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Macron's party rules out joining EU centrist group after Le Pen accusations

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Macron's party rules out joining EU centrist group after Le Pen accusations
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PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron's party will not join the pan-European ALDE group, his EU election campaign chief said on Tuesday, after it emerged the centrist alliance had received funding from the Bayer-Monsanto agriculture and chemicals conglomerate.

ALDE is the fourth-biggest party in the European Parliament and has courted Macron, whose Republic on the Move party has no lawmakers in the European Parliament as it was created after the last EU parliament election.

But far-right leader Marine Le Pen revealed last week that ALDE had received funds from U.S. seed maker Monsanto, now part of German chemicals group Bayer.

Monsanto is a frequent target of criticism in France from green activists and others over concerns about genetically modified crops and week killers such as glyphosates it has developed.

"None of our European lawmakers will sit in the next legislature within a political group or European political movement which tolerates such financing," Stephane Sejourne, Macron's EU election campaign chief, said in a statement.

In reaction to Sejourne's statement, ALDE said it would end the sponsorship of congresses by private companies.

"The participation of the private sector were used to finance part of our congresses in order to give more people the possibility to participate," ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, this has been interpreted as practices that could have been perceived as active political influence."

Bayer confirmed it had been a sponsor for ALDE congresses for several years.

"It is a widespread and widely accepted practice which isn't specifically linked to Bayer or ALDE," a spokeswoman said.

It listed Bayer as a donor for 12,000 euros in an audit for 2017 published on its website.

Under EU law, European political parties may accept donations from people or corporations of up to 18,000 euros per year and per donor.

As the election race heats up, Macron has been cool to the idea of joining the ALDE alliance, aiming instead to create his own centrist coalition on the European stage in which he would call the shots.

Le Pen, who is nipping at the heels of Macron's party in voter intention surveys, told RTL radio last Thursday: "Lobbies fund European political parties and they fund ALDE, Emmanuel Macron's party at the European parliament."

(Reporting by Michel Rose; additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Angus MacSwan)