On the French political scene ahead of the presidential elections, an unaccounted for variable has emerged in the person of the far-right journalist Eric Zemmour. According to polls, a publicist and polemicist may well challenge Emmanuel Macron and oust the president’s main rival, Marine Le Pen from the right-wing National Movement.
The first round of the presidential elections in France should take place on April 10, 2022, and the less time remains before the vote, the more active the election campaign. And while the traditional parties, represented by Re-publicans and Socialists, are trying to determine the main candidates, a number of forces have already made their choice. The he-ad of the far-right “National Association” Marine Le Pen, the leader of the left party “Unconquered Fran-ce” Jean-Luc Melanchon and the chairman of the centrist “Let’s resist!” Jean Lassalle.
Until now, French President Emmanuel Macron has not directly announced his participation in the elections. However, his desire to go for a second term in the French media is not even discussed, everyone has full confidence that he will participate.
Together with Macron, a conditionally new figure is also named among the likely candidates – ultra-right journalist Erik Zemmur, who also has not yet officially talked about his participation in the elections, but has already several times attended televised debates on the upcoming elections. Moreover, the controversy has more than once hinted at a readiness to stop talking about the problems of France, but to begin to solve them, which in many media outlets was assessed as a course towards participation in the presidential race.
Actually, the latest polls take Zemmur into account and give him a good cha-nce. According to a study by Elabe, the journalist gets 16% of the rating among respondents, occupying the third line of the rating after Macron – 24% and Le Pen – 19%. And according to a Harris-Interactive poll, Zemmur is gaining 17% at all, overtaking the leader of the National Association – 16%. That is, formally, it has a chance to get into the second round of elections together with the incumbent president.
Who is Zemmur
The figure of Eric Zem-mour cannot be called un-known to the French, the journalist has a certain popularity thanks to his work in Quotidien de Paris and Le Figaro, as well as on the air on France 2 and CNews TV channels. The polemic uses extreme right-wing statements, and his harsh statements often lead to scandals.
For example, Zemmour argued that during the occupation of France by Nazi Germany, the collaborating authorities allegedly protected French Jews, which sharply contradicts the real facts. This statement was especially scandalous due to the fact that the journalist is a descendant of Algerian Jews who immigrated to France with the beginning of the Algerian War. Actually, the origin of Zemmur does not prevent him from criticizing migrants and demanding tougher immigration policy in France.
In addition to migrants, the journalist also spoke out sharply against Muslims more than once, reaching outright racist statements and direct separation of people professing Islam from the “native French”. All this cost Zemmur several trials, including for “insult and provocation to hatred”, which ended in fines of thousands of euros.
Separately, the journalist also noted his attitude to-wards Russia, including cr-iticism of anti-Russian san-ctions and NATO expansion to the Russian borders in violation of promises. By the way, Zemmur has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of France from the alliance, calling the union “a machine for servicing the US allies.” And in Russia, the journalist expressed some sympathy for the country’s President Vladimir Putin, comparing him to the famous General Charles de Gaulle for his willingness to “say no to America”.
The threat to Macron
Experts interviewed by Gazeta.Ru agree that Zemmur can really be called one of the surprises of the current election campaign, which, although formally has not yet started, is already actively developing in practice. Yuri Rubinsky, head of the Center for French Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, professor at the Higher School of Economics, believes that the appearance of a journalist has greatly changed the tone of the campaign and its main issues.
“The political commodity that Zemmour trades is a very important factor in understanding what worries and frightens the French. Many of the things he speaks with look scandalous and highly questionable. In fact, he adheres not only to nationalist, but even racist positions in relation to Islam and migrants. He uses the same themes as Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen, sometimes bringing them to a caricatured and odious form. For example, he is trying to whitewash Philippe Petain (Prime Minister of France during the years of occupation by Nazi Germany), ”the expert explained.
From Rubinsky’s point of view, Zemmur’s political commodity is very dubious, and his phenomenon is, in fact, just a symptom, exactly the same as Donald Trump had in the United States – that is, a symptom of a split in French society.
“According to the latest polls, a journalist can get 16-17% in the first round and even supposedly get into the second round. But he has no reason to claim victory and come to the Elysee Palace. Macron will definitely outstrip him, which means the possible appearance of Zemmur in the second round gives the incumbent president more chances, ”the expert is sure.
Pavel Timofeev, head of the Regional Problems and Conflicts Sector of the European Political Studies Department of the IMEMO RAS, explains Zemmur’s rise in popularity by the fact that the journalist is taking advantage of the change in the vector of the extreme right-wing National Front party (since June 1, 2018, the National Association) under the leadership of Marine Le Pen.
“Seeking to establish himself on the right flank, he is directly challenging Le Pen in the fight for her far-right electorate. It turns out that the Zemmur phenomenon primarily stems from the fact that Marine Le Pen tried to partly abstract herself from the far-right electorate. There turned out to be a vacant position, to which he immediately rushed, ”the expert added.
Timofeev assessed Zemmur’s possible prospects within the campaign skeptically: acting as an opponent of the moderate right-wing system forces and placing himself on the extreme right flag, he automatically cuts himself off from the entire spectrum of moderate forces, both right and left.
“Zemmur is a very experienced polemicist and sharp-tongued journalist, but it is one thing to be such a critic as a publicist and quite another to develop some serious program on the basis of this, gather a party and demonstrate oneself as an organizer and manager. He has no experience in this and it is unlikely that most of the French are ready to entrust him with a mandate to govern the state, ”the expert said.
What’s going on with the election race
The situation around the presidential campaign in France is developing in favor of Macron. The president leads the polls, and among his main opponents, besides Zemmour, only Le Pen and the Republican candidate are listed. Three persons are considered here: the European Commissioner for Internal Trade Michel Barnier, the President of the Haute-de-France region council Xavier Bertrand and the head of the Ile-de-France region council Valerie Pécresse.
According to an Elabe poll, Barnier is gaining 8% in popularity among the French, Bertand is gaining 13% and Pécresse is 10%. Which of them will become the representative of the Republicans will be decided at the party convention, which will take place before the end of 2021. As for representatives of other forces, both centrist and left, they all gain less than 10% of support.
According to Yuri Rubinsky from the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, at the moment the prospects for the left are the most gloomy, since they will not nominate a single candidate in the first round, and probably will not pass in the second.
“In these elections, the leftists have been written off, you can be sure of this almost completely. As a result, the alignment is as follows: either Macron goes to the second round together with Le Pen and the scenario of the 2017 elections is repeated, which most likely means his re-election, or together with Zemmur, where he wins even more. It turns out that this whole story with the appearance of Zemmur as a possible candidate somehow plays into the hands of the current president, ”the expert noted.
From the point of view of Pavel Timofeev from IMEMO RAN, the situation is now quite favorable for Macron, although it has become more complicated after the crisis of “yellow vests” and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Neither the right nor the left has any consolidated forces with very charismatic leaders who are ready to challenge him. Against this backdrop of discord, Macron can of course count on the moderate right and left to support him again as they did in 2017, bringing him back to the second round. There is no guarantee that Macron will be re-elected, since the French have accumulated certain questions and disappointments for him, but now he has a very good chance of winning the election, ”the expert summed up.