The first candidate of the French conservatives creates problems for Macron – POLITICO – .

The first candidate of the French conservatives creates problems for Macron – POLITICO – .

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PARIS – Valérie Pécresse has just been chosen as her party’s first woman presidential candidate, she now faces an even greater challenge: preparing to beat Emmanuel Macron in the April elections.

The former minister and current head of the Paris region won the primary of the center-right Les Républicains party on Saturday with 61% of the vote, beating hard-line Eric Ciotti.

Pécresse’s victory is bad news for Macron.

The pro-business moderate who held two ministerial posts under former President Nicolas Sarkozy is hunting for most of the same reasons as the incumbent. It offers a modern brand of conservatism that is liberal on economics but tough on law and order.

Pécresse is joining a crowded cast of candidates on the right, however, and with her Conservative Party’s first rally canceled due to a COVID-19 resurgence, she will have to work hard to gain momentum.

“I have good news,” she told a rally of conservative supporters, “the Republican right is back, the right [that stands up for] his convictions are back and France cannot wait any longer.

Pécresse, 54, pledged to give “everything, her strength and her determination” to lead the party to victory.

Former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Xavier Bertrand, head of the Hauts-de-France region and once considered race favorites, both lost in the first round of voting.

With immigration and security concerns ahead of the election, party insiders hope Ciotti’s strong performance can also hold back voters who may abandon the party for the far right.

Currently, opinion polls suggest that Pécresse would get 10% of the vote in the presidential election against 24% for Macron, 19% for Marine Le Pen and 14% for far-right provocateur Eric Zemmour, according to the POLITICO poll.

Challenge Macron

On Saturday, Pécresse described Macron as a politician lacking conviction.

“Between the incumbent and myself, there is more than a difference in political line, there is a difference in character,” she said. “He has only one ambition, to please, while I have only one passion, to get things done. “

Despite being a career politician, Pécresse also has the advantage of being a new face in the race at a time when mistrust of politicians remains high following the yellow vests protests during Macron’s tenure.

Pécresse described herself as “one third Thatcher, two third Merkel”. She pledged to raise the retirement age to 65 and cut thousands of public sector jobs if elected president. She has also – like most right-wing candidates – become tougher on immigration, reflecting the influence of the far right over mainstream parties. She promises to “restore French pride” and to defend “family values”.

At the head of the regional government of Île-de-France, of which Paris is a part, she can claim a first-rate experience in the direction, the management of a tight budget and the confrontation with the social problems of the disadvantaged Parisian suburbs. She was Minister of the Budget and Minister of Higher Education under Sarkozy.

Facing the far right

Pécresse faced an immediate attack from Le Pen, who described her as “Macron’s closest candidate” to the Republicans primary.

“She has the exact same profile as Macron and agrees with him on so many matters,” Le Pen said on French TV channel BFMTV. “I am sad for [conservative] voters… but they can always join my campaign, where they will find an unashamed defense of the nation. “

With Ciotti’s defeat, hawkish voters might be inclined to leave Le Pen for Le Pen who has reshaped his National Rally party as more mainstream in recent years.

But among Republicans, some believe Ciotti – who won 39% of the vote in the second round – has gotten stronger. They hope he will play an important role in the campaign.

“Ciotti can block Zemmour and Le Pen on right-wing issues, while [Pécresse] has rhetoric that appeals to business leaders and high income earners, a conservative base that has been taken by Macron, ”an adviser to party leader Christian Jacob said in POLITICO’s Paris Playbook on Friday.

“This result would be the best result for Pécresse, because Ciotti will be able to consolidate the right wing of the party”, declared the adviser before the release of the results.

Pécresse barely has time to celebrate before taking on her first challenge. Zemmour holds his first rally on Sunday after announcing his candidacy earlier this week. The former journalist has launched scathing attacks on career politicians and is unlikely to spare him at a rally that has been timed to eclipse the Conservative Party’s primary.

In a letter posted on social media on Saturday, Zemmour called on voters who had supported Ciotti to join his movement and drop “the indecisive politicians (…) who have given up or returned their mantle in recent decades”.


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