ÉRIC Zemmour is not a familiar name to many outside of France – but his latest poll numbers show he could overcome Marine Le Pen as the French right-wing candidate in next year’s elections.
The fringe essayist now enjoyed the support of 17 per cent of French voters, according to a Harris Interactive poll, putting him above Le Pen for the first time.
Though Zemmour is yet to declare his official candidacy, he’s made the rounds in France already.
Last year’s nationwide book tour added to a widely publicised debate with leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Should Zemmour enter the race – and lead the French right into the 2022 election – questions will be raised over Emmanuel Macron’s political strategy.
Naturally, there are two options. The Joe Biden approach of handing an olive branch to the left, however flimsy, has been proven to work in turning out progressive voters – especially with the threat of a far-right candidate.
It will also prevent someone like Melenchon – who did well in 2017 – hoovering up leftist votes.
But some fear Zemmour’s own ideology will tempt Macron to the right.
Dr David Lees of Warwick University told Redaction Report: “This will be a difficult one for Macron.
“On the one hand, he needs to cover the centre and the left, where there is the potential for someone like Anne Hidalgo to come sweeping in with a powerful activist base and take that ground away from Macron.
“On the other, Macron needs to cover the centre-right, where again there is the potential for challenges, and continue to challenge Le Pen.
“Macron has already moved slightly to the right, for example following the killing of the schoolteacher Samuel Paty, and he is likely to try to be all things to all people, which is a difficult place to be.
“Zemmour’s apparent rise will exacerbate this, in my view.”
In his latest book, Zemmour, who paints himself as a political outsider, draws comparisons between him and another right-wing insurgent – Donald Trump.
Allusions to running in 2022 have been strengthened by his criticism of Le Pen.
Zemmour told BFMTV: “She will not win, she was humiliated in 2017.”
Professor James Shields told Redaction Report: “Macron has been shifting to the right throughout his presidency.
“In anticipation of facing Marine Le Pen in the presidential run-off again, Macron has been working to shore up his right flank on immigration and security.
“Bills to combat ‘Islamist separatism’ and extend protection to police have been clear attempts to rebut the charge that this is an administration weak on law and order and the fight against Islamist radicalisation.
“With Zemmour now setting part of the agenda, the government continues to flex the same muscles, recently slashing the number of visas granted to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and announcing the closure of mosques and associations under the control of radical Islamists.
“As Zemmour pulls the centre of gravity to the right, Le Pen too rediscovers space to reassert her own radicalism, promising a referendum on immigration that would restrict access to French nationality and give French citizens priority for social housing, jobs and welfare benefits.”
But a Macron showdown against either Le Pen or Zemmour isn’t a sure thing. Together, they enjoy a vast array of support – 32 per cent, according to the Harris Interactive poll – but there’s a clear danger of splitting the vote.
Professor Rainbow Murray of Queen Mary University told Redaction Report: “Macron’s bigger concern will be that if Zemmour and Le Pen split the far-right vote, with neither qualifying to the second round, there is a much greater risk that he will face the (mainstream right) Republican candidate, who will stand a much better chance of defeating him.”
Valerie Pecresse is the current favourite to win any Les Republicains primary. She describes herself as “two-thirds Angela Merkel and one-third Margaret Thatcher” – perhaps the ideal antidote for the Republicans to Macron’s recent free-spending behaviour.
Dr David Lees is the co-editor of the journal Modern & Contemporary France.
Professor Rainbow Murray is a Professor of Politics, and Director of Graduate Studies at Queen Mary University.
Professor Jim Shields is an Honorary Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick.
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