This piece was kindly published by The Bruges Group
With 5 months to go until France goes to the polls to elect their next president, the stalking horses have begun to fall, leaving behind 3 main challengers (including 2 women) to Emmanuel Macron: Marine Le Pen, Valérie Pecrésse and following unprecedented polling prior to confirming his candidacy, Éric Zemmour.
Whilst all representing different shades of the right and Le Pen in the rare position of (on paper at least) not being the most hardline, the absence of a credible socialist candidate is notable.
The daughter of veteran far right leader, Jean Marie Le Pen, Marine is having a third run at the presidency after finishing third in 2012 behind François Holland and Nicolas Sarkozy and second to Macron in 2017 when she secured just over 1/3 of all votes cast in the final run off.
Since becoming leader of National Rally (the former Front National) in 2011, Le Pen has, on the surface at least, made strides to move the party into the mainstream including the expulsion of her father from the party in 2015. She remains a vocal opponent of the US and NATO.
Le Pen has 10 years in the European Parliament on her CV and with 21 out of 79 MEPs, this remains by far their strongest area of representation, with 252 Regional Councillors (around 15% of the total), a distant second. The party has only 6 seats in the National Assembly (equivalent to the UK House of Commons) and just 1 in the second chamber, the Senate.
Until the emergence of Zemmour, Le Pen was expected to be the standard bearer for the right, aiming for a repeat of her run off with Macron in 2017.
Valérie Pecrésse has spent the last 20 years in national politics with the Republicans, serving on the front bench under Nicolas Sarkozy. She describes herself as “1/3 Thatcher, 2/3 Merkel” and frequently distances herself from overt nationalism.
Pecrésse is a moderate and a corporatist who appears to subscribe to the globalist New World Order establishment. She opposed Brexit and used it as an opportunity to align herself with corporate leaders to attract inward investment away from the UK and has repeatedly aligned herself with promoting the migration of UK bankers to France.
In polling this week Pecrésse was predicted to achieve a narrow victory in a run off with Macron (52/48) but whilst Macron was polling at 25% in the first round, Pecrésse and Le Pen were neck and neck on 17%, with Zemmour on 13%.
Pecrésse is the candidate most aligned to the “ideology” of Macron, which may explain him dialling up the rhetoric on immigration and openly sabre rattling with Boris Johnson over the migrant crisis in the English Channel.
Given this week’s poll, expect Macron to continue to seek to emphasise where he differs from Pecrésse as he seeks to sway the undecided that, in the battle of the continuity candidates, he is the safer bet.
Éric Zemmour is the outsider in the race and the most “controversial”. His career in academia, written and broadcast media has seen him court controversy not least around his staunch opposition to immigration and Islam, leading to multiple legal actions (two of them successful) and he has rolling 24 hour police protection due to multiple death threats emanating from his oration.
Upon announcing his candidacy after months of speculation and strong shadow polling suggesting he would (at least) make the second round of the presidential contest, Zemmour launched the Reconquest party, with an ethos of populism and the primacy of the nation state at its heart.
Unlike the other candidates, Zemmour has no previous direct political experience. However, he is well known to the electorate through his political commentary and punditry and whilst viewed as an extremist, Reconquest is arguably ideologically closer to Reform or Reclaim than the 1970s Front National, which given his Jewish heritage is unsurprising.
So what does this all mean for the UK?
Macron is vitriolic in his disdain for this country and an arch Europhile, further strengthened by the departure of Angela Merkel. He has managed to ride out the peak of the gilets jaunes protests, which is not to say that France is not still protesting (it is endemic for some it seems) but media coverage has calmed.
Macron has hinted at a rapprochement of sorts with the UK over the migrant crisis once France takes the presidency of the EU in January. In reality, this is likely to be a smokescreen as he will not want to look weak and leak support to Le Pen and Zemmour and will only take place after the presidential election if it happens at all. He cannot be viewed as an ally nor can we trust him. Under any circumstances.
Despite her lineage, Le Pen is politically malleable and opportunistic. Officially, she opposes the primacy of the European Union but has rowed back substantially on verbalising her opposition to closer integration with the EU. Her desire to be President at seemingly all costs, makes her at best unreliable in her approach to and support for Brexit Britain.
Pecrésse is a female Macron on steroids. She is not a friend of the UK nor has she any interest whatsoever in being. A Pecrésse victory would arguably be the worst of all outcomes for the restoration of “Entente Cordiale”.
All of which leaves Zemmour. Theoretically a Zemmour victory would be the best outcome for the UK (and the worst for the EU).
Whilst it is impossible to know for sure how a leader will perform until they are in post, Zemmour may well seek a meeting of minds with the UK around areas of common interest.
A referendum on Frexit is highly likely as Zemmour would almost certainly seek to constrain immigration, in direct opposition to freedom of movenent, Schengen and his long held opposition to the growing (as he sees it) Islamisation of France.
Given his profile and unwavering views over several decades, Zemmour is the candidate whose actions (and words) are likely to be the most predictable and least damaging to British interests.
Zemmour is a long way from reaching the Élysée Palace but 5 weeks has been a long time in politics for the Tory Party and 5 months will provide many twists and turns as Macron managed to use to his advantage in 2017.
To hasten the demise of the EU and put a major obstacle in the way of globalist corporatism, bonne chance, Éric.
Chris Davies is on Twitter @justchrisdavies