Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier Takes Off in French Opinion Polls
(Bloomberg) -- Once considered an outsider, former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is now popular enough among French Republicans that he appears to stand a good chance of representing the party in next year’s presidential election.
L’Opinion magazine reported that a Republican leader recently informally surveyed 10,370 right wing voters, including 7,775 party members, and found that 27.6% wanted to name Barnier to fight Emmanuel Macron in April, compared to 20.3% for Paris region chief Valerie Pecresse and 19.3% who backed former health and labor minister Xavier Bertrand.
Bertrand seems to be feeling the heat. In an interview on France 2 television late on Thursday he said the party shouldn’t bother holding a primary at all. He said he’d try to meet with other contenders by Oct. 13 to find a common stance -- and probably attempt to persuade them that rallying around him is the best way forward.
“We’ve had enough of primaries,” Bertrand said.
Bertrand, who runs the northern Hauts-de-France region, is placing third in national polls after Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen. But he’s resented by party faithfuls because he left the Republicans in 2017 after a hardliner was appointed to its helm. He intended to run as an independent in April’s election, even though he has always needed their support.
If the party does go ahead and hold a primary, it would pick its candidate before Dec. 4. Bertrand told France 2 that’s too late. The four other contenders -- Barnier, Pecresse, Philippe Juvin and Eric Ciotti -- have all said they’d participate.
Barnier has become more visible within the Republican party over the past few months as he hardened his positions on immigration and France’s ties to the European Union -- he doesn’t advocate exiting the bloc but wants more sovereignty for France on issues like migration. His challenge would be to appeal to non-Republican voters as he’s still relatively unknown outside of the Parisian elite and the Brussels bubble.
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