French elections

Will Russia sink Le Pen?

Paris, France Marine Le Pen has changed her image. Five years ago, the veteran far-right leader lost her second bid for the French presidency to a virtual newcomer, Emmanuel Macron, who swept into office with two-thirds of the vote. This time, she has assured her anxious supporters that things will be different. She has retired her policy of pulling out of the EU, calling instead for it to transform into a federation of sovereign states. She has also sought to assuage fears she would bring back the Franc. Gone too are calls to end all immigration to France – legal and illegal – preferring instead a comparatively more mellow line about how

Macron vs Le Pen debate: le verdict

Who won Wednesday night’s debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen depends on who is doing the scoring. In the spin room and on the social networks, Team Macron claimed a victory for the President. With the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, my reaction is exactly the opposite. Le Pen was not crushed as she was in 2017. In a way, she won by not being terrible, leaving Macron unable to administer a coup de grace to her candidacy. She got stronger and more confident as the evening wore on; he seemed to become more defensive. It’s taken for granted that Macron is a master of

Le Pen drives Paris mad. That’s why her voters love her

When asked to define Marine Le Pen in a single word, a majority of French people came up with ‘cats’ rather than ‘extreme-right’. In the past five years, she has worked hard at ‘detoxifying’ her brand. She softened her platform so that she no longer advocates Frexit or even leaving the Euro. Unlike Eric Zemmour, the former Le Figaro columnist, she insisted Islam was compatible with the values of the Republic. It’s Islamism that isn’t, she said.  Having fired her then-85-year-old father for anti-Semitism in 2015, she tried to reshape the old Front National. She changed the party name in 2018 (to Rassemblement National or National Rally). Throughout, everyone including her

The Macron Paradox

With just 24 days to go before the first round of French presidential voting, the political landscape has become borderline surreal, a dream state of self-induced hallucinations. The war in Ukraine has utterly overshadowed the vote. Any resemblance to an actual democratic contest might now be regarded as coincidental. If the current polls are right, Macron will enter the second round with Marine Le Pen in a straight replay of 2017, with the same inevitable result. I have my doubts about these polls. But it might not matter much who faces Macron: unloved yet unbeatable. Macron isn’t even campaigning. He’s at 30 per cent in polls for the first round, campaigning through a

Le Pen, Zemmour and the two French far rights

Just about two months ahead of the French elections, a first poll for Le Parisién suggests that Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour are at the same level: 14 per cent. This is one out of many polls, most of which still show Le Pen ahead. But polls have been bad predictors in the past, and they can create their own momentum. Both Le Pen and Zemmour held big rallies this weekend. We now see two different economic visions emerging: one social, one liberal. The only economic point that the two have in common is that they both want social services to be accessible only to the French, not to

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Barnier?

Michel Barnier is running for president of France as a Eurosceptic. He’s talking about pulling back powers to the French state and installing ‘a sovereign shield’ to allow France to impose its own immigration policy. But he’s about as credible as a vegan crocodile. Barnier was at the scene of the crime when the French voted (by a 55 per cent majority) in 2005 to reject the treaty establishing a new European constitution. In a great betrayal of democracy, voters were simply ignored and the government signed the document anyway, relabeled as the Lisbon Treaty. Barnier was present and materially involved in this scam, which makes his current Eurosceptic claims absurd

Don’t underestimate Barnier

No one really expects Michel Barnier to be chosen as the Républicains’s candidate for the French presidency. Success in Brussels does not make it easier to win at home. The most famous example of this rule is Martin Schulz, who returned from a long career in Brussels to become German SPD leader and chancellor candidate in 2017. He was seen as a political curiosity partly because he was unknown. But he couldn’t keep up the momentum after German voters saw him on the domestic stage. Brussels insiders become detached from what’s going on at home. It is much easier to go to Brussels than it is to come back. But don’t write

France’s silent majority has rejected Macron – and Le Pen

I popped down to the Salle du Peuple on Sunday to see how the voting was going in the departmental and regional elections. Although I’m no longer a municipal councillor – à cause de Brexit – and am no longer required to help invigilate the polling, I thought I’d take the temperature. Which was frosty. The French have a reputation for strong participation in elections, but not this time. By the time the votes were tallied, the winner was clear. Abstention won by a landslide. Two-thirds of my commune’s voters stayed at home, reflecting the national turnout. It was the lowest participation in at least 25 years and a vivid illustration of

Can Macron halt the rise of Islamic extremism?

Emmanuel Macron has unveiled his plan to combat the rise of Islamic extremism in France. Stressing that his fight was not against the religion but political Islam, ‘which has no place’ in the Republic, the president outlined a series of measures in a speech last week. Notably, his plans involve an end to the hosting of imams from countries such as Turkey and Algeria, and more rigorous control on foreign financing of mosques from the likes of Qatar. Macron stopped short of introducing an ‘Islam of France’, which had been mooted two years ago, but his intention is to eliminate the malevolent influence of outsiders. But is it too late