Macron said. "That is my candidacy."
FN leadership moves
In a surprise move, Le Pen temporarily stepped aside as chair of the FN last Monday claiming it would allow her to better represent the interests of "all French people."
Her interim replacement Jean-Francois Jalkh, the party's vice president and an MEP, was himself obliged to step down after an interview from April 2000 resurfaced. In it, Jalkh allegedly made comments to "Le Monde" newspaper denying the use of Zyklon B gas in Nazi gas chambers.
Steve Briois, mayor of the FN's northern stronghold Henin-Beaumont, is to take on the responsibilities of the FN party's presidency until the end of the presidential campaign.
Macron still favored
Macron still has a 19 percentage point lead over Le Pen ahead of the run-off, but analysts have warned that abstention or a shock event could cause an upset.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told the RND newspaper group in remarks to be published on Saturday: "I haven't the slightest doubt that Macron, should he win, which is what I hope for, would be a strong president."
jm/sms (AFP, Reuters)