PARIS: Centrist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron won the backing Wednesday of Socialist former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, in a boost to a campaign that is fast attracting support.

The pledge adds to a growing list of backers from both the left and centre for the 39-year-old former economy minister who is trying to upend France’s traditional politics.

“The candidate who is closest to my convictions as a Socialist, a reformist, a European and a realist, is Emmanuel Macron,” Delanoe told France Inter radio.

Delanoe, who oversaw the French capital from 2001 to 2014, said he had backed Macron because it was essential to “throw the most weight possible behind the candidate who can beat Madame [Marine] Le Pen in the first round”.

According to current polls, Macron would qualify for the May 7 run-off along with far-right leader Le Pen if the first round of the election was held now. Voting takes place on April 23.

The former investment banker who quit the Socialist government in August to prepare a bid for the presidency, has risen fast in opinion polls, but has never won elected office.

An already unpredictable French election has become even harder to call given the legal woes afflicting the conservative challenger Francois Fillon, who is embroiled in a “fake jobs” scandal.

In another blow, the investigative paper Le Canard Enchaine published new claims late Tuesday that the scandal-hit Fillon had failed to declare an interest-free loan of €50,000 (Dh183,645) from a billionaire friend.

Once the front-runner in the race, Fillon has slipped down to third in the polls and the gap between him and Macron and Le Pen appears to be widening.

The high-flying Macron has already forged an alliance with Francois Bayrou, a 65-year-old centrist who finished third in the 2007 presidential election.

‘Politically naive’

Delanoe’s support for the Macron campaign is a blow for the Socialist candidate for the presidency, Benoit Hamon, whose hard-left policies have led some commentators to dismiss him as unelectable.

Macron still has his detractors though, with veteran conservative former prime minster Alain Juppe describing him this week as “politically naive”.

Macron told AFP in an interview Tuesday that he will defend France’s middle classes, which he says have been ignored by left and right.

Macron claimed that both the outgoing Socialist government under President Francois Hollande — in which he served — and their right wing opponents have let down the middle classes, assailed by job cuts and an increasing tax burden.

“The contract with the middle classes, which are both the political and economic bedrock of our democracy, has been broken,” Macron said.

“The right talks about the France that is succeeding, the left talks about the workers who are struggling the most,” he said.

“They have forgotten the middle classes which are working for France, the France that is fighting to succeed.”

Macron claimed that snubbing middle earners had led to Britain’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States.

Conflict of interest

“Democracies that have succeeded economically by depending only on the classes that succeed … while forgetting the middle classes, are shattered by the rise of extremes,” he said. “It’s what happened with Brexit, it’s what happened with Trump.”

Macron suffered a blow to his campaign on Tuesday when he confirmed a report by Le Monde newspaper that a member of his team had quit over an apparent conflict of interest.

Jean-Jacques Mourad, a cardiologist, is said to have made nearly 60 business visits and appearances at conferences between 2013 and June 2016, paid for by the Servier pharmaceutical company, during which he ran up tens of thousands of euros of expenses.

Mourad was a member of a working group on health issues in the Macron campaign.

Macron also said he had asked his party’s ethics committee to ask all contributors to working groups to flag up any possible conflicts of interest.