Paris At the end of September, Éric Zemmour thought he was on a par with the French President. The television commentator and author, who forged a political mission from his right-wing identity worldview, responded directly to Emmanuel Macron in a video message. The president had previously denounced a “tense” debate about national identity, narrowing down to children’s first names.
Zemmour felt addressed. In his most recent book he had thought about an obligation for the allocation of French first names: “To name your child Mohammed means to colonize France.” an end to immigration and the defense of “French civilization”.
Zemmour cannot rely on any party apparatus. Apart from his shrill warnings about foreign infiltration, he lacks a recognizable political program. He has not even declared his candidacy for the presidential election in spring 2022. However, some polls already see him as a Macron challenger in the runoff election. Can he be dangerous to the president?
During these weeks Zemmour is touring France to promote his new book. Or is it already a campaign trip? A few days ago he was walking through the streets of the southern French city of Beziers, surrounded by bodyguards and cameras, posing with passers-by for cell phone photos.
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The French press landscape is currently looking for a category for Zemmour. Sometimes he is referred to as a “right-wing extremist”, then again as a “polemicist”.
“Donald Trump of France”
Some also call the 63-year-old “Donald Trump of France”. The comparison with the former US president may apply when it comes to playing with the media and breaking taboos in the fight for attention.
And like Trump, Zemmour serves Islamophobia, fears of migration and a diffuse nostalgia for the former size of their own country. But actually the two men are quite different. Trump is a businessman who never seems to have cared too much about general knowledge and vocabulary. Zemmour can be described as educated, as an intellectual from the right wing.
Six months before the polls take place, despite the hype surrounding Zemmour, opinion polls believe that Macron’s re-election is the most likely option. According to a recent survey by the Ifop Institute for the newspaper “Le Figaro” and the news channel LCI, Macron would get 25 to 27 percent of the votes in the first round.
If he had to face Zemmour or the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen in the runoff election, he would win this duel. The second ballot is something like the security loop of the French presidential democracy, so far there has always been a large majority against extreme candidates.
There are still some questions unanswered in the field of candidates – especially the question of who will stand for the right-wing camp of France’s ex-presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. This decision will only be made in December.
The President of the Hauts-de-France region in northern France, Xavier Bertrand, is currently given good chances. The former insurance agent poses as a man from the provinces who takes care of the concerns of people outside the capital region. In the polls, Bertrand is roughly on par with Zemmour and Le Pen.
“This uncertainty is unprecedented,” says the Ifop demoskop Frédéric Dabi with a view to possible constellations in the runoff election. However, it is becoming increasingly clear how much the political coordinate system in the neighboring country has shifted to the right. “If you take the total, the candidates from left-wing parties are around 25 percent.” That is all the more astonishing, since 42 percent of the French would classify themselves as “rather left” in polls given their political stance.
The socialist’s candidate, Anne Hidalgo, tried to be optimistic after the SPD’s victory in the federal election: The victory of the German sister party shows that one shouldn’t be discouraged by forecasts, said the Parisian mayor.
Even in its most difficult hours, however, the SPD did not sink into single-mindedness. Pollsters currently see Hidalgo at a good five percent. In any case, competition for Macron from the left spectrum in the runoff election is extremely unlikely.
In the 2017 election, Macron was the candidate of the bourgeois-liberal left after his socialist predecessor François Hollande decided against running for a second term in view of underground polls. Macron was Minister under Hollande.
Then he founded his own party, La République En Marche: Left liberal, right of the socialists, in the European Parliament in a parliamentary group with the FDP. Macron won the election as an outsider with a promise of renewal. In December he will be 44 years old, which is still very young for a head of state. But the ease from the beginning of his mandate is gone.
A turning point in Macron’s tenure was the yellow vests movement, whose protests against higher gasoline and diesel prices turned into violence in the winter months of 2018 and 2019. In the past summer months, anger broke out in part of the population over Macron Bahn’s corona policy.
On some weekends, more than 200,000 people across the country took to the streets to demonstrate against the so-called health pass and the associated restrictions for unvaccinated people in everyday life.
Many protest voters change
Meanwhile, the president seems to dissatisfied citizens just as aloof as many of his predecessors. In France, the National Front, which has since been renamed the Rassemblement National, traditionally drew from the reservoir of protest voters. In the 2017 election, Le Pen made it to the runoff election.
After her defeat by Macron, she tried to maintain a more moderate image and gave up, among other things, the position of wanting to lead France out of the EU and the euro. Many protest voters, as the shifts in the polls suggest, have now switched to Zemmour.
The son of Jewish-Algerian immigrants comes from a suburb of Paris and attended the elite University of Sciences Po in the capital. On the other hand, he did not pass the entrance examination to the ENA administration college, the ticket for the very powerful positions in France’s state and economy. Instead, he worked as a journalist, first for daily newspapers, then for television.
As a guest on talk shows, he was responsible for the particularly provocative positions. He published his first successful book in 2006, in which he complained about the “emasculation” of society.
In recent years, the right-wing conservative news broadcaster CNews has offered him a platform. His remarks repeatedly preoccupied the courts. In 2018 Zemmour was sentenced to a fine for speaking of an “invasion” with a view to immigration from Islamic countries.
Political scientist Dominique Moïsi from the Paris think tank Institut Montaigne believes that the success of a politician like Zemmour in the Federal Republic of Germany would be “simply unimaginable”. Even if in Germany, and especially in the eastern federal states, the temptation of right-wing national discourse is also present – it is not inflated by the media in this form.
The news channel BFM recently organized a candidate duel between Zemmour and the left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is also running in the presidential election. With the show, the TV channel secured one of the greatest ratings successes in its history.
More: The end of the people’s parties – Germany must learn from its neighbors