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New leader of French Les Républicains party is ‘right of right’

Éric Ciotti is one of four new leaders recently appointed to opposition parties. He previously said he would have voted Zemmour if he had made the second round with Macron in April’s presidential election

La France Insoumise’s Manuel Bompard and Les Républicains’ Éric Ciotti are two of the four politicians having been elected as leader of their party Pic: Shutterstock / Victor Joly / Obatala-photography / Piotr Swat

Four of France’s main political parties have elected new leaders in the last week in a bid to prepare for the next presidential elections in 2027.  

The parties include La France Insoumise (LFI), France’s most prominent left-wing party, and Les Républicains (LR), the once-dominant conservative party looking to gain new ground after suffering a devastating defeat in the presidential elections this year, with 4.8% of the vote.

Alpes-Maritimes MP Éric Ciotti, 57, was elected president of LR on Sunday, with 53.7% of the vote from more than 90,000 party members, defeating the leader of the party in the Senate Bruno Retailleau who scored 46.3%.

Manuel Bompard, 36, took command of LFI during an ‘assemblée representative’ (representative meeting) that was criticised by party members for not involving a vote or including some grassroots members. 

The third party to have chosen a new leader is Europe Écologie - Les Verts (EELV), France’s green party, which elected 36-year-old Marine Tondelier with 90.8% of the vote, reflecting the party’s will to unite behind environmental causes.

Finally, the Union des démocrates et indépendants (UDI), a declining centre-right party, elected 68-year-old senator Hervé Marseille as its new leader.

These appointments come in the context of a 2027 election in which President Emmanuel Macron cannot run again, and where no clear successor has emerged, raising the hopes of opposition parties of having a chance of reaching the Élysée Palace. 

Read more: Will Macron dissolve parliament over MP loses? Two experts give views

The Connexion looks at the new leaders’ careers and their political beliefs. 

Éric Ciotti - Les Républicains

Mr Ciotti’s election was not a surprise, as he came second in LR’s election primaries – the internal party vote designed to choose a presidential candidate – behind Valérie Pécresse. 

He is positioned on the ‘right of the right’, taking a hard stance on immigration and security, and saying he would have voted for Éric Zemmour (far right) if Mr Zemmour had reached the second-round run-off against Mr Macron in April.

Mr Ciotti has said he represents the “droite qui s’assume” (the right at ease with itself) in a positioning that suggests the party has no shame in defending tough policies on immigration, identity and security. 

This slogan is also intended to place LR in opposition to the far-right Rassemblement National’s (RN) Marine Le Pen, who was able to hoover up many disappointed LR voters in the last election. 

LR assistant secretary Henri Dumont told the French press that Mr Ciotti will not make alliances with RN or Mr Zemmour.

“This is just the continuation of a dying party,” said Gilles Richard, emeritus history teacher and the president of the association Société française d’histoire politique, adding that it is “an epiphenomenon [a secondary effect or by-product] in a crisis that started in 2012.”

Mr Richard said the party began a downward spiral in 2012 because of an internal rift between MPs inspired by social democracy on the one hand and MPs more acutely concerned by immigration and security on the other. 

Mr Richard said former president Nicolas Sarkozy is responsible for LR’s decline because he opened the way for a greater emphasis on immigration and security during the 2007 presidential campaign, in an effort to appeal to people who were considering voting for far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. The tactic helped him gain a million votes. 

Mr Ciotti’s main goal will be to revive LR’s status within the Assemblée nationale after the defeat of Valérie Péresse, whose 2022 election result was the lowest the party has seen since the beginning of the Fifth Republic.  

He is experienced on these issues, having served as MP in an area of France traditionally inhabited by retirees very much concerned by security issues. Nice, for instance, is the city with the most surveillance cameras in all of France. 

His election signals that the political right is leaning increasingly towards tougher policies as has been demonstrated by the rise of right-wing TV shows and right-leaning newspapers giving more time to sensationalistic ‘faits divers’ (human interest stories).

Manuel Bompard - La France Insoumise

Manuel Bompard will aim to push for reforms that will look to “change the nature of the movement,” he said in a press conference after his appointment.

LFI is hoping to facilitate communication between different party associations and members, and to open more offices in rural areas where RN has a consolidated voter base. 

However, it seems like the assemblée representative was not that representative at all since several grassroots LFI members complained of being left out of the conversation, and that the party had not held elections like others. 

“Mr Bombard’s ascension to leader suggests that the party remains as anti-democratic as ever,” said Mr Richard, in a nod to the all-mighty presence of former LFI’s leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Mr Richard said Mr Bombard is here to solidify Mr Mélenchon’s status and help Mr Mélenchon achieve a good polling position for 2027. 

LFI has said it will create a political body composed of elected officials, grassroots and personalities of the party to host debates on strategy.

Mr Mélenchon said he will now co-direct L’Institut La Boétie, an LFI think-tank.

Marine Tondelier - Europe Écologie - Les Verts

Marine Tondelier is a relatively unknown political figure to many French people. Elected in a landslide, Ms Tondelier who lives in Hénin-Beaumont, northern France, has already rubbed LFI’s Mr Bompard the wrong way after she refused to sign with the left-wing Nupes coalition an alliance for the next European elections in 2024.

Ms Tondelier told French radio France Inter that her refusal was motivated by her willingness to offer to French voters an alternative to the last two presidential run-offs, which saw President Macron and Ms Le Pen go head to head.

She is also considering renaming the party ‘Les Écologistes’ in an effort to open it up to new voter bases. 

Ms Tondelier will look to appeal to voters from the working-class who turned to far-right Rassemblement national. 

Hervé Marseille - Union des démocrates indépendants

The UDI’s leader in the Senate Hervé Marseille, 68, from Hauts-de-Seine, will be tasked with attracting new members after the party suffered from the loss of two thirds of its supporter base (from 30,000 to 10,000) in 2022.

The UDI has around a dozen MPs and 40 senators. 

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