Two years ago, Éric Zemmour was the most talked-about man in France and a serious contender to be the ninth president of the Fifth Republic. A controversial journalist turned incendiary politician, he vied with Marine Le Pen for second place behind Emmanuel Macron in the polls. Crucially, he seemed to have something she lacked – an ability still to appeal to the Catholic bourgeoisie while tapping into widespread anger at mass immigration.
But then Russia attacked Ukraine, the mood of Europe changed, and Zemmour’s political fortunes sank as quickly as they had risen. He finished a distant fourth in the first round of the presidential election, with 7 per cent of the vote. The experience did not put him off running for high office, however, and today he is back in campaign mode looking ahead to the European elections in June and beyond.
He rejects the idea that his 2022 campaign was a failure. ‘I would call it a huge victory,’ he says. He points out that, having founded his Reconquête! party only a few months before polling day, he still won more votes than Les Républicains and the Parti Socialiste, the two parties which governed France from the time of Charles de Gaulle to the advent of Macronism.
Zemmour squarely blames Vladimir Putin’s invasion for derailing his candidacy. ‘The media talked about little else,’ he says. His big political theme – what he calls the Islamification of France – was blocked out by more immediate existential fears about a major war in Europe. ‘There was a rally–around-the-flag effect,’ he says. His poll scores took a nosedive from late February onwards. Zemmour’s criticisms of Nato and past praise for Putin got him into political bother. He was also accused of being heartless because he initially said that France should be wary of an ‘emotional response’ when it came to accepting Ukrainian refugees.