Philippe LOPEZ / AFP
France's former minister for European affairs, who is leading President Macron's LREM party in the European polls says she made a "stupid mistake" in standing as a far right candidate in a student election.
According to the investigative website Mediapart, Nathalie Loiseau, who stepped down as Europe minister in March ahead of the European parliamentary elections, ran for the Union des Etudiants de Droite (The Union of Rightwing Students) while studying at the prestigious Sciences Po university in 1984.
Although Loiseau admitted running as a candidate for the UED, she said she had "not picked up on" the list's political bent.
"It was a stupid mistake" made during her youth, she said on FranceInfo radio after a member of her team had sought to downplay the revelations.
The UED emerged from the Groupe Union Defence, another extreme-right student union which no longer exists, Mediapart said.
'Forgotten about it'
"To be honest, I had completely forgotten about it," she told the website. "I was approached to join a list which aimed to promote pluralism at Sciences Po … which was looking for women. I said yes.
"If those running on the list had an extremist agenda, I didn't hang out with them and I didn't pick up on it," she said. "It was a mistake."
Loiseau stood down in March to lead Macron's centrist campaign for the European parliamentary elections, which take place in France on May 26, with the party currently neck-and-neck with Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally.
The polls are expected to see European populists making gains.
Loiseau's response to the Mediapart article was greeted with scepticism by rivals, with a spokeswoman for the rightwing opposition Republicans saying the former minister was "having a laugh" in claiming she didn't know the list's political bent.
And Ian Brossat, head of the French Communist Party's European team, was quick to remark on the irony.
"We all have the right to change our opinions, but for a political party which has built its reputation around the fact of being the only stronghold against the far right, that is funny," he said.