French conservative heavyweight Pecresse to lead political splinter group

Valerie Pecresse, President of the Ile-de-France region and member of the Republicans political party, arrives to attend the handover ceremony between arrives to attend the handover ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) – Valerie Pecresse, who leads France’s main conservative party in the greater Paris region, is to form her own political movement, the latest sign that traditional French political parties are splitting up.

Pecresse had been put forward by colleagues as a potential national leader of The Republicans (LR), which like all of France’s established parties is feeling the pressure after President Emmanuel Macron and his one year-old centrist grouping Republic on the Move (LREM) swept to power earlier this year.

But naming the new movement ‘Libre’ which translates as ‘Free!’, Pecresse, who was a minister under former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, said the LR leadership battle would be “sterile” for as long as the party had not found its true direction.

She told Sunday newspaper Le Journal de Dimanche she would seek to position her grouping between those who have joined Macron’s government – including prime minister Edouard Philippe – and those who would follow a line she called “aggressive opposition,” and which has gathered around the party’s right wing.

She said she wanted “an authentic right, neither subsumed by Macron nor porous with the (far right) National Front (FN.)

“Whatever his failings … Macron would always be a more rallying force, than a right turned in upon its conservative fringe,” she said.

After his victory in the presidential election in May, Macron’s LREM and its allies won 350 seats in the 577-seat lower house, versus 30 seats for the Socialist party and 112 for LR during parliamentary elections in June.

There are also deep divisions in the Socialist party after five years in government under Francois Hollande’s presidency – made worse by the emergence of France Unbowed, a leftist movement led by the charismatic Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Hollande’s prime minister, the pro-business Manuel Valls, has quit the party, as has Benoit Hamon, who was from the left of the party and came fifth in the first round of the presidential election.

On Saturday, the Socialists said they had elected a provisional management committee composed of 8 men and 8 women to run its affairs while it decides how to respond to its defeat.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Andrew Callus and Jane Merriman)