France's two main centrist parties, the UDI and the MoDem, announced a new alliance on Tuesday (5 November), with an eye on next year's European elections.
François Bayrou, of the Democratic Movement (MoDem) and Jean-Louis Borloo, of the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI), the two party leaders, unveiled an alliance named 'The Alternative' in Paris yesterday (5 November).
The two politicians go back a long way. They were both members of the now defunct centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF), which lasted until 2007, when the UDF was replaced by Bayrou’s MoDem and Borloo founded his own party after participating in Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right government.
In August this year, the UDI leader contacted Bayrou proposing to join forces to strengthen the French political centre.
“The first thing that brings us together is Europe,” the two leaders said yesterday at the launch of 'The Alternative'.
And even though the term “Alternative” calls to mind the German “Alternative für Deutschland”, a far-right party opposed to the euro currency, Jean-Louis Borloo would rather think of the new alliance as “an alternative to the far-right, to the despair”.
“We offer an alternative to the political impotence and believe we can make a difference,” Borloo said.
Focus on the EU elections
The first important step for the new alliance will be the European elections in May next year. 'The Alternative' will propose common candidates for all elections – regional, national, European –, except the local election, which takes place in March.
'The Alternative' will present single candidates for the regional, national and European elections but not the local election, which takes place in March.
“We are convinced that we need a new way of thinking about Europe, an affectionate way of thinking,” the two leaders said.
Borloo stressed the importance of France’s participation in the EU. “There are things that France can do but some are more difficult, like climate, energy, tax havens, and that’s why Europe is here”.
“There is an immense need to renew the European ideal. Europe is the only available way to authentic sovereignty,” Bayrou said.
Together, the two parties have 11 MEPs in the European Parliament, while the French Socialist majority has 14. But at EU level, the UDI is a member of the European People's Party (EPP), while MoDem is linked to the liberal ALDE group.
It is not yet clear which European Parliament group the new alliance will join after next year's EU election. Both the EPP and ALDE leaders have issued statements inviting the new centrist alliance to join their political formation (see Positions below).
Jean Arthuis, a French senator from the UDI, suggested that his party could leave the EPP and join the ALDE, which has followed a more federalist European agenda under the leadership of former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.
>> Read: French centrists mull EPP walkout
Bayrou stood behind the Socialist François Hollande at the last presidential elections in 2012, a marked difference with Borloo's UDI.
Their common charter, signed on Tuesday, says that 'The Alternative' is a natural partner of the Republican right, "in respect of humanist values”.
The UMP, led by Jean-François Copé, openly flirts with the far-right’s electorate, however.
The charter also stipulates that “an alliance with the Socialist Party is impossible” but that the “broad reformist majority” that they believe France needs, could “open up to the Green and Socialist-Democrat sensitivities”.
The Alternative has some 100,000 members, 70 national MPs and 11 MEPs. They have some 4,500 local representatives, over which they do not yet appear ready to compromise.