One of These Five Candidates Could Be the Dark Horse in France
(Bloomberg) -- France’s main conservative party has been in the doldrums since its 2017 presidential candidate imploded, opening the door to Emmanuel Macron.
But as Macron prepares to fight for reelection next year, the Republicans have a potential opening. They’ll pick their candidate to go up against him in a contest that starts on Wednesday.
The winner could very well end up in the run-off, and maybe even the Elysee.
Here’s a look at who that might be:
The Small Town Politician: Xavier Bertrand
Bertrand runs the working class, northern region of Hauts-de-France, and is placing third place in some polls behind Macron and nationalist Marine Le Pen.
The 56-year-old served as labor and health minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy. He started out as an insurance salesman and plays up his links to provincial France, where a feeling the government favors Paris helped stoke the Yellow Vests protests that marked Macron’s third year in office.
Bertrand was often described as a moderate until he joined the race for the Republican party nomination. Since then, he’s been fielding strong-handed proposals on security and terrorism, including lowering the age of penal responsibility to 15 and cutting immigration.
The trouble for Bertrand is that he left the Republicans in 2017, and the party’s rank and file never really forgave him.
The Negotiator: Michel Barnier
The former European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator was once known mostly inside the Brussels and Paris bubbles, but is now popular enough among conservatives that he has a chance of representing the party April’s election.
The 70-year-old became more visible as he hardened his positions, calling for a three-to five-year moratorium on immigration and questioning France’s ties to the European Union — he doesn’t advocate ‘Frexit’ but has called for French “juridical sovereignty” on issues like migration.
Barnier entered politics in the seventies and was once France’s youngest MP. He has served as foreign and agriculture minister and in 2016 became the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. While many Republicans praise his calm, serious demeanor, he’s perceived in some quarters as distant and uncharismatic.
After infighting divided the Republican party in 2017, it decided to hold a closed primary this time around. That means some 140,000 card holders who registered will be voting for their favorite, and so it’s impossible to say if Barnier’s loyalty to the party will win him the ticket.
The Only Woman: Valerie Pecresse
The head of the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris served as government spokesperson and higher education minister under Sarkozy, as well as budget minister — and France reached record public debt and a ballooning deficit during her mandate.
Pecresse has put family values at the heart of her agenda, promising for example better education for kids. Like Bertrand, she was once labeled a moderate but has hardened her stance on immigration.
In a recent interview with French media, the 54-year-old said that Macron has achieved “very little” and that she regretted the postponement of his controversial pension reform and didn’t reduce public deficits.
While supporters praise Pecresse’s political experience, critics point to her privileged background and accuse her of being disconnected from reality. She left the Republicans in 2019 saying she was against its increasing flirtation with far-right ideas, but like Bertrand some members have chalked the move down to opportunism.
The Longstanding Legislator: Eric Ciotti
The lawmaker from the Alpes-Maritimes area around Nice has gone further to the right than any of his four rivals. The 56-year-old calls for the end of migration for family reunification and wants to give French nationals priority on jobs, housing and social support.
He endorses the “Great Replacement” — a controversial theory championed by ultra-right rival Eric Zemmour that argues White people are being replaced by non-White immigrants and is used by some to justify violence. Ciotti also backs the creation of a “French Guantanamo” to fight terrorism.
He plans to axe 250,000 civil servant jobs, end progressive taxation, and make people work 39 hours per week while earning a 38-hour wage. He also plans to pull France out of the visa-free Schengen Area and replace citizenship by birth with citizenship by bloodline.
The Doctor: Philippe Juvin
Mayor of La Garenne-Colombes, northwest of Paris, Juvin also served as a lawmaker in the European Parliament. A doctor and head of the emergency room in one of the capital’s largest hospitals, he has made a name for himself through frequent appearances on French television to discuss the Covid crisis.
The 57-year-old is strong advocate of decentralization, especially in public health management. He stood out by saying that his rivals’ proposal to cut the number of civil servants wasn’t realistic as the country needs to invest more into healthcare, education and the justice system.
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