Following the German elections, attention in Europe has now shifted to France’s Presidential Election , which will take place in April 2022. Over the last week, there has been a new development, with the rise in the polls of journalist and “polemicist” Eric Zemmour, despite the fact he hasn’t even announced his candidacy. He may do this soon, if no organizational hurdles emerge.
Some have dubbed Zemmour the “Tucker Carlson of France”, referring to the rightwing American Fox News host. This because of the best-selling author’s focus on topics like integration and immigration and his appearances on news station CNews, which is backed by conservative billionaire Vincent Bolloré and became the second most watched news channel in France after it opted for confrontational debates. Politically, Zemmour self-identifies between “Gaullism” and “Bonapartism”.
Outrage industry: "The rise of CNews comes as France’s once staid media — nearly all the major papers and TV channels are either state-backed or owned by billionaire businessmen [CNews too, backed by Vincent Bolloré] — is in a period of tumult" https://t.co/OxQ0n62VM9
— Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (@rasmus_kleis) October 5, 2021
Zemmour’s chances in the first round
At the moment, opinion polls clearly indicate it is possible for Zemmour to make it to the second round, which requires ending up among the first two candidates. In case both Zemmour and Le Pen run, which is likely, opinions polls see current French President Emmanuel Macron as pretty certain to come first, with a pack of Le Pen, Zemmour and a centre-right figure fighting for the second place.
France, Ifop-Fiducial poll:
Scenario: Bertrand as LR (EPP) candidate
Macron (LREM-RE): 24%
Le Pen (RN-ID): 18% (-4)
Bertrand (LR-EPP): 15%
Zemmour (*): 12% (+3)
+/- vs 31 August-2 September 2021
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) October 4, 2021
France, Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll:
Scenario: Bertrand as LR (EPP) candidate
Macron (LREM-RE): 24%
Le Pen (RN-ID): 16% (-3)
Zemmour (*): 15% (+7)
Bertrand (LR-EPP): 14% (-1)
+/- vs. 2-3 September
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) October 1, 2021
Xavier Bertrand, Valérie Pécresse and former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier are the main contenders for the French centre-right “slot”. It is still possible two of them will ultimately run, as Bertrand would once again consider to not run on the platform of the centre-right “Les Républicains” party, now that Barnier seems to have a shot at winning the “closed primary” of that party, which is scheduled for 4 December. Then, if two of them would run, Zemmour has an even bigger shot to make it to the second round.
Even if Zemmour is obtaining most of his support from Marine Le Pen’s voter base, the interesting thing is that he enjoys more appeal among the centre-right voter base than Le Pen, who’s considered vulgar by Zemmour. He would have convinced almost two thirds of voter base of French “sovereignist” Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who tends to poll at a relatively consistent 5 percent and has now fallen back as a result. A recent welcoming by Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán – an international champion of “populism” – of Zemmour caused an insider from Le Pen’s National Rally party to express nervousness: “It’s a sign that he [Orbán] endorses Zemmour and it’s bad news for her.”
Zemmour’s chances in the second round
If the current trend persists, Zemmour still has a lot of potential to erode Marine Le Pen’s voter base, making him ever more likely to make it to the second round. A good result in the first round can only bolster his chances in the second.
Still, at the moment, early polling indicates Zemmour has little chance of beating Macron in the second round. According to one poll, Macron would beat Zemmour with 65 versus 35% and Le Pen with 60 versus 40%. It must be said this particular poll is relatively optimistic for Macron, however, as it projects a victory against Bertrand of 55 versus 45%, whereas other recent polls only depict a 2 and 6 percent point gap with Bertrand.
In another poll, @EmmanuelMacron is seen soundly defeating all challengers in the two candidate second round on 24 April. He beats Zemmour 65-35, Le Pen 60-40 and the leading (for now) centre-right contender, Xavier Bertrand, 55-45 3/https://t.co/Y0VrvnEbmb
— Mujtaba Rahman (@Mij_Europe) October 5, 2021
Perhaps a remote possibility is for the three left wing candidates Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Yannick Jadot and Anne Hidalgo to rally behind one joint candidate. There was only a slim chance for this to happen, but perhaps a run by Zemmour, which may secure their combined 23% a ticket to the second round, could contribute to a rethink.
One development is clear, however: Le Pen’s popularity, both in the first round and in a possible run-off against Macron, is going down. With “Les Républicains” infighting among “mainstream establishment” candidates continuing, it is hard to deny the parallels with Donald Trump’s bid for the White House in 2016. Disgruntled centre-right voters keen for a change may well be considering to turn up to vote this time around. Zemmour is the “new kid in town”, and disruption is very much possible in French politics. Let’s not forget how Macron himself grabbed the presidency after having founded a new party, despite having served as Economy Minister during François Hollande’s rather unsuccessful socialist Presidency.
In sum, everything is still very much possible and a Zemmour Presidency can not be excluded. He has a large reservoir of both far right and centre-right voters to tap into. And if Zemmour doesn’t win in 2022, he may use a good performance as preparation for 2027.
Many have called Zemmour “xenophobic”, “far right” or even “racist”. His statements on Islam, crime and integration have also led to judicial investigations and even fines “for provoking racial hatred”, with his lawyer pointing out in July that however, over the years, “Mister Zemmour has been prosecuted 12 times and we have won 10 times: we opted not to appeal one condemnation” as another one “is still pending at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)”.
Zemmour has relentlessly decried what he calls the “great replacement” by Muslim immigrants of those of “purely French heritage”, while however pointing out that he himself is a Jew of Algerian origin. Zemmour is a great proponent of “assimilation, which permits painless integration”, supporting a ban on “non-French” first names, something which would effectively mean a return to legislation that was in place until 1993.
Regardless of the ideological label one should put on him, it is clear that Zemmour is keen to use the force of the state to promote integration of foreigners, consistently referring to himself as a successful case of integration.
He has refuted the qualification of “extreme right”, claiming this simply amounts to the “old Stalinist method of the 1930s, which consists in treating all adversaries as” fascists” and arguing that he simply represents the stance of “the RPR in 1990”, which is the predecessor of Les Républicains.
Zemmour has also stressed he’s not a racist. Only last month, he won a court case on yet another controversy, as the Paris court of appeal ruled that “none of the statements [by Zemmour] pursued target all Africans, immigrants or Muslims but only fractions of these groups”.
Still, obviously, at one point, the question will come what to do with those refusing or unable to “integrate” or “assimilate”. Here, Zemmour got into hot water in 2014, when he told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera the removal of France’s Muslim population was “unrealistic, but history is sometimes surprising. Who would have said in 1940 that a million pieds-noirs, twenty years later, would have left Algeria to return to France? Or that after the war five or six million Germans would have abandoned central and eastern Europe where they had lived for centuries?”.
From all evidence, it is obvious Zemmour does not support deportation, but it shows how tricky supporting government action to integrate immigrants – a cause widely backed across the political spectrum – is. When the state starts to define what “integration” means – certainly the French state, which has a questionable history in this respect – it is better to be watchful.
This makes also clear how dangerous uncontrolled immigration is. At one point, politicians – not only Zemmour, but also Macron’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – may resort to far going state action in a desperate bid to prevent a clear risk of society splintering into various group that no longer interact. In any case, his keenness to use state power to achieve social change is why Zemmour was scolded by Jacques Garello, a well-connected liberal conservative intellectual who once advised French liberal conservative Presidential candidate Alain Madelin, for being a “totalitarian”, keen to “train the new citizen”.
Zemmour’s stance on the EU and on economic policy
Zemmour has denounced France’s domination by “foreign” powers – both including Brussels and Berlin many times. Still, he does not want France to leave the European Union, explaining: “We can unite 70% of people with my ideas on identity, immigration. But on Europe, we’ll leave it like that. […] There are so many things to do that I do not want to divide the voters in two [groups].”
Someone of Zemmour’s advisory team also anonymously confided to Capital magazine that “We want to be economically credible, which excludes adventures such as leaving the euro or the Union”, adding:
“We are faced with a dramatic observation: the trade deficit and the public debt are constantly increasing, while French industry has become considerably poorer, as demonstrated by the health crisis and our difficulties in obtaining supplies of masks. We must therefore get out of the federalist dream that some of our leaders cherish and promote our interests as a priority within the framework of the European Union, which Germany is doing very well. This by defending a moratorium on any new free trade agreement and promoting the idea of a Buy European act.”
Despite his zeal for protectionism, Zemmour apparently supports “lower taxes, (..) to allow our companies to regain competitiveness. (…) The priority is to cut production taxes in much larger proportions than what Emmanuel Macron’s government did.” – again according to his anonymous advisor, who further adds: “He strongly believes in lowering the tax on gasoline”, as this may help him gain the support of the “Yellow Vests” movement.
Capital magazine adds that rather than reducing the number of civil servants or cutting down on social benefits, Eric Zemmour is keen to reserve the benefit of social benefits for the French and for foreigners who pay taxes. This may well see interest reheating in the reforms British PM Cameron negotiated with the EU in 2016, before the UK electorate voted for Brexit anyway. When it comes to Brexit, Zemmour has commented that “the English have won the battle of Brexit”.
A French Trump?
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a Paris-based journalist, compares Zemmour with former U.S. President Donald Trump. There are clearly differences, if only because “unlike my rivals, I write all my own books,” as Zemmour himself puts it, but the similarities are obvious. As Moutet notes:
“Zemmour, much like other disruptive populist figures, appeals to those voters (and many no-longer voters) who had despaired of ever finding a candidate expressing their concerns. He speaks to their fears: the loss of French identity and rising insecurity caused, he believes, by unchecked immigration.”
“What is interesting about Zemmour is that, like Donald Trump, his mounting crowd of partisans discount his verbal excesses as just “Le Z being le Z”. In a country where, for centuries, strong opinions have had to be coated in supercilious obfuscation (there’s a reason why, for decades before the advent of the Internet, the French press was losing money), Zemmour is largely seen as an unscary shock jock, not a threatening fascist — except among the chattering classes, whom he enrages. This, of course, serves him.”
Unless Zemmour’s success appears to be a media bubble that deflates quickly, France’s election may get rather interesting.