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PARIS – France may be the country of generous welfare policies and strong labor protections, but anyone who logs on to the early stages of the presidential campaign would think the country is more on the right.
Presidential candidates who pledged the toughest lines on immigration and security have enjoyed the greatest momentum in recent weeks, while an unprecedented third of the electorate said they were considering voting for a far-right candidate.
Perhaps the sign most visible of the right wave.
Another is the turn taken by the conservative Republicans (LR), the party of former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. Pushed to their left by Macron’s economic liberalism and to their right by the normalization of the far right, the conservatives have hardened their positions on security and immigration in an attempt to maintain a base.
Eric Ciotti, a die-hard conservative who unexpectedly won the first round of the party primary last week, has vowed to set up a “French Guantanamo” and espoused the far-right theory that the French are “replaced” by foreigners – Arabs, blacks, Muslims – immigrants.
Valérie Pécresse, the president of the Paris region, who beat Ciotti in the LR nomination on Saturday, pleaded for the primacy of French law over European law, and wishes to keep people imprisoned for jihadism in prison beyond their sentence .
In her victory speech on Saturday, she explicitly called supporters of far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Zemmour to join her and said Ciotti would play a central role in her campaign.
“I say this to all those who are fed up with broken promises, exasperated by the powerlessness of the public authorities and tempted by Marine Le Pen or Eric Zemmour … unlike the extremes, we will turn the page Macron,” said Pécresse.
The success of the polls among politicians with more vehement views on immigration, security and identity have placed these issues at the heart of the presidential campaign even if the entire French population still places purchasing power and environmental issues among the most pressing concerns.
With France still traumatized by the Islamist terrorist attacks of 2015, this success is due to three factors: the perceived French decline, the collapse of the left and higher abstention rates among young people and voters on the left.
Despite a high standard of living, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and a country that remains the world’s leading tourist destination, the French perception of their own country’s decline is acute.
“Immigration has become a major concern because the French are deeply convinced that France is in decline. They feel that their country was once a great world power and is now a small power. When a country feels that it is doing well, it manages immigration better, ”said Gérard Grunberg, political analyst and researcher.
The video announcing Zemmour’s presidential candidacy relied heavily on this perception. For ten minutes he spoke poetically about the good old days of glory, with sepia-toned archival footage from the post-war years, pulling the chords of French history and verifying the names of Joan of Arc, Napoleon and Charles of Gaul.
Only 25% of French people say that France is not in decline and a majority say they no longer feel at home as before (62%); that there are too many immigrants (64%); and that it takes a strong leader to restore public order (79%), according to an Ipsos poll.
It is a model to which French President Emmanuel Macron has struggled to respond and which will weigh on his positioning before his candidacy for re-election.
While Macron has managed to siphon off the economically liberal right, he was accused early in his presidency of being uncomfortable on issues related to crime and Islamism.
It has gradually hardened its position on asylum seekers, the deportations of illegal migrants to North Africa and increased the budget for the police. He also appointed an outright conservative, Gérald Darmanin, to the post of Minister of the Interior. Darmanin once accused Le Pen of softening up when she said she didn’t think Islam was a problem.
Macron’s challenge will be to refine his credentials on migration and public order while trying to preserve the center-left votes that carried him to the presidency in 2017.
He could be helped on the latter by the current state of the left.
With no candidate in a position to vote more than 10%, according to the POLITICO poll, it’s no surprise that right-wing themes dominate the conversation.
Politicians who would normally advocate on issues such as purchasing power and climate action have given way to public debate. They have been replaced by the conservatives and the far right who have imposed their favorite themes on television news and talk shows.
“There is a turn to the right of the electorate – that is to say those who vote – because young people are much more to the left but they have the highest abstention rate”, declared Antoine Bristielle, director of the opinion observatory at the Jean Jaurès Foundation. . “Left-wing voters are also much less engaged than right-wing voters at this stage of the campaign.
The simultaneous support of the French for generous social protection and a hard line on immigration, identity and security is not contradictory, however, if one considers it in the context of the past glory of France and of France. the way the French state was built.
“There is a real social pessimism in France… we have become accustomed to being in a society with enormous protections, offered by a strong centralized state. But since the 90s and globalization and successive crises, we have the feeling that our social and cultural protections are crumbling and that scares us more than people in more economically liberal countries, ”said Bristielle.
This explains why half of French people polled after Zemmour announced his candidacy said they agreed with his statement that they no longer live in a country they know and that politicians have concealed how much they are replaced in their own society.
Yet only 24% believed that Zemmour had the attributes of a head of state.
Established LR politicians have tried to capitalize on this by taking positions close to his own, while highlighting their political credentials and stature.
“I am the only one capable of beating President Emmanuel Macron”, declared Pécresse at the end of the first round of the primary of his party, referring to his experience in government as minister under Sarkozy, and his executive experience in as president of the greater region of France.
She must now keep her own party united, in order to have a chance of reaching the second round in April 2022, but is already under pressure from the hard wing of LR.
Ciotti, whose support she will need and who had declared before the LR primary that he would vote for Zemmour in the event of a second round between the polemicist and Macron, put her on notice on Sunday, saying that she had not sent the “right message” when she disowned her proposal for French Guantanamo.