French Finance Chief Tells Zemmour He’s a Threat to Democracy
(Bloomberg) -- Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told far-right presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour that he posed a danger to the French people in a heated debate on prime-time TV that veered from economic issues to the place of Islam in the country.
The hour-long head-to-head late Thursday culminated in journalists unsuccessfully attempting to curtail an exchange over the wartime Vichy government that served the Nazis. Zemmour has said the regime protected French Jews from the Holocaust, officials dismiss that as a manipulation of history.
At one moment, Zemmour compared Le Maire to a donkey. Le Maire said his interlocutor -- a former television pundit who’s been sanctioned for inciting racial hatred -- had “all the predispositions to become a dictator.”
Recent surveys show Zemmour having little chance of victory in April’s elections. But the arrival of the 63-year-old as a contender is just one twist in a race polling companies had long forecast would end in a repeat of the 2017 run-off, when Emmanuel Macron defeated nationalist leader Marine Le Pen. A proliferation of other candidates on both Macron’s right and left has added to the uncertainty.
Le Maire initially challenged Zemmour on his economic program, saying the candidate’s proposed tax cuts aren’t financed and could even be unconstitutional.
Zemmour said cutting welfare for non-French nationals would bring in as much as 20 billion euros, but ducked questions on the exact cost of his plans. Instead, he said Le Maire had behaved like Santa Claus to “shower France” in cash during the Covid pandemic and shouted at the minister to “be a bit more humble” regarding the national debt burden.
“What you are saying shocks all French people who have been protected by the state,” Le Maire replied.
After the debate, Le Maire sent a series of tweets concluding with a picture of children’s cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants screaming and shaking his fists. “Eric Zemmour struggled to keep calm tonight, don’t we agree?” Le Maire said.
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