French right forges pact against Le Pen

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The Independent Online
AFTER seven weeks of ripping one another apart, the parties, factions and self-regarding personalities of the French right have agreed to form a new political alliance. The pact, to be confirmed by the grass roots, could mark a historic turning in the quarrelsome history of France's right wing, opening the way to the creation of a single French "conservative" party.

On the other hand, it might prove to be the starting-gong for vicious faction-fighting. The proposed new grouping, to be called, simply, L'Alliance, will include both President Jacques Chirac's neo-Gaullist party, the RPR, and the five factions within the virtually defunct, centre-right federation, the UDF.

The declared intention is to unite all the forces on the French right who refuse to have anything to do with the xenophobic and ultra-right National Front (FN). It will be the first time the Gaullists have entered a formal alliance with other parties.

Previously, they would go no further than a loose electoral pact with the UDF. At first glance, the deal would be good news for the neo-Gaullists' founder, Mr Chirac. If the alliance prospers, it virtually guarantees that he will be the sole candidate of the "traditional" right in the next presidential election in four years' time.

Both the UDF and the Gaullists have been severely weakened by the unauthorised local deals made by some of their provincial leaders with Jean-Marie Le Pen's FN following regional elections last March. Up to the middle of this week, it seemed that the traditional right would split into at least four warring groups: the Gaullists; a "centre" party; a Thatcherite "liberal" party; and a fast-growing new party called La Droite (the Right), which has declared its readiness to go into permanent partnership with the FN.

The agreement came out of the blue after secret negotiations between the RPR's president, Phillippe Seguin, and the UDF president, Francois Leotard. It cut the ground from under the feet of the two other principal figures in the UD: Francois Bayrou, who was just about to go it alone with a new party of the centre, and Alain Madelin, who was hoping to build a new formation of the anti-state, pro-market liberal right.

Neither man, to the fury of many of their supporters, feels strong enough to defy the new federation or confederation; they have indicated that they expect their factions to join L'Alliance. This is being referred to as a confederation, not a federation. The Alliance will not have its own bureaucratic structures and it will be presided over by its constituent party leaders in turn. By the end of this year, however, it hopes to have a common political programme.

That is when the fun will begin. How will the Alliance devise one programme to encompass the fiercely pro-European soft centre of Mr Bayrou, the pro- European but Thatcherite Mr Madelin and the contending liberal, pro-European and nationalist, anti-European factions of the Gaullists? The danger will be that, far from cutting the ground from under the FN and La Droite, a fuzzily pro-European Alliance will drive more Gaullists and others towards the far right.