Ex-EU Brexit negotiator Barnier to run in French presidential centre-right primary

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PARIS (Reuters) - Michel Barnier, the European Union's former Brexit negotiator, said on Thursday he would participate in his centre-right camp's probable primaries for next year's French presidential election, joining an already crowded field of candidates.

"In these dark times, I took the decision to run for the French presidency, to be president of a reconciled France", Barnier told TF1, France's most-watched TV channel.

In February, Barnier set up a political faction under the "Patriot and European" name, triggering rumours of a bid in next year's election.

Less than a year before the April 10 first round of the presidential election, none of the former mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties, which were shut out by centrist Emmanuel Macron's victory in 2017, have chosen a candidate.

Opinion polls show that French far-right politician Marine Le Pen is likely to face Macron again in the 2022 presidential final-round vote.

Barnier, a 70-year-old former French foreign minister, is being closely watched by Macron's camp as he could attract support from the pro-European, centre-right electorate the president is targeting.

The chances of the centre-right camp qualifying for the second round of the presidential election hinge on it unifying behind one candidate.

Xavier Bertrand, who leads the northern region of Hauts de France, currently has the highest poll ratings among the mainstream centre-right candidates who have declared for the presidency.

But he has until now ruled out participation in any kind of primaries, which still have to be defined and may not even take place.

France's main centre-right party, (LR), said this summer it would wait until Sept. 25 to decide on the way it will select its candidate for the presidential election.

Valerie Pecresse, another former minister and current head of the wealthy Ile de France region, has vowed to take part in centre-right primaries as well as two other LR officials. Others, like Senator Bruno Retailleau and Laurent Wauquiez, another regional leader, might still enter the fray.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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