French right throws out leader over his alliance offer to far-right

Les Républicains president Eric Ciotti claims attempts to dismiss him are ‘illegal’ after he tried to barricade himself inside the party office

French politician Eric Ciotti giving an interview
The leader of the party announced earlier this week he backed an electoral alliance with the far-right
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The president of France’s main right-wing party Les Républicains (LR) has been excluded from the group and stripped of his title, the party announced on Wednesday (June 12) evening.

It comes after Eric Ciotti offered an electoral pact with the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) in the upcoming legislative elections, which, it is claimed, was announced without the party’s approval.

However, Mr Ciotti, 58, said his dismissal, which came after an internal meeting of party officials, “held no legal value” and that he was still the legitimate leader of LR. 

“If there are any obstacles to my legitimate presidency… [then I will use] legal action,” to remain as president, the politician said during a TV interview on France 2 this morning.

He said he would return to his office in the party’s headquarters in Paris after the interview despite having been removed from the building the evening before.

Read more: Macron: why I called snap French election and I won’t resign if we lose

Party rebelled against far-right alliance

Swathes of the party reacted with disbelief and anger when Mr Ciotti announced on Tuesday that he approved of, and was seeking, an electoral pact between the LR and the RN, and had begun to negotiate one with RN president Jordan Bardella.

Read more: Jordan Bardella: his unflattering nickname and 1.5m Tik Tok fans

The agreement would consist of the parties not running candidates against each other in certain circonscriptions (seats), and working together to form a majority bloc in the National Assembly.

Mr Ciotti has traditionally been seen as to the right of the party, and has attempted to distance LR from the policies of President Emmanuel Macron during recent years (at times however the party did align their votes with the president’s governing coalition to pass certain legislation). 

The announcement of a possible pact with the RN took not only LR members by surprise, but senior politicians and MPs in the party, who say they were not told of the plans before Mr Ciotti made the announcement live on TV.

“In politics, the answer isn't coalition deals, little pacts made behind closed doors to secure constituencies," said LR member and president of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region Laurent Wauquiez.

"We try to convince people, we may fail to convince people. But we do it clearly and with a spine," he added.

Other senior MPs, including the party’s vice president, have turned against the leader and the vote to dismiss him was reportedly passed nearly unanimously during the internal meeting.

This morning, however, Mr Ciotti was still confident in his choice. 

“The right are going to return to power… and LR will have cabinet positions,” if the RN win, he said.

Read more: Snap French election: What will far-right want if it gains more power?

A betrayal of Gaullist principles?

LR, as the current iteration of the main right-wing party in France, is seen as the political successor to Charles de Gaulle and the politics of Gaullism. 

Although the party has to bring together multiple strands of conservatism, the choice to ally with the RN is seen as an alienation of the party’s core values. 

“There are real problems in France today and we hear the cry of revolt,” said LR senator Hervé Reynaud to France Bleu.

“But there can be no compromise.. I don't confuse the children of Gaulle with the children of Pétain,” he added. 

This jibe at the RN (comparing them to the collaborative Vichy France regime) hearkens back to the disputes between the right and far-right in French politics. 

The RN, traditionally, have been vehement attackers of not only the main right-wing parties of France, but of de Gaulle himself. 

Charles de Gaulle was a “false great man whose destiny was to help France become small,” said Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the RN (back when it was the National Front). 

“[He remains for me a horrible source of suffering for France… I shook his indifferent hand. He looked ugly to me and said a few banalities to the tricolour-covered podium. He didn't look like a hero,” he added in his 2018 book Fils de la Nation.

Read more: De Gaulle’s myth of Paris freeing itself leaves a complex legacy

‘Like a scene from a comedy film’

Mr Ciotti has called the decision to attempt to dismiss him as “illegal” on a social media post, which can be seen below. 

A debacle ensued, with Mr Ciotti and allies allegedly ‘barricading’ themselves inside the party’s HQ and refusing to leave.

However, the doors were opened and the leader removed (the general secretary of the party always carries a spare key).

“It's a pretty worrying sign about his ability to manage the national security of France,” said vice-president of the party Florence Portelli this morning, comparing the scene to something out of cult French comedy OS117.

It led to comments from others across the political spectrum, including current housing minister Guillaume Kasbarian, who joked that Mr Ciotti was “squatting” the building (Mr Ciotti has loudly supported harsher punishments for squatters).

On social media, Mr Kasbarian sent a public post to the LR’s official page, explaining how to begin eviction of a squatter under new laws brought in last year.

What other political updates are there? 

The French political landscape is fast-moving, with only 17 days until the first round of the election. 

Candidates for each of the 577 seats have to be confirmed by next Monday (June 17). Here are some other updates from the last 24 hours:

  • A group of left-wing parties, including the Greens/Ecologists, Socialist Party, Communist Party, and La France Insoumise have announced an official Front Populaire (popular front) for the elections. The pact sees only one candidate from any of these parties stand for a seat, and they will work together as a united bloc in the National Assembly. However, the choice of the leader and potential prime minister of the bloc, if they win the majority of seats, is said to be a stumbling point. 

  • Senior politicians of president Macron’s governing alliance are calling on voters and politicians to ‘reject’ the far-left and far-right extremes, and join them in the centre. Prime minister Gabriel Attal called on those feeling disillusioned with their party’s choices – likely an indirect jibe at members of LR and the Socialist Party – to join them. Recent polls have the party in a distant third place, around 10% behind a combined left-wing front and 13% behind the RN*.

  • No major polls have been released since Mr Ciotti’s announcement, but the chaos within the party will likely result in a drop in voting intentions. Polls from before Mr Ciotti’s announcement placed the party on around 6.5%.*

  • Far-right party Réconquête ! is also facing internal conflicts, as Marion Maréchal, head of the party’s electoral list during the recent European elections, has been kicked out. The niece of Marine Le Pen, who has been a key figure in the party, was dismissed by leader Eric Zémmour for “treason” after she announced her backing for certain RN candidates. 

* Poll conducted by Elabe, June 11-12, with a sample size of 1,502.