France’s split rightwing opposition moves closer to bridging divide


France’s rightwing opposition UMP on Sunday took a step toward healing the damaging rift that has divided the party, when two rival leaders appeared to agree on a fresh leadership vote slated for next September.

After a month of bitter recriminations, Jean-Francois Cope, who won last month’s hotly disputed leadership battle, appeared Sunday to have accepted the new vote after a telephone conversation with his rival, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Previously, Cope had refused any fresh vote before the 2014 local elections.

Cope’s camp said that he had made the concession in a bid to calm the damaging row. The September 2013 date would fall midway between the March 2014 vote he had initially wanted and the March 2013 deadline Fillon had set.

The question of dates had been the major point of contention in the battle between the two camps.

The move now clears the way for negotiations for the party’s reunification in Parliament. Last month, Fillon created his own parliamentary group, dubbed the Rally for the UMP (R-UMP), depriving the UMP of 68 of its 194 deputies.

Talks to settle that matter were set for Monday, sources in both camps said.

Cope said Sunday that he was confident he could reach a deal with Fillon. “The problem of the calendar for a new election was the last sticking point between us,” he said.

“The mediation of (former Prime Minister) Jean-Pierre Raffarin allowed us to advance in a very positive manner,” he added.

Once the two sides had settled the other issues, he added, Fillon’s R-UMP would begin the process of dissolving itself, “as that has always been the understanding,” he added.

In the meantime, he would stay on as president of the party, Cope said.

“Not everything has been settled but there has been real progress,” said Fillon’s spokesman, Jerome Chartier.