New French centrist alliance launched with merger of two parties

François Bayrou and Jean-Louis Borloo form The Alternative as an ‘alternative to impotence of politicians’

It is a measure of the absence of novelty in French political life that hundreds of journalists came out in the rain late yesterday to hear two has-been politicians from the soggy centre of French politics announce their political alliance.

They are bucking the trend, which is towards parties fracturing and dividing, said François Bayrou, head of the centrist MoDem party and a former education minister and three-time failed presidential candidate.

The high point of Mr Bayrou’s career was almost making it to the run-off in the 2007 presidential campaign. Much of the right considers him a traitor, because he threw his support behind François Hollande after being eliminated in the first round in 2012. Mr Bayrou also lost his seat in the national assembly last year.


Partnership
Mr Bayrou sat beside Jean-Louis Borloo, leader of the Union of Democrats and Independents and a three-time cabinet minister – of ecology, employment and finance – whose hopes of being appointed prime minister ebbed and flowed under Nicolas Sarkozy.

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The name of their new grouping, “the Alternative”, says it all: an alternative to the ruling socialists; to Mr Sarkozy, who is hell-bent on coming back; to Marine Le Pen and the rise of the National Front. They were “an alternative to the impotence of politicians”, Mr Bayrou said.

Both men repeatedly evoked the “distress” of France. “We’re not doing this for ourselves,” Mr Bayrou said. “The distress is so great that democracy itself is in danger if we can’t renew the hope and conviction of the people.”

“The two Bs”, as they are being called, are both 62 years old with steel-grey hair. They sat against a dark blue-grey backdrop, wearing dark blue-grey suits. So far, they have been at pains to stress their equal footing. They announced their press conference with identical tweets at the same moment.


Pro-Europe
Both are avidly pro-Europe. Mr Borloo denounced the "sedimentation" and negativity of French politics, as well as the "complexity of the administrative mille-feuille".

As a former education minister, Mr Bayrou said the “general illiteracy” of French school-leavers caused him “personal suffering”.

So who will be the boss? “We chose to turn our backs on rivalry,” said Mr Bayrou, a former French professor and the more loquacious partner.

“We’re fortunate to have equal credit in public opinion.”

Their charter says only that “our candidate for the presidential election will be chosen together through a democratic process”.

Despite Mr Bayrou’s assertion that “what we are doing is not for one election; it’s for a generation”, one wonders if it will outlast next year’s municipal and European elections.

However, the Alternative’s potential to drain votes from left and right will be of concern to both Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times