France's Macron wins key ally Bayrou as Le Pen aide charged in fraud probe

Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign has been boosted by a surprise alliance with veteran centrist François Bayrou as Marine Le Pen suffered a blow when her personal assistant was charged with breach of trust

Francois Bayrou (pictured) said he would not stand but offered to join forces with Emmanuel Macron
Francois Bayrou (pictured) said he would not stand but offered to join forces with Emmanuel Macron

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron won the support of a key centrist, hailing it as a turning point in his campaign, as an aide to his far-right rival Marine Le Pen was charged in a fake jobs scandal.

With two months to go before the French presidential election, centrist veteran Francois Bayrou announced an alliance with Macron to counter the "major threat" posed by the far-right.

Bayrou surprised supporters on Wednesday by offering to sacrifice a separate candidacy and join forces with the former Socialist economy minister, who is standing on a centrist ticket.

Shortly after the announcement, Macron told journalists he accepted the deal, including the demand for a law to clean up French politics, which he added would be a turning point in the presidential campaign and in “political life”.

“The alliance proposed by François Bayrou is based on values and ideas,” Macron told AFP.

“It fits fully into the programme of renewal and unity that’s been our aim from the beginning and that’s why I accepted.”

Macron said he would meet Bayrou, president of the Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem), on Thursday.

Bayrou had hinted for months at his own presidential run but ended the suspense by saying he would not mount a rival bid, to avoid splitting the votes of moderates to the benefit of Le Pen.

His announcement came as a boost to ex-economy minister Macron, who saw his ratings rise in recent weeks after conservative challenger Francois Fillon was hit by damaging corruption allegations but has slipped behind him again in the latest poll.

Le Pen, meanwhile, suffered a blow Wednesday when her personal assistant Catherine Griset was charged with breach of trust in a probe into allegations the candidate's National Front (FN) party defrauded the European Parliament of about €340,000.

The legislature accuses Le Pen, an MEP, of using parliamentary funds to pay Griset as well as bodyguard Thierry Legier while they worked for her party in France rather than at the parliament. Le Pen has furiously denied the claims.

Justice should not be used to interfere in the 23 May presidential election as "this is an important democratic moment" and "fundamental" for France, she said on Wednesday.

"It is surprising that two months before the presidential election, there is this great judicial activity," she told the TF1 channel.

She questioned the "impartiality and independence" of "the administration of justice."
The scandal comes as Fillon battles his own investigation into claims his British-born wife Penelope was paid around €700,000 over 15 years as a parliamentary assistant, despite little evidence that she did any work.

But while Fillon's ratings took a dive after "Penelopegate", opinion polls currently show Le Pen winning the first round of the election in 23 April, although she is forecast to lose in the runoff on 7 May.