France’s once-mighty right-wing Republicans party announced a new leader on Sunday, with members picking arch-conservative Eric Ciotti in the hope he can revive their dim electoral prospects.
The party traces its roots back to post-World War II hero Charles de Gaulle and has provided presidents from Jacques Chirac to Nicolas Sarkozy.
But its candidate slumped to just 4.8 percent in April’s presidential election, with its grassroots support switching to either centrist President Emmanuel Macron or far-right candidates.
The Republicans’ 62 lawmakers play a key role in France’s hung parliament, however, where Macron’s minority government frequently needs their support to pass legislation.
He beat rival Bruno Retailleau by 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent after a second round of voting by the party’s 91,000 members.
Ciotti is an MP from the southern city of Nice who is best known for his hardline views on immigration and French identity which are close to the far right’s.
During a bid to become the Republicans’ presidential candidate for this year’s election, he vowed to defend “Jewish-Christian” France against an “invasion” of migrants.
The 57-year-old also proposed a “French Guantanamo” Bay for Islamic extremists.
He has ruled out a formal alliance with Macron’s minority government in parliament and it remains to be seen whether he will order MPs to try to block legislation.
The Republicans are also the biggest party in the upper-house Senate, giving them an opportunity to rewrite legislation.
Macron is still hoping Republicans lawmakers will help pass major pension reform — one of the party’s long-standing targets — when a bill is presented to parliament early next year.
The reform would see the retirement age raised for most people to 65 from its current level of 62.
Ciotti has also pledged to promote former party chief Laurent Wauquiez as the group’s presidential candidate for elections in 2027 when Macron must step down after two terms in office.