by John Lichfield
Thursday, 6
January 2022
Explainer
16:00

It’s Valérie Pécresse, not Zemmour, that Macron fears

Unlike the populists, the centre-Right candidate could assemble a coalition
by John Lichfield
Credit: Getty

The true battle-within-the-battle of the French presidential election is already raging. It is not a battle of Left v Right or even centre v far Right. It is a battle of centre vs centre, between two versions of the post-war French political consensus.

In the one corner is President Emmanuel Macron. His headline actions and comments in recent days — the European flag flying solo beneath the Arc de Triomphe; the declaration that he wanted to “emmerder” (piss off) the 8% of non-vaccinated French — were intended (at least in part) to widen the splits in the traditional centre Right.

In the other corner is the centre-Right presidential candidate, Valérie Pécresse. She is in a tight, three-way struggle with two far right candidates, Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, for the second place in the first round on 10 April.

She scarcely ever mentions either of them. All her criticism is aimed at Macron, who is floating up to 10 points ahead of the field in the opinion polls. 

Much of Macron’s energy and guile is aimed at Pécresse. He is doing all he can — with some success — to place explosive charges in the fault lines of her party, Les Républicains.

There were several reasons why Macron approved the solo appearance of the EU flag on the Arc to mark the beginning of France’s six months presidency of the EU council. There were several reasons why he abandoned presidential decorum and said that his government’s anti-Covid strategy was to harass and “piss off” the non-vaccinated.

It is no coincidence that both actions caused some embarrassment for Pécresse, who is struggling to hold together the two wings of her party: the moderate conservative, pro-Europeans and the hard-line, nationalist and populists.

She was obliged to follow Le Pen and Zemmour in making a fuss about the flag, unsettling the moderate pro-Europeans. She felt obliged — despite Macron’s uncouth description of his strategy — to continue her support for the government’s proposed, tougher “vaccine pass”, which will deny all fun and travel to the unvaxxed. That threatens to anger the libertarian and populist sections of Les Républicains.

Earlier this week, Pécresse put on a show of strength by unveiling her campaign politburo, including two of the men she defeated in the party primary on 4 December. They included the hard-Right parliamentarian, Eric Ciotti, who makes no secret of his admiration for Zemmour. They also included the former EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

She called them “my great army of conquest to serve France”. “Grande Armée” was a reference to the Emperor Napoleon while “conquest” was a reference to Zemmour’s new anti-migration, anti-Islam, Europhobic party, “Reconquête”.

Moderate members of Les Républicains have been unhappy with Pécresse’s first month of campaigning. They fear that, far from proving an inspired general, she has been taken captive by the Right wing of her own army.

That, they fear, will make it harder to “reconquer” the parts of the centre-Right vote which deserted her party for Macron in 2017 — and the many other moderate voters who are tempted to stick with the President this year.

Other party insiders say that Pécresse has no choice but to campaign to the Right to push ahead of Le Pen and Zemmour in Round One and claim one of the two places in the run-off. Most recent polls place her neck and neck with Le Pen on 16%, with Zemmour just behind and Macron 7 to 10 points ahead. If she reaches the second round, the insiders believe she will win.

Macron’s manoeuvres in recent days suggest that the President agrees with them. He fears neither Le Pen nor Zemmour. He does fear Pécresse. He will do all that he can in the next 100 days to split Les Républicains and embarrass her.

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
7 months ago

The French are such a paradox. They love their culture, but really despise their own nation and people. They have always been like a 13 year old girl who cannot stop self harming for some deep psychological reason.

Sad to see it as France is one of the world’s greatest nations historically, artistically, scientifically, intellectually – but still always wishes to politically self harm. They love their Great French Culture, but at the same time want to replace it with the lowest of foreign ways. They have given up having children like all the Europeans, and think it fine to import child bearing foreigners from outlandish places to have their children for them. They are like the DODO birds welcoming another sailing boat landing to re-victual.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
7 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Young versus old. The old remember La Gloire, the glory that was France. The young have a vision of France in the future. In the middle you have confusion.
Pretty much the same as everywhere else.

JP Martin
JP Martin
7 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

It gives me no pleasure to point out that the very same could be said about Great Britain and many other European nations.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
7 months ago

“..the declaration that he wanted to “emmerder” (piss off) the 8% of non-vaccinated French — were intended (at least in part) to widen the splits in the traditional centre Right.”
Fair enough if you want to push a pro-vaccination policy (I agree) – but then make that argument on a stand-alone basis. Mixing public health policy up with other ulterior motives is terrible behaviour and Macron indulges in it repeatedly.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
7 months ago

Islam must breath a sign of relief at this. Nothing will happen about immigration, things will go on as before.

Alexei A
Alexei A
7 months ago

And before you know it, the indigenous French will be a minority and their culture will not last long either.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
7 months ago

I don’t like what I’ve seen of Macron and disagree with, particularly, his handling of the pandemic, but he seems to be one of the few politicians in Europe with some strategic vision.

Given the new German administration seems to be embracing the full woke agenda, and a strategically infantile energy policy, we may be in the unusual position of relying on the French to keep Europe sane.

I don’t know enough about Pecresse to know whether she would be any better.

Last edited 7 months ago by Martin Bollis
Rob Britton
Rob Britton
7 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

If we are relying on France to keep Europe sane then Europe really is fxxxxd!

Last edited 7 months ago by Rob Britton
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
7 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I don’t like Macron because he is smarmy. But that might not be a good reason not to like a politician.

I have said before – The others are no-hopers so Macron will win with a record small vote.