Michel Barnier, the big cheese of the EU who wants to be the next President of France – POLITICO – .

Michel Barnier, the big cheese of the EU who wants to be the next President of France – POLITICO – .

PARIS – The former EU chief Brexit negotiator is making a long-term bid for the French presidency, betting that seriousness and experience in government will earn him the top job in 2022.

The polls – at least for now – disagree.

“In these serious times, I have the determination to stand up (…) and to be the president of a reconciled France, to respect the French people and to see that France is respected”, Michel declared Thursday evening. Barnier on TF1 news.

Barnier is not yet an official candidate because his Les Républicains party must decide whether to hold a primary this fall.

The Conservative Party has a number of candidates to choose from, some of whom have been campaigning for a long time.

Whoever comes out of the peloton will face the two dominant figures of the 2022 race so far: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. But the Conservative Party, which has not recovered from its crushing defeat to Macron in 2017, has still not agreed on how it will select a candidate.

The competition has so far been lackluster. The leader of the Hauts-de-France region, Xavier Bertrand, is the highest in the polls but refused to participate in a party primary. Valérie Pécresse, responsible for the Paris region, is neck and neck with Bertrand.

While his party was stuck in the doldrums, Barnier was busy crossing swords with the British. The cruel irony for Barnier is that although he is a familiar (and not always popular) face to the British, the French have not followed his work so closely, put off by the complexity of the talks and the lack of obvious impact on their lives. . His return home was far from ecstatic.

You need gravity rule the country ‘

The announcement of his candidacy was expected as Barnier had long anticipated a return to French politics, confident in private before the summer that he could consider himself “a team leader”.

According to an aide, Barnier’s decision to run centered on him believing his experience in government puts him ahead of his rivals. Barnier was four times cabinet minister and twice European commissioner before becoming head of the Brexit task force in 2016

“His experience is quite simply out of the ordinary. He knows local politics in his native region of Savoy, national politics, behind the scenes of power in Brussels, ”said the assistant. “It sets him apart from all the others. And you need gravity to run the country.

But the main obstacle he will have to overcome is his perceived lack of charisma and a lack of visibility at home.

A supporter of Pécresse told Playbook Paris this week: “It is not in his best interest to appear in a primary against … a guy whose main achievement is to organize the Olympic Games in Albertville”, referring to the Barnier’s work on the France Winter Games in 1992.

But Barnier’s team are hoping that a primary would be an opportunity to remedy that.

“He has always been a man of action, not a man of communication, which is why he is not as well known as the others,” said the same assistant. “But most people don’t have a negative impression of him. They recognize that he has done a lot of work for the country.

And he has supporters. Former Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said he was in favor of Barnier’s candidacy, without saying whether he would vote for him. “Macron’s tenure was meant to bring novelty, instead he brought amateurism,” Hortefeux told POLITICO. “Michel Barnier is rather reliable, methodical, his experience and his international recognition are an asset.

The campaign works

According to Barnier’s team, several study groups – including CEOs, farmers and business leaders – are contributing to his campaign manifesto. He plans to present proposals on five main policy areas in the coming weeks.

Barnier’s most shocking proposal to date is a 3-5 year moratorium on immigration, suspending all applications for residence permits except for asylum seekers and students. In an interview with Le Figaro on Thursday, Barnier also suggested holding an immigration referendum if he is elected president, marking a note more to the right than the outgoing president of the Elysee Macron.

But difficulties await us.

Polls suggest that none of the conservative candidates would pass the first round of the presidential election, with Macron winning over Le Pen in a second round. A recent Ipsos poll estimated that 15% of the French would vote for Bertrand, 14% for Pécresse and only 11% for Barnier in the first round.

The Republicans are set to decide whether they will hold a primary contest at their party’s conference next month – and will try to persuade Bertrand to participate. The other option is simply for the top brass to choose a candidate without consulting party members.

Whoever he chooses will have a mountain to climb.


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