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Les Républicains (The Republicans)
Formerly Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP)

France's conservative party on 04 December 2021 chose Valérie Pécresse, the moderate chief of the Paris region, to challenge President Emmanuel Macron in 2022, a choice that would have major influence on the shape of the campaign. Members of Les Républicans (LR) in the primary run-off vote chose Pécresse, who would its first-ever female presidential candidate and presents herself as a voice of moderation, over hardliner Éric Ciotti. Both had made the run-off after the first round of voting earlier this week upended expectations. The favorites, ex-minister Xavier Bertrand and former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, were both knocked out and went on to back Pécresse.

Although more moderate than Ciotti, Pécresse and her rivals for the LR ticket all drifted further to the right on immigration and law and order issues. She campaigned on promises to halve the number of residence permits for non-EU migrants, stiffen judicial sentences in tough neighborhoods where police were under pressure, and ban women accompanying their children on school trips from wearing a Muslim headscarf.

Les Républicans failed to make the run-off in 2017, after its candidate, François Fillon, was felled by a graft scandal. But the party, out of power since 2012, makes much of its status as the inheritor of the presidencies of Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac as well as Charles de Gaulle.

The once-dominant conservative party in France, Les Republicans, now the biggest opposition party in parliament, elected a new leader 10 December 2017 they hope will recover their voice. The conservatives’ ambitious new chief, 42-year old Laurent Wauquiez, was a hard-hitting critic of the 39-year-old centrist president, whom he dismissed as out of touch with rural France, weak on security and too much in favor of closer European integration. Wauquiez wanted the party to pull its weight after months when internal divisions and the shock from failing to make the run-off in this year’s presidential election held them back.

Wauquiez bills himself as the champion of small-town, rural France - a France, he said, with which Macron had no connection as he pursues a “start-up nation”. While there are few policy parallels between the two men, Wauquiez and Macron actually have some traits in common. Both are younger than French political leaders usually are and are graduates from the country’s top elite schools who promise to shake up the political establishment.

Moderate veterans, ill at ease with his wooing of far-right National Front voters, warned they could leave the party if he did not water down his hardline views. And opinion polls show he is not popular with voters overall. Both far-left ‘France Unbowed’ leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and far-right National Front chief Marine Le Pen have so far been viewed as stronger opponents to Macron, polls have shown.

It was described as an “earthquake”, a “revolution”, and a “leap into the unknown”. In carrying political novice Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen to the second round of the presidential election, French voters inflicted a crushing defeat on 23 April 2017 on the two parties that had alternated in power in recent decades. Neither the conservative Les Républicains, nor the ruling Socialists, will feature in the May 7 runoff. Blighted by scandals, the conservative candidate Fillon had to settle for third place with less than 20% of the vote.

The conservative Les Républicains had triumphed in local elections throughout Hollande’s troubled term. Only a few months earlier, their nominee was seen as a shoo-in for the presidency. But Fillon’s carefully crafted image as the candidate of integrity was shattered when it emerged he had paid his wife and children almost 1 million euros from the public purse for allegedly fake jobs, and his campaign never fully recovered. “The unthinkable has happened, the unlosable has been lost,” wrote right-wing daily Le Figaro. But the Les Républicains still fancied their chances of clinching a majority of seats and forcing the future president to share power.

The foundation of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire [UMP - Union for a Popular Movement ] in 2002 was an attempt to unite French conservative parties under a single leadership, which rarely happened in the Fourth Republic (1947-1959) and the Fifth Republic (1959-).

On 20 June 1946, Charles de Gaulle, Head of the Provisional Government of France, resigned. He proposed a new Constitution [similar to that of the future Vth Republic), and on 7 April 1947 founded the RPF (Rassemblement du Peuple Français - Rally of the French People). Initially, the RPF drew the support of a wide range of voters, and some of the leaders were from left parties. But the world situation - the Cold War and the War of Indochina - led the RPF to evolve into a very conservative, anti-Communist party. The RPF was disbanded in 1953.

The Fifth Republic superseded the Fourth Republic in 1958. According to the political system prescribed by the Constitution, the President of the Republic needed to be supported by a majority of Deputees (majorité présidentielle); de Gaulle believed that a majority made by several parties would prevent him from applying his ideas and would reestablish the "régime des partis" that led to the end of the Fourth Republic. Therefore, he founded the "monolithic" UNR (Union pour la Nouvelle République); later renamed UDR (Union pour la Défense de la République) in 1968.

After order was reestablished in 1969, de Gaulle resigned and his successor, Georges Pompidou (1969-74), modified Gaullist policies to include a stronger market orientation in domestic economic affairs. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, elected president in 1974, also supported conservative, pro-business policies. After de Gaulle's death, the party was renamed Union des Démocrates pour la République in 1971.

A big split occurred in 1976, when Prime Minister Jacques Chirac resigned, following a conflict with President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The UDR was transformed into the RPR (Rassemblement pour la République), a party which claimed to be the sole defender of de Gaulle's heritage. The logotype of the party showed a Cross of Lorraine surmonted by a tricolor liberty cap. Most of the Gaullist "barons", de Gaulle's brother-in-arms during the Second World War, joined the RPR. Giscard's supporters named themselves RI (Républicains Indépendants) and promoted a break with de Gaulle's system and the modernization od the country.

To compete with the RPR, Giscard needed his own presidential party and founded in 1978 the UDF (Union pour la Démocratie Française). In contrast with the "monolithic" RPR, the UDF was a loose union of several parties, the most significant of them being the PR (Parti Républicain, successor of the RI) and the CDS (Centre des Démocrates Sociaux). The CDS represented Christian Democracy and was the successor of the CD (Centre Démocrate), itself the successor of the MRP (Mouvement Républicain Populaire) founded in 1944 by Georges Bidault and Maurice Schumann. The MRP opposed de Gaulle and was often nicknamed Mon Révérend Père because of its Catholic program. The structure of the UDF was fairly complicated. Members of its component parties were de facto members of the UDF, but it was also possible to be a non-affiliated member (adhérent direct), that is being member of the UDF without being member of a component party. This was for instance the case of Raymond Barre, Giscard's last Prime Minister. There were also relatives (apparentés), who were not members of the party. The situation was so complicated that it was possible to be registered as apparenté CDS adhérent direct UDF.

The RPR pressured the UDF, and especially the CDS, which claimed to represent center-right: if you don't support us at the national level, we won't support you at the local level. Since the RPR was much bigger and better established locally, the UDF and the CDS often had to approve policies that were in contradition with their own program. The situation was further complicated by the personal antagonism between Chirac and Giscard. During the the second round of the presidential election in 1981, Chirac said "he would not vote for Giscard", which was a blatant call to defeat him. Giscard never forgave him and used any possibility to take revenge.

It took a few years to the conservative parties, especially the RPR, to admit that changeover (alternance) of political power between parties was possible in France. The Constitution was tailor-made by de Gaulle for himself and he probably never thought that the left parties could attain power. Following the "renovation movement", the CDS was renamed FD (Force Démocrate) in 1995 and the PR was renamed DL (Démocratie Libérale) in 1998. DL left the UDF under the guidance of its leader Alain Madelin, an ultra partisan of free-market politices. The UDF became the new UDF under the leadership of François Bayrou.

The Union pour un Mouvement Populaire [UMP - ] was founded in 2002 as a union of conservative parties supporting Jacques Chirac for the presidential election. Initially, the names of the party were Union en mouvement (4 April 2001) and Union pour la majorité présidentielle (23 April 2002, two days after the first round of the presidential election). The UMP is made of the former conservative parties RPR (Rassemblement pour la République) and DL (Démocratie Libérale), which merged into the UMP on 21 September 2002, and members of the former UDF (Union pour la Démocratie Française). The small Parti Radical has the status of associate member. The founding act of the UMP is the manifesto France alternance : pour un nouveau contrat politique, cosigned by 160 Deputees and Senators from RPR, DL and UDF, and published in the conservative reference newspaper Le Figaro on 13 January 2001. The manifesto was initiated by the former Prime Minister Alain Juppé (RPR) and promoted by Jérôme Monod, Chirac's Private Councillor at the palace of Elysée.

Madelin and Bayrou were candidates to the 2002 presidential election, both with an alternatives to Chirac. Madelin's result was pathetic but Bayrou attracted more votes than predicted by political analysts. Accordingly, DL joined the newly formed UMP but Bayrou decided to remain outside of the monolithic party. Since then, Bayrou stood as the only credible conservative alternative to the UMP and often expressed his opposition to the government. This caused another problem in the UDF since some members individually joined the UMP.

Not all members of the former RPR joined the UMP. The most conservative members of the RPR rejected the pro-European policy of the party and founded their own RPF (Rassemblement pour la France) around the controversial Charles Pasqua, a former Minister of the Interior. Ironically, Pasqua, once considered as the best strategist of the RPR, was one of the warmest supporters of a wide union of the conservative parties.

Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of the UMP in 2004, and took the control of the party from Chirac's friends. The official candidate of the party, Sarkozy was elected President of the Republic on 6 May 2007. In July 2007, the statutes of UMP were amended, replacing the party's President by a collegiate direction formed of three Vice Presidents. In the legislative elections that followed the 2007 presidential elections, the UMP won 313 out of the 577 seats.

On May 05, 2012 François Hollande, the former leader of France’s Socialist Party, was elected president of France, defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. On June 17, 2012 initial results showed that France's Socialist Party had captured the absolute majority of the country's National Assembly seats in runoff elections.

Beaten into second place at 20.8 percent of the European Parliament vote on 25 May 2014, the UMP was on the verge of meltdown the next day after police raided its offices allegations of massive campaign financing fraud during Sarkozy’s failed 2012 re-election bid. The lawyer of Bygmalion, an events company, dropped a political bombshell by alleging it had signed off €10 million worth of “false invoices” at the request of UMP leadership. It said these claimed to fund party conferences but were in fact used to illicitly fund Sarkozy rallies, meaning the ex-president went way over the maximum campaign spending limits. Police raided the offices of the UMP and Bygmalion minutes after the claim.

Former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced 19 September 2014 his return to the country’s political arena after being beaten by current president Francois Hollande in 2012. Sarkozy is likely to run as the candidate for the center-right aligned Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), which could put him in line for another presidential bid. “I am a candidate for the presidency of my political family,” he wrote. “I propose a complete transformation so as to create within three months the conditions for a vast new movement that will address itself to all French people irrespective of partisanship.” The UMP is renowned for its fragmentation and internal divisions following election defeat. The next presidential election will take place in 2017.

Sarkozy won the leadership of the conservative UMP party in a key step toward a possible presidential run in 2017. Party officials said Sarkozy won 64.5 percent of votes cast November 29, 2014 by party members. Some analysts said he won by a lower margin than expected.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy won a court battle on 26 May 2015 for the right to rename his conservative party “The Republicans”. The move was seen as a prelude to his attempt to win back the presidency in 2017. A Paris judge dismissed demands for an emergency ban on Sarkozy’s plan to change his party’s name from the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Dozens of people filed an emergency complaint to stop the rebranding. They argued that the name, by alluding to France’s Fifth Republic, was an attempt by the political right to usurp the values of the entire nation.

The seven candidates vying for France’s conservative presidential nomination in November 2016 faced off on 13 October 2016 in a live television debate. The right-wing presidential hopefuls, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, clashed over France’s floundering economy, terrorism and the hot-button issue of Islam in France, in this first of three debates. Sarkozy and former prime minister Alain Juppé are the frontrunners in the primary contest. Therefore lawmakers and outsider candidates Bruno Le Maire, François Fillon, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Jean-François Copé, and Jean-Frédéric Poisson, were hoping the seize on the debate to rally support and close the gap in the polls. All the presidential hopefuls, with the exception of Poisson, were members of France’s main opposition right-wing Les Républicains party. Poisson hailed from the allied Christian Democratic Party.

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Page last modified: 15-12-2021 18:43:46 ZULU