In a France that fears immigrants, another candidate turns to the right

PARIS – As president, the candidate declared that she “ eradicate areas outside France ”Or neighborhoods with high crime, where“ we tell...

PARIS – As president, the candidate declared that she “eradicate areas outside France”Or neighborhoods with high crime, where“ we tell the little old woman to stay at home ”because drug trafficking is underway in front of her apartment.

She would send the army to help in the “republican reconquest” of these regions where, she promises, the offenders would be punished more severely by the law.

“We have to eradicate them,” she said during a prime-time debate, referring to the zones, “and that’s what I would do as president of the republic.”

It was not Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, who spoke, but Valérie Pécresse, the center-right candidate for the April presidential election.

Ms. Pécresse recently won the nomination of the Republicans – the successor to the parties once led by Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac – by tacking to the right. She adopted the far-right vocabulary, with racial and colonial connotations, while proposing more severe penalties in areas with high crime rates for the same offenses as elsewhere, a policy which experts this would violate the fundamental principle of equality before the law in France.

But with the primary behind her, Ms. Pécresse – an otherwise moderate conservative who has often been compared to President Emmanuel Macron – now faces the difficult task of expanding its base of support. Pulled to the right by its own party and the far right, it must also address the moderates and traditional conservatives less interested in the themes of immigration and national identity which dominated the political campaign.

Still crowned with her victory in the primary two weeks ago, Ms. Pécresse, the current leader of the Paris region and former national minister of the budget and then of higher education, rose to second place behind Mr. Macron in polls among likely voters in the election. For Mr. Macron, a challenge launched by an establishment figure like Ms. Pécresse could prove to be much more formidable than that of Ms. Le Pen, whom he easily defeated in 2017.

The rise of Ms. Pécresse, 54, comes at an unstable moment in French politics. Until last summer, most experts expected a revenge in 2017, pitting Mr. Macron against Ms. Le Pen in the second round of the two-round ballot in France. But the emergence and rapid rise of Eric Zemmour, far-right author, television expert and now presidential candidate, has turned things upside down.

By severely weakening Ms. Le Pen, Mr. Zemmour’s candidacy paved the way for Ms. Pécresse to pass the first round and face Mr. Macron.

Like the president, Ms. Pécresse is a graduate of the best schools in France and is at ease speak English in international contexts. She, too, is seen as pro-business and pro-Europe, although she has criticized Mr Macron for his spending and recently proposed cutting 200,000 government jobs. On social issues, however, she is seen as more conservative than the president. She opposed same-sex marriage when it became law in 2013, although she has since changed her position.

Like others on the right and the far right, who denounced an alleged invasion of France by immigrants, even though Arrivals have increased less in France than in the rest of Europe or in other rich countries of the world over the last decade – Ms. Pécresse has taken a firm stance on immigration. Describing him as “out of control”, she noted there is a link between immigration and the rise of Islamism, terrorism and crime. She proposed putting quotas on immigrants by country of origin and category, and reducing social benefits for them.

The first woman nominated by Republicans as presidential candidate, Ms Pécresse mentioned former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Speaking on his own leadership.

Alexandra Dublanche, the vice-president of the Paris region, who has worked with Ms Pécresse for a decade, said the candidate had drawn inspiration from Ms Thatcher as “a reformer and for her courage in getting things done”. At Ms. Merkel, Ms. Pécresse admired “a long-term vision and the ability to unite the people behind it,” said Ms. Dublanche.

Ms. Pécresse’s victory in the primary was widely seen as a surprise to political scientists and her opponents, especially allies of Mr. Macron. She beat four men, including two who had been described as clearly favorites. Ms Dublanche said Ms Pécresse was “clearly” underestimated because of her gender.

In the first days after Ms Pécresse’s victory, Mr Macron’s allies fought for a strategy to counter her candidacy, but they are now emphasizing his positions in the primary.

“On issues like immigration, she is far right or quite close to the far right,” said Sacha Houlié, a national lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party.

Ms. Pécresse’s proposal to cut 200,000 civil service jobs is an example of the kind of austerity that would hurt an economy recovering from the pandemic, Houlié said.

Some supporters of Ms Pécresse say her gender could prove to be an asset against Mr Macron, who despite emphasizing equality in the workplace during his presidency, has been criticized for ruling with a small circle of ‘men.

Candidates from other parties qualified for the second round of the 2007 and 2017 elections, Houlié said.

“So I think that’s hype,” he said. “Yes, she is a woman, and it may be new for the right, which reflects their retrograde view of French society. It is normal for everyone that women are in politics.

But for now, Ms Pécresse’s biggest challenge will be dealing with differences within her own party and potential supporters, experts say.

Like the rest of French society, his party has evolved more to the right in recent years, said Emilien Houard-Vial, a party expert who teaches at Sciences Po in Paris.

“She faces greater pressure on the right,” Houard-Vial said, adding that she should “make promises” on issues such as immigration, crime, national identity and ” the cancellation of culture “.

Traditionally, party leaders drew a clear line between their organization and the far right led by Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally, formerly known as the National Front.

Ms Dublanche said that for Ms Pécresse there was a “total barrier” between her party and the far right.

But in recent years the lines separating the party from the far right have become increasingly blurred. Eric Ciotti, the finalist for the Republicans primary, said that in a hypothetical confrontation between Mr. Macron and Mr. Zemmour, he would support the far-right television specialist and writer.

In fact, Ms Pécresse quit her party in 2019 – only to return in October – because she said at the time that she did not agree with her direction under her leaders at the time. .

“She herself quit the party because she did not agree with the growing right turn,” said Gaël Perdriau, a longtime Republican who was forced to step down as vice president a few days after the victory of Mme Pécresse because of her criticisms of the inclination of the party. more to the right. “So I don’t understand why she would come back to the party and promote the same kind of ideas that she criticized in the past. “

During a prime-time debate during the primary, Ms Pécresse took a carefully ambiguous stance on the “great replacement” – a conspiracy theory that was popularized by Mr Zemmour and which argues that the white Christian population of France is intentionally replaced by African Muslims. . The phrase has been cited by white supremacists in massacres in New Zealand and the United States.

“If it is not clear on this big replacement theory, I cannot vote for someone who supports these ideas,” Mr Perdriau said. He added that instead of “proposing concrete solutions to social problems”, his party has found a “scapegoat abroad”.

“We can be representatives of authority, law and justice,” he said, “without falling into words that flirt with racism and hatred of the other”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: In a France that fears immigrants, another candidate turns to the right
In a France that fears immigrants, another candidate turns to the right
Newsrust - US Top News
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