French centrists mull EPP walkout

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Jean Arthuis, a leading centrist French senator from the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI), told euractiv.fr that his party feels closer to the Liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, signalling a potential departure from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

In an interview with euractiv.fr, Arthuis also said he would run for the European elections next year “if necessary”.

The federation of centrist parties, founded a year ago by Jean Louis Borloo, a former Minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, has gathered under a common banner called 'the Europeans' to promote a resolutely federalist EU vision at next year's election.

“The centrist family carries with it a fundamental European belief in its founding principles. For the elections, we decided to run under the name 'the Europeans'. This is a hand extended to all those who identify themselves with our vision for Europe – be they Greens, or UMP [Conservatives],” Arthuis said.

For the UDI, this commitment to the European project will potentially open doors to reconciliation with the other French centrist party, Francois Bayrou’s Modem.

"For the municipal elections, maybe we’ll find that UDI and Modem can converge. But if this convergence goes ahead, it will not merely be a circumstantial agreement for the municipal and European elections in 2014," the politician explained.

Any restructuring of the French centrist parties could be significant on a European level.

Currently, UDI members sit in the European Parliament together with  members of the European People’s Party (EPP). Modem members, meanwhile, have moved closer to the European Liberal Alliance ALDE, led by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, a radical European federalist.

Whether 'the Europeans' will choose one camp over another remains an open question, although they seem rather inclined to join Verhofstadt’s ALDE.

“During this term, we were members of the EPP group, but we have not chosen at this stage one parliamentary group over another. However, I have met several times with Guy Verhofstadt, President of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, whose strong federalist commitment triggered widespread approval within the UDI," Arthuis said.

>> Read the full interview with Jean Arthuis [in French]

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