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Marine Le Pen embraces anti-EU first-round rival

Marine Le Pen has agreed to team up with an anti-EU candidate who came sixth in the first round of France’s presidential election as she seeks to win votes from the centre-right in the run-off next weekend.

On Saturday Ms Le Pen announced that she would name Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, an anti-EU Gaullist and founder of the nationalist party Debout la France (Arise France), as prime minister in her government if she is elected. A day earlier Mr Dupont-Aignan, who is also mayor of the Yerres suburb of southeastern Paris, had declared that “I will support and campaign with Marine Le Pen for an expanded government.”

In eight days time Ms Le Pen will face independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the run-off to decide who will become president. Current polls suggest that Mr Macron will beat her with 60 per cent of the vote to 40 per cent for Ms Le Pen.

Striking a deal with Mr Dupont-Aignan and his party illustrates how in the final stages of the campaign Ms Le Pen is attempting to appeal to the bloc of mainstream centre-right voters who supported Republican candidate François Fillon.

Mr Dupont-Aignan came sixth in the first round of voting last weekend, with 4.7 per cent of the vote, fewer than two percentage points behind the Socialist party candidate, Benoît Hamon.

While Mr Dupont-Aignan shares Ms Len Pen’s desire to leave the euro and return to the franc, the pair maintained in a joint statement on Saturday that “the transition from the single currency to the European common currency is not a prerequisite for any economic policy”.

Ms Le Pen has recently sought to tone down her rhetoric on the party’s flagship policy of leaving the euro in an attempt to reassure centre-right voters who have savings and investments denominated in euros. These would likely plummet in value if France returned to the franc and its currency devalued.

Among centre-right voters Ms Le Pen wants to prey on their fears that Mr Macron is an heir to the deeply-unpopular Socialist president François Hollande. While Mr Macron’s year-old political movement En Marche! (On the move) professes to be neither on the left or on the right, critics have seized upon the fact that he was economy minister under Mr Hollande to paint him as a socialist.

In the past week Ms Le Pen has also become more aggressive in trying to court the far left supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, and on Friday she made a direct appeal to them on Twitter to vote for her. This week at a rally in Nice she adopted the battle cry of the far left: “dégagez-les!” (throw them out!) as she claimed that a “treacherous” political and financial elite were demanding the “submission, surrender and capitulation” of France.

Mr Dupont-Aignan said that his Debout la France party will remain totally independent. However his endorsement of the FN took many by surprise and marks a change in sentiment from the past when he has frequently stressed his distance from the party.

In April 2014 Mr Dupont-Aignan told the France 2 television channel: “Do you want to entrust France to the Le Pen family? No.” As recently as September he said that “we do not come from the same political family” as the FN.

Via FT