Fury among EU lawmakers as French conservative leader opens up to far-right National Rally

Fury among EU lawmakers as French conservative leader opens up to far-right National Rally

Centrist and left-leaning EU lawmakers have lashed out at the decision of the president of the French conservative The Republicans party, Éric Ciotti, to form an alliance with the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen ahead of snap legislative elections.

Ciotti’s move, announced earlier on Tuesday, has been slated as a dismantling of the so-called sanitary cordon that has kept radical right-wing forces out of power in France, days after Europe’s right wing made gains in the election to the European Parliament.

Marine Le Pen hailed it a “courageous decision” as she hopes to unite France’s right-wing in the run-up to the snap ballot abruptly convened by President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday after RN swept to victory in the European vote.

But French EU lawmakers have been quick to denounce the move, amid fears France could join the growing list of countries that have opened their government’s doors to the radical right.

“In the last decade, we have seen liberals and conservatives in France making all of the same mistakes (...) By failing to defend democratic values, by ‘normalising’ the ideas of the far-right, and by institutionalising their presence in the Parliament, they have paved the way for the worst,” the co-chair of the European Green Party, Mélanie Vogel, said in a statement.

The Greens have recently doubled down on their commitment to fighting the rise of Europe’s far-right, vowing in a declaration co-signed by other mainstream parties in May to never enter a coalition with far-right parties at any level.

The president of the Left group in the European Parliament, Manon Aubry, said that Ciotti's miscalculated maneouvre meant that the Republican right was "dead." Her far-left France Unbowed party has struck a deal with the French Greens and other left-wing parties in a bid to face up to the far-right in the French election.

Valérie Hayer - the president of the European liberals who was fielded as Macron’s lead candidate in the European elections - said that The Republicans “no longer have an ounce of respect for the Republic” and had flouted the fundamental principles of their predecessors, including former presidents Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac.

“All those on the right who defended the honour of France have been trampled today,” Hayer said.

Hayer's centrist Renew Europe group joined the declaration promising to isolate the far right in May, days before their Dutch member party - the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) - controversially struck a coalition deal with Geert Wilders' far-right Party for Freedom (PVV). Hayer has vowed her group will hold a vote on the expulsion of VVD in retaliation, pencilled for 26 June.

Civil war in The Republicans' camp

Ciotti's move has also exposed deep divisions within the Republicans' camp, with regional presidents and other key figures within the party up in arms.

Former French minister and European Commissioner Michel Barnier told reporters earlier today that Ciotti had lost legitimacy to speak on behalf of his political family.

Among the six candidates elected to represent Ciotti's Republicans in the European Parliament, opinion is also deeply split. The fourth candidate on the party's European list, Isabelle Le Callennec, has denounced the move and distanced herself from Ciotti.

But others have backed their president, with the party's MEP-elect Céline Imart saying the alliance with the far right was necessary to unite against the "impotence of Macronism."

The party's lead candidate in the European elections, François-Xavier Bellamy, has published a lengthy statement in which he describes the potential alliance with Le Pen's forces as "counter-productive."

Bellamy said the fusion of the right-wing parties would play into Macron's hands by removing the barrier between his centrist party and the far-right.

Meanwhile, the president of Marine Le Pen's European political family Identity Democracy (ID), Marco Zanni, said that the deep split within the Republicans was "another effect of the victory" of Le Pen's RN in the European elections, as she "continues her bid to take over the French conservative camp."

Le Pen said last month that she was seeking the backing of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to unite the European Parliament’s hard-right parties into a far-right supergroup.

The parties are currently divided between Le Pen's Identity and Democracy (ID) group and Meloni’s nationalist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), but if combined would become the third biggest faction in the European Parliament.