Changes in EU leadership to alter dynamics

The EU may find France less enthusiastic than before on green issues as the right in France pushes the conversation in a different direction in the election campaign.

| 5 min read

Suddenly the race for the French Presidency has been shaken up. Eric Zemmour has not yet been declared as a candidate, but he has leapt to attention. He draws large crowds to hear his views as he sells his latest book on the future of France.

Some polls show that he is in third place after President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, ahead of the Republican Party candidates – and well ahead of the socialists. One or two put him just ahead of Ms Le Pen. President Macron knows all about breaking the hold of the traditional parties, as his new En Marche movement crashed through the polling barriers and won following his defection from the socialists. He will be watching Mr Zemmour nervously.

Battle for the right

Mr Zemmour’s candidacy will hit Ms Le Pen’s vote. He is a self-styled French nationalist, in favour of tougher rules on immigration, and wishing to rebuild French power at home and abroad. His anti-immigration rhetoric is very contentious in a multicultural country. He is often critical of EU decisions and he has little time for more EU authority.

The voting strength of Le Pen, Zemmour and the Republicans together is currently just under 50%, leaving President Macron and the left with a bare majority. Without Mr Zemmour running or doing well, the consensus view is a replay of the last Presidential election – with Le Pen emerging as the challenger, and with voters from both right and left who do not like Le Pen uniting to give Macron a good majority.

Le Pen has tempered the views and outlook of her party to appeal to more in the centre, leaving open space on the issues of immigration and identity which Mr Zemmour in part wishes to fill. It is going to take some time to see how the jostling of the right to choose a champion to take on the President unfolds.

The Republicans themselves have not yet got behind a single candidate, with Xavier Bertrand in the lead and Michel Barnier trailing. The need for the Republicans to attract more support, and the need for their candidates to be more authentically conservative, along with the arrival of Mr Zemmour means French politics is being dragged towards more statements of French nationalism.

President Macron will be looking for ways of signalling he understands these moods and trends, to shore up his support. He currently stands on just 25%, the highest of any potential candidate in the polls, but has a majority of the country disapproving of his record. If Zemmour and Le Pen damage each other’s vote there is a chance that the Republicans could at last emerge as the challenger to Mr Macron, which might be a closer contest.

Election will alter Macron policies

We assume with the markets that, even with this new possible challenge, President Macron will secure re-election in the end. The importance of the Zemmour phenomenon lies in its likely impact on Macron’s own policies and plans, driving them towards a more assertive France with stronger border protection and more scepticism about EU policies and powers. This will make relations with the new German government more problematic.

Germany looks as if it is heading towards a “traffic-light coalition”, despite the big gap in outlook between the Greens and the Free Democrats. So far, progress seems to have been made in agreeing to bring forward Germany’s phase out of coal to 2030 from 2038, and to allocate more land to solar and wind developments to strengthen Germany’s renewable energy options.

The French Greens languish on 6% and President Macron has the scars from the protests against higher fuel taxes earlier in his tenure. He is offering subsidies for people’s heating even though they are using fossil fuels. In election mode he will probably not be highlighting strong green policies.

The European Union is currently conducting a consultation exercise with as many of its citizens as are interested, with a view to coming to new conclusions on its direction and approach next spring. In the meantime, the EU is resolutely making green transition the centrepiece of its policies, with 30% of its budget allocated to green themes and with an ambitious set of plans to move away from fossil fuels.

The EU undertook an exercise to require national decarbonisation plans and then demand improvements in them. Attention switches at the end of the month to the G20 and COP 26. We should expect more discussion of the road to net zero. The EU may find France less enthusiastic than before as the right in France pushes the conversation in a different direction.

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Changes in EU leadership to alter dynamics

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