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Former French PM Juppe distances himself from conservative party

Former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe attends the Fondation Chirac Prize ceremony at Quai Branly Museum in Paris, France, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Mori/Pool


PARIS (Reuters) - Former French prime minister Alain Juppe said on Monday he would not pay his membership fees to the Republicans, in a sign of defiance of the policies of the conservative opposition party's new leader, Laurent Wauquiez.

Juppe, a moderate who failed to win his party's primary for last year's presidential elections despite leading opinion polls, said he would stand back and watch the rightwing Wauquiez's next steps, especially his policy on Europe ahead of EU elections in 2019.

"I haven't paid my fee for 2017, and I don't intend to pay it in 2018," Juppe, who is also the mayor of Bordeaux, told a news conference.

"I'll take a step back and watch, especially in the prospect of European elections in 2019," he said, declining to say if that meant he was leaving the party for good.

Wauquiez, who won the party leadership contest last month, is a hard-hitting critic of President Emmanuel Macron, whom he dismisses as out of touch with rural France, weak on security and too much in favour of closer European integration.

Juppe's move underlines growing concern among moderate members of The Republicans about the party's direction, after a disastrous presidential campaign that saw its candidate eliminated in the first round.

It follows a decision by conservative heavyweight Xavier Bertrand to quit the Republicans a day after Wauquiez won and shows the new leader could struggle to keep the biggest opposition party together.

The Republicans, the Socialists and other traditional parties have struggled to reinvent themselves since Macron won the presidency in May and a landslide majority in parliament in June.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by Andrew Roche)

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