PARIS — France's two leading opposition parties have formed a united front to stop voters drifting toward the extreme right-wing National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Paris Mayor and former Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing announced late Tuesday night they had struck a deal to unite their Rally for the Republic Party (RPR) and Union for French Democracy (UDF) parties under a new label, "Union for France."
Under the accord, the Union is to present a single candidate in the 1995 presidential race who will be elected in a U.S.-style primary election of right-wing voters and local council members.
In other ballots, notably the 1993 general elections, the new movement, to be headed by a 30-person executive, will designate a joint candidate for each constituency.
Giving a clear signal that it aims to avoid local electoral deals with Le Pen's National Front, a 10-point charter signed by the two leaders said backing will be restricted to candidates "who defend its political and moral values."
The National Front has outdistanced the conservative right in several recent by-elections and according to opinion polls could muster around 17% of the vote if an election were held now.
"After 10 years of talk about union, the emergency caused by the growth of the National Front has finally spawned a new political tool," the left-leaning daily Liberation said. "But will it bring back the voters lost to the extreme right?"
Both Chirac's neo-Gaullist RPR and the group of parties under Giscard d'Estaing's leadership in the umbrella UDF are suffering from internal strife and loss of morale after a string of electoral losses against the Socialists since 1988.