Just as the bitter feud that nearly split France’s troubled UMP party appeared to be healing over François Fillon has stoked the embers by declaring he will be a candidate for the 2017 presidential election, come what may.
Despite being four years away from the vote, Fillon, a former PM, has already made his intentions clear when he said in an interview this week that “whatever happens” he will be a candidate.
His words are unlikely to have gone down well with Jean-François Copé with whom Fillon fought a bitter leadership battle to become UMP chief last year, that descended into allegations of vote rigging.
Nor will his stance have pleased his old boss, the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who has appeared in recent months to be lining himself up for making what would be a dramatic tilt at regaining the presidency five years after he was unceremoniously ousted by François Hollande.
Those close to Sarkozy, who many in the party still consider to be the true leader of France’s opposition, are known to be angered by Fillon’s declaration.
“Fillon is a number two. He could go up against Sarkozy but it will be hard for him to make people forget that he was number two to the president for five years,” one source close to Sarkozy told France’s RTL radio.
Others in the UMP party were more critical of Fillon.
“He is more concerned about his career than what is happening in France,” said Patrick Balkany, the deputy mayor of Levallois-Perret.
Isabelle Balkany, another UMP member close to Sarkozy tweeted: “Like all the elected officials and UMP militants, on the streets I often here ‘Sarkozy come back!’ not ‘Fillon is coming’."
Jean François Copé, the current UMP leader has tried to play down any potential tensions resulting from Fillon’s announcement.
Only back in April the pair had agreed to hold a primary election in 2016 in which the UMP’s presidential candidate will be chosen.
Copé insists that FIllon’s words only applied to the primary ballot, something confirmed by Fillon himself on Twitter only after his declaration had sparked a furoré.
“I was not surprised,” Copé said. “2017 is far away. I only have one thing on my mind as leader of the UMP and that is to prepare for the municipal elections in 2014. We must win the hearts of the French.
“It is very respectable to win the 2017 presidential election, but if we want a chance to win it we must first be sure of winning the 2014 municipal elections.”