The French President’s party, La Republique en Marche (LREM) was forced to team up with EPP-affiliated Les Republicains for the June regional elections in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
The alliance has been taken as a clear recognition within Mr Macron’s ruling party that it is too weak to win some key regions on its own ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.
Junior Minister Sophie Cluzel, the LREM’s regional candidate, will thus run on the same ticket led by Les Républicains’ Renaud Muselier, president of the regional assembly.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said Mr Muselier had proposed the alliance, to which Mr Macron had responded “very positively”.
The pair will be facing the right-wing National Rally (RN), Marine Le Pen’s party, which in 2015 gathered 45 percent of the votes in the region.
Since her failure in 2017 to take on Emmanuel Macron in the presidential elections, Marine Le Pen has been in a constant process of transformation.
In a poll published by Ifop at the beginning of April, Ms Le Pen was predicted to receive 28 percent of the votes in the first round of the 2022 elections – ahead of Mr Macron’s 24 percent.
In October the score was 24 for Le Pen and 23percent for the current president.
The regional elections on 13 and 20 June will be a litmus test for the sovereignist party.
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Fabien Engelmann, who has been the mayor of Hayange (Moselle) since 2014 and RN regional councillor for the Grand-Est region told Euractiv: “All elections are a springboard, the RN should win one or more regions to show what it is capable of.”
He claimed that abandoning the idea of leaving the eurozone, adopted in 2017 but Ms Le Pen, was a good sign for the party.
He added: “We can stay in the European Union, it is up to each national sovereignist party to send a maximum number of MEPs to Brussels to defend its vision.”
To make things worse for the French President, his party has barred a Muslim woman from running as a candidate on its ticket in a local election after she wore an Islamic headscarf for a photograph that appeared on a campaign flier.
LREM said the party line was that in secular France there should be no place for the overt display of religious symbols on electoral campaign documents.
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Stanislas Guerini, the party’s general secretary, told RTL radio: “This woman will not be an En Marche candidate.”
French law does not prohibit the wearing of the hijab or other religious symbols in images that appear on campaign fliers.
The episode illustrates just how sensitive a subject the place of Islam in French society has become ahead of next year’s presidential vote, with the main challenge to a Macron re-election bid coming from the far right.
Mr Macron, who prided himself on the multi-cultural, ethnically-diverse make-up of his nascent party after his 2017 election victory, has warned of the growing threat of Islamist separatism to France’s core values and the Republic’s unity.
The affair over the campaign poster erupted after Jordan Bardella, the number two in Le Pen’s party, tweeted a copy of the flier with the message: “Is this how you fight separatism?”
Mr Guerini responded directly on Twitter, demanding either the flier be withdrawn or the candidate Sara Zemmahi lose the party’s support.
A LaRem official close to Mr Guerini said Ms Zemmahi would be officially informed of the party’s decision in writing.
The party’s response opened bitter divisions within LREM.
LREM MP Caroline Janvier tweeed: “Undignified. Running after (far-right) votes will only allow their ideas to prevail. Enough is enough.”
Another party legislator, Roland Lescure, told Reuters: “It’s an explosive subject. Political Islam is a reality, it is a simmering threat in some neighbourhoods and we have to be very firm.”