And then there were none. French conservatives face tough times ahead
The French opposition conservative party will hold an internal election to designate its candidate. But, at the moment, no one seems to warm the hearts of voters.
In early December, the center-right Les Républicains party will elect its presidential candidate for 2022. The party’s 110,000 supporters will have a choice of five candidates: Michel Barnier, Xavier Bertrand, Éric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin and Valérie Pécresse. The first round of the Convention will take place on December 1st and 2nd. The second round will take place on December 3rd and 4th.
Former President Sarkozy’s party has opted for “closed primaries.” This came after much uncertainty and an original decision for open primaries. This new arrangement has led to an increase in the number of party supporters. Indeed, two of the candidates in the election, Bertrand and Pécresse, had left the party. Many of their supporters then decided to rejoin the party.
Their return was not easy. Bertrand had been hinting for weeks that he would not attend the party convention. There was a real possibility that two center-right candidates would run. How much Bertrand’s stance will affect the final membership vote is hard to predict. Even if he remains the favored candidate in the polls, the outcome could be different. In 2016, former prime minister François Fillon won against Alain Juppé, who was already considered the winner in the polls.
Bertrand’s opponents appear to be betting heavily on loyalty. This is particularly true of Barnier, the former EU commissioner, and Brexit negotiator. He has insisted on his career as a minister and his loyalty to the center-right. Pécresse seems to be betting heavily on becoming the first female French president.
According to an Elabe poll for Les Échos, Xavier Bertrand would get 28% of the vote. Michel Barnier and Valérie Pécresse would follow with 24%. Then Éric Ciotti with 14% and Philippe Juvin with 10%. So anything could happen in the second round of the Congress.
The five candidates will also face off in four televised debates. The first one took place on Tuesday, November 9th. They will then also have to face a national hearing by the party leadership.
The first debate did not feature the fierce confrontation that marked the center-right party’s 2016 primaries. Les Républicains have decided not to repeat this chaotic contest. As a result, the decision-making process, including the debate, is tightly controlled by the party. In 2016, the second debate between Fillon and Juppé left a negative aftermath in its wake. And it helped Fillon’s opponents outside the party.
However, the first debate also highlighted some weaknesses of the center-right campaign. It is true that the candidates agreed on many of the issues discussed. But it was also a clear demonstration of the lack of leadership among the candidates. This almost confirms the verdict that former president Nicolas Sarkozy passed on the candidates.
But the debate also made something else clear. The party’s concern about the candidacy of far-right writer Eric Zemmour. It’s no coincidence that the discussion mainly revolved around the topics of security and immigration.
Bertrand advocated raising the age of criminal responsibility to fifteen and reintroducing short prison sentences. Pécresse suggested that an “illegal immigrant” should be “sent back to his home country.” Barnier blamed the European Union. According to the former EU commissioner, French justice must regain its sovereignty. Barnier also wants a moratorium on immigration of three to five years. Ciotti advocated anchoring Christian roots in the French constitution. He also wants to ban the Islamic veil for minors and abolish the moderate ius soli.
Security and immigration are the issues on which the center-right party hopes to win back some votes that have since switched to Zemmour. Whether the various candidates will prevail remains to be seen. While Republicans debate who is the best candidate, Zemmour continues to campaign. So is President Emmanuel Macron, to whom the center-right parties have lost votes in recent years. And Macron seems to have no intention of letting this electorate return to the arms of the center-right parties.
One thing is certain. Never before have center-right voters been the object of desire for the political class.