When Valérie Pécresse crossed rural France this summer, visiting farms and villages to escape what she called her grotesquely unfair image of the “bourgeois blonde” of Versailles, she vowed to shatter the glass ceiling of the French Republic. “I will be the first woman president of France,” she declared in the meeting rooms to cheers.
Since Emmanuel Macron won the presidency in 2017 as a shock outsider with no electoral experience and a party formed in a matter of months, French politics have thrived on novelty. Pécresse supporters say her status as a woman is refreshing and makes her Macron’s worst nightmare.
Pécresse, 54, wants to prevent Macron, the favorite, from being re-elected next spring. As the first woman to run for the presidency of the traditional right-wing party dominated by the men of Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, she is presented as a new hope after a career of more than 20 years in politics of the first line. Other candidates are running on the left and on the far right, but Pécresse is a first for Les Républicains.
She was chosen as a presidential candidate after having fought for a resolutely right-handed ticket to “restore the pride of France and protect the French”. She wants to “bring back authority” to the nation. She promised to toughen the justice system and the police, crack down on immigration and reduce the public sector. “I feel the anger of people who feel powerless in the face of violence and the rise of Islamist separatism, who feel that their values and their way of life are threatened by uncontrolled immigration,” she said in her speech of victory.
Its proposals include halving the number of residence permits for non-European migrants. She wants to organize a referendum to change the constitutional law and introduce immigration quotas. She pledged to end the 35-hour workweek, raise the retirement age to 65, cut 200,000 public sector jobs and build more nuclear reactors.
Pécresse had traditionally been seen on the moderate side of the center-right, but in the Ile-de-France region she runs, which includes the high-rise suburbs around the capital, she has always promised a hard line on “the law. “. and order ”. It banned “burkinis,” or full-body swimsuits, from outdoor recreation areas, and before France introduced same-sex marriage in 2013, during a political period tense with street protests by local politicians. Conservatives, she said she preferred some form of civil union instead of full marriage. She then changed her stance and said she would not go back on same-sex marriage.
Pécresse compares herself to Margaret Thatcher for her courage and “firm hand”, but she aims to lead more like Angela Merkel, who she said was good for the consensus and left Germany “richer, stronger and more united ”.
His strong point against Macron, say his supporters, is his experience as a budget minister trained in finance. According to her former boss Sarkozy, she is “obsessed” with the detail of her files, and she has training in the center-right field that the current president has come to occupy. Despite his desire to improve gender equality, Macron remains surrounded by predominantly male advisers and has appointed men to the highest positions in government. The Pécresse team wants her to make it look dated.
Its task is hard. His party has traditionally been the right-wing party in government, but it lost the presidency in 2012. It faces competition from growing far-right opposition – not only Marine Le Pen but also television scholar Eric Zemmour. . Many voters and politicians from the center of the party have jumped at Macron.
But Pécresse is a former senior official who began her political career as Jacques Chirac’s adviser at the Elysee Palace and shares the nickname she has often been given of “the bulldozer”. She is known for her tough and epic election battles.
In her first parliamentary election in Yvelines, near Paris, as an unknown young outsider, she defeated a famous military general. In 2015, she led the right to victory in the traditionally left-wing Ile-de-France, which includes Paris and its surroundings, the most populous and wealthiest region in France.
Under Sarkozy, Pécresse held difficult ministerial posts, most notably as minister of higher education, facing the worst street protests in years against an overhaul of the university system, when students were stranded in lecture theaters. “I held out for nine months against the street,” she said. “I undertook the most dangerous reform of Sarkozy’s presidency, which no one else wanted to do. Sarkozy later appointed her budget minister, a role in which she had to deal with the fallout from the sovereign debt crisis.
Pécresse was born Valérie Roux in the chic town of Neuilly-sur-Seine west of Paris, into a family of Gaullist intellectuals. Her father was a professor of economics and her maternal grandfather was a leading psychiatrist who treated Chirac’s daughter for anorexia. His maternal grandparents were active in the French Resistance and hid paratroopers during World War II.
Pécresse said he grew up as a “social Gaullist” raised to “republican merit”. Her father told her that women can do as well as men. She skipped two years in a private school, obtained her baccalaureate at 16, entered the most prestigious business school in France and then appeared among the best students in the training school for senior civil servants.
She became an advisor at the Elysee Palace in 1998, turning to politics in part because she wanted to counter the rise of the far right Jean-Marie Le Pen. She had married Jérôme Pécresse, an engineer who continued to work in business, and they have three children between the ages of 18 and 25 whom she protected from media photographers.
She knows that she must win back voters from the center as well as from the far right and is already adapting her language. Echoing Macron’s campaign in 2017, she promised to “change the system”.