The French right has denounced Prime Minister Manuel Valls's shock comments on the far-right French Front National (FN).

Within two weeks of a major electoral event, Valls dramatised the stakes of the departmental elections to be held 22 and 29 March, where FN is expected to make a major breakthrough.

On 8 March, Valls said he was "fearing that France could smash itself against the National Front", which could, according to him, reach an "unprecedented score" during the country's departmental elections.

The prime minister also said a victory in the next presidential elections from the FN's president, Marine Le Pen, could be possible.

'Pyromaniac fireman'

Valls's remarks have been criticised on the right and left sides of the political spectrum. For Brice Hortefeux, a former minister under ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, "the role of a prime minister is not to be afraid, but to take action and get results".

"And if Mister Valls complacently spreads his qualms, it is precisely that this government is getting no results," Hortefeux, of Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party, told RTL.

Sébastien Huyghe, spokesman of the UMP, went further during his weekly press conference, describing the prime minister as a "pyromaniac fireman" who is "boosting the FN" by making it "the alpha and omega of French politics".

François Bayrou, a former education minister and the president of centrist party Democratic Movement (MoDem), said the the head of government had used an "inadequate vocabulary".

At FN, the vice-president of the party, Florian Philippot, spoke of a prime minister in a state of "electoral panic".

Le Pen, on 9 March, said Valls should leave Matignon in case of defeat of the socialist party, the PS, in the departmental elections. She also accused him of "hatred" and "discrimination" against FN voters.

With his strategy of fear and stigmatisation, the prime minister seeks to mobilise voters on the left, which he fears could abstain from voting during the departmental elections, and to try and limit the damage for his Socialist Party during the vote.