That was until Eric Zemmour, a French far-right commentator and television celebrity, burst onto the political scene and sparked a media frenzy with inflammatory views on Islam, immigration and the feminism, which he accuses of the alleged decline of France.
He has yet to declare his candidacy, but the 63-year-old has already upped opinion polls and upended political calculations ahead of the April election.
A recent poll by the polling institute Ifop showed Zemmour would win 17% of the vote in the first round, overtaking both Le Pen and the center-right candidate – who has yet to be decided – to make it to the second round, although some analysts have warned that the polls should be treated with caution.
“Zemmour creates a rupture in the French presidential race”, declared to DW Philippe Corcuff, political scientist at the Institute of political studies of Lyon. “He appears more respectable and less right-wing than Marine Le Pen, whereas objectively he is actually much more right about her with his racist and xenophobic speech. “
“Definition of the agenda”
The paradox is explained by the fact that Zemmour has for years been a well-known figure in the French media and intellectual circles, making him a respectable figure of the traditional right.
Long-time journalist for the conservative French newspaper, Le FigaroZemmour is also a bestselling author and was until recently a prime-time commentator on a Fox news network. He drew huge crowds at campaign-style events across France as he promoted his latest book.
But, he remains known for his polarizing views. He called for a ban on “foreign” first names like Mohammed, he denounced “LGBT propaganda”, he denounced the immigration of African Muslims, and he said that Islam does not share the fundamental values of the France.
Zemmour, who is of Jewish and Algerian descent, is also accused of attempting to rehabilitate the wartime French Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis. He has been sanctioned twice for inciting racial hatred.
“There is relentless media coverage of Zemmour. He’s on TV every day. And even if it is not, there is debate ”, Jean-Yves Camus, director of the Observatory of Radical Policies of the Jean-Jaurès Foundation in Paris, said DW. “He sets the agenda and the others on the right are just responding to the issues he raised. “
Steal the thunder of Marine Le Pen
Although polls show Zemmour’s appeal crosses the political right, it poses a particular challenge to Le Pen, who is in freefall in the polls.
In recent years, Le Pen has attempted to rename and soften his party’s image to broaden its appeal and has abandoned some of the more extreme positions of the popular far-right under his father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. This left her vulnerable to Zemmour, who now spills over to the right with his harsh views on the place of Islam in France, immigration and national identity.
“The base of the National Rally is perhaps more radical on these issues. For them, Marine le Pen is too soft, too mainstream, not radical enough and, above all, she is presenting herself for the third time, ”said Camus, a specialist on the far right.
“There is a certain weariness. Some have been waiting for years for their party to come to power and they know from the polls that Marine le Pen will not be elected. “
A race to the right
Zemmour also rocked the traditional center-right French party, Les Républicains, which was last in power, albeit under a different name, in 2012 under President Nicolas Sarkozy. The party has yet to elect a presidential candidate in April.
According to Philippe Corcuff, The Republicans have turned to the right under the president of law and order with the harsh speech Sarkozy, marginalizing the moderate conservatives within the party. Since then, the boundaries with the far right on classic right-wing themes have blurred.
“The traditional right has very little resistance to Zemmour’s speech. Politicians compete to be more to the right and they think immigration, security and sovereignty are the most profitable issues, ”Corcuff said. “With that, they give more legitimacy to what Zemmour says. “
The fact that Zemmour is considered a foreigner and that he is not a member of any political party also works to his advantage.
“French voters are completely fed up with politicians, they don’t trust them,” Antoine Diers, spokesperson for the Association des Amis d’Eric Zemmour, a presidential campaign fundraising group, told DW. potential.
“Zemmour is not afraid of anything. He has no taboos. He says immigration is bad for France. He is the only one who says we have a problem with Islam. He asks good questions about security and the lack of justice. “
Diers, who is himself a member of the Republicans, said he hoped Zemmour could create a broad base of support to defeat Macron.
“Zemmour resonates with people like me and other Republicans, also far-right voters and even people who have stopped voting,” Diers said. “He is able to unite all these people more than any other right-wing politician. “
Rude public speech
Whether Zemmour’s possible presidential candidacy is successful or not, his ideas have already become mainstream in the French election campaign.
“The dissemination of far-right ideas does not necessarily lead to the victory of a far-right candidate, but it attracts politicians from all sides, from the center and even from the left,” said Philippe Corcuff.
During a recent televised debate for the first Republican primary in France, journalists repeatedly questioned candidates about the loaded term, the “great replacement” theory, first invented by French writer Renaud Camus and propagated by Eric Zemmour.
Conspiracy theory popular among identity movements in Europe, it claims that an elitist group colludes against French and European whites to eventually replace them with non-Europeans from Africa and the Middle East, the majority of whom are Muslims. .
This week, Arnaud Montebourg, an independent left-wing candidate, proposed to ban Western Union money transfers to countries that refuse to take back their own nationals expelled from France to fight illegal immigration. Immediately afterwards, Zemmour claimed that the measure initially came from him.
Zemmour must obtain the signatures of 500 mayors that any candidate legally needs to run for the French presidency. The deadline to announce an application is February 26, 2022.