Nathalie Loiseau, head of the Renaissance (Renewal) list for the European elections, attends a debate in Paris
PARIS (Reuters) - A political novice handpicked by President Emmanuel Macron to lead his European election campaign acknowledged on Thursday making a series of blunders early in a faltering campaign race in which the far-right is expected to perform strongly.
Nathalie Loiseau's missteps have unsettled the president's camp barely three weeks before the European Parliament vote, which Macron sees as crucial for France's influence in Europe.
Loiseau first denied and then played down a report that she had once joined far-right activists on a student union ticket. She also said the elite ENA administrative school had received her "like a gipsy" when she became director because she was not an alumna.
Loiseau, who leads Macron's list of candidates under the banner of the Renaissance grouping, told France 2 she had made "clumsy mistakes, certainly."
"I am not a political dinosaur, and nor do I claim to be. I have no desire to become a robot, not do I wish that we serve up sterile phrases, formulaic wording and punchlines."
Loiseau is a career diplomat and served previously as European affairs minister, where she was described as "Macron's secret weapon" in the Brexit talks.
Macron has been hoping to capitalise on her expert knowledge of EU affairs and Catholic background to expand his appeal beyond centrists to more conservative voters.
But the 54-year-old has struggled to energise supporters and work the crowds at rallies, unlike her far-right rival Jordan Bardella, the clean-cut 23-year-old heading Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National (National Rally) list.
"They told me the campaign would be hard, and it is," said Loiseau.
Some opinion polls show the far-right ahead of Macron's party in the election race.
In France, the number of seats a party wins in the European Parliament is determined by proportional representation across a single, national constituency.
(Reporting by Simon Carraud, Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Gareth Jones)