François Bayrou and Jean-Louis Borloo, former adversaries, fuse their parties to create an alternative centre-right

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This has been a long time in the making. This is a marriage of convenience. Mouvement Démocrate, (MoDem) lead by François Bayrou, and Union des Démocrates et des Indépendants, (UDI) lead by Jean-Louis Borloo will, tomorrow, officially join together. Not to form a political party, but in a way not dissimilar from the Front de Gauche, to which Jean-Luc Mélenchon belongs, to be able to stand at local and national elections together, and to create a central-right block where the UMP, rapidly veering to the far right, used to be, and dominate.

Bayrou has had to compromise. Far more likely to describe himself as belonging to the Independent center than the central right, which is what the UDI is, he has had to agree to clearly define the alliance politically. MoDem was born out of the break-up of the UDF. (Union pour la Démocracie Française 1978-2007) Bayrou, instead of joining Jacques Chirac’s UMP, (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) like most of the former UDF adherents, formed MoDem in 2007. This was seen as an ultimate betrayal by the UMP and the Sarkozystes. In 2004, after Alain Juppé had to resign as President of the UMP due to being found guilty in a corruption case, Sarkozy seized control of what had been Chirac’s party, and formed it into the UMP, largely as we know it today. Its veering to the far right has, of course been helped by the fact that Jean-François Copé, its current leader, is desperately trying to wing back voters from the FN, leading to discourses such as identifying with ‘exasperated’ French parents whose children have had their pain au chocolat ‘snatched’ from them at the school gates by ‘thugs’ who tell them that there must be no eating at Ramadan. This is the man who has also complained about ‘anti-white racism.’

MoDem is incompatible with this. It is a central, socially liberal and pro-European party. It resembles the former UDF. Nevertheless, in modern France, this doesn’t win elections. In the last presidential election in 2012, Bayrou, standing for MoDem, won only 9.3% of the vote, and also lost his seat in the National Assembly.

The UDI was also born out of a strong discontent with the UMP, and in particular, Sarkozy, ever the divisive figure in French Politics. The party was formed in September 2012, after the May 2012 elections. The UDI is made up of nine political parties, who fused after the elections. The reason for the birth of the UDI was extreme disagreement with the path which the UMP was, and is, increasingly taking: that of the far right. Some analysts believe that Borloo had in mind an eventual fusion with MoDem right from the creation of the UDI. An October 2012 article in Le Monde quoted Borloo: ‘L’indépendance, c’est la puissance. Mais l’indépendance, ce n’est pas l’isolement.’ (‘Independence is power. But independence is not isolation.) This was supposedly an effort to include Bayrou in his circle right from the start.

Several political heavy weights joined or endorsed the UDI at its creation, notably Simone Veil, the ex President of the European Parliament and the ex Minister for Social Affairs and Health, (UDF) who was at its founding ceremony. An influential figure, seeing as in 2010, a survey reported that she was France’s favorite female figure. (Le Point, 21.10.12) Yet the fact that Veil belonged to the UDF, the as did François Bayrou, and has not endorsed MoDem, instead criticizing it, (saying publicly that Bayrou was acting only in his own interests) may have caused tension between Borloo and Bayrou.

Indeed, Bayrou and Borloo, once close, had a spectacular falling out, which lasted 11 years. Nevertheless, as Le Figaro reports, what unites them is stronger than their differences. Notably on the subject of Pro-Europeanism. Moreover, Bayrou’s latest election results showed how politically isolated he was. This was exacerbated when he definitively burnt his bridges with the UMP after he called for his supporters to vote for François Hollande after he was voted out at the first round of the 2012 elections. The party has had to rent out half of its headquarters in Paris, and has hardly any deputes, in contrast to the UDI’s 31. Bayrou, famous for wanting to be number 1 at all costs, has had to readjust. His party’s survival may depend on this union.

However, there is a market for this union. 28% of French people describe themselves to be neither on the right or the left. (Le Monde, 21.10.12) As the spokes-man of the UDI deputés, Jean-Christophe Lagarde said; ‘Les Français rejettent violemment le pouvoir socialiste, ils sont coincés entre une UMP dont ils ne manifestent pas le désir et une extrême droite qui leur sert d’exutoire’ (Europe1.fr 4.11.13) (‘The French violently reject the Socialist power, and are stuck between the UMP, which doesn’t seem popular, and the extreme Right, which is an outlet for them.’)Together, this is a union standing for openness, social liberalism, the environment, and Europe. Yet this is also a marriage of convenience, taking advantage of the current extreme unpopularity of the UMP and the PS. The 2017 elections are now a feasible goal for these two united parties.

That being said, the first test is soon to come. The municipal elections are approaching. Previously MoDem has supported the PS, but this is now forbidden. Recently, the Paris town councilor for MoDem, Jean-François Martins, announced his support for the Socialist candidate, Anne Hildago, in the upcoming elections for the Mayor of Paris. He will be shortly expelled from the party. Bayrou and Borloo are taking a hard line.  Affaire à suivre…

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