Zemmour: The Ascendant Radical?
The rise of Zemmour, the non-candidate carried by media attention and a dedicated fanbase, despite nobody knowing what his programme will be.
Emmanuel Macron continues to stay at the top of the polls with 24% of voting intention, while the former runner up, Marine Le Pen, has fallen from her 2017 score of 21% to 15%, and is now sitting in third place behind the far-right upstart Eric Zemmour, who has risen to second place at 17%, and is looking increasingly dangerous to the legacy far-right monolith.
Now to the content
With six months to go until the 2022 presidential elections take place, one of the most fascinating things is the rise of the anti-immigration, sovereignist, far-right television commentator Zemmour, who is surging in the polls despite not having declared his candidacy, and who is a genuine threat to Le Pen.
A prolific author of North African and Jewish heritage who has made a career of targeting everything from Muslims and immigration to feminism, crime, and legal processes, he wraps his position in a neat bow promoting the idea of “the fall of France and French society”. He has been one of the main surprises in this election, but when we think about what he represents, he isn’t really.
A proponent of the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory popular with far-right white nationalists, he speaks to a segment of the French population that has been rendered fearful and/or hostile to immigrants and those that politicians have demonised in the wake of multiple terrorist attacks.
Resembling a French Donald Trump, he threatens Les Républicains, who position themselves as defenders against uncontrolled migration and a lax security environment, as well as the Rassemblement National, who share his more extreme positions.
Zemmour’s rise has raised alarms across the board, with many worrying about the effect that he will have on the Presidential campaign, particularly after a recent event where he pointed a high-calibre sniper rifle at journalists, an act that was described as “horrifying” by Marlène Schiappa, the Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship.
Some, such as Jean-Yves Camus, have argued that there is a “risk of a radicalisation of the campaign” as Zemmour works on attracting centre-right voters and the far-right Le Pens supporters, and attracts disaffected supporters of the struggling Les Républicains party.
Having been sued multiple times for racial discrimination and for Islamophobia, and convicted several times of inciting racism, there is a strong undercurrent of a man appealing to a France that believes itself to have been abandoned, side-lined in a country that is moving too fast and abandoning its ‘values’.
The problem is that, quite often, the values that are perceived as under attack differ wildly depending on who you ask. For some, it is an ethereal idea of French culture, while for others, it is jobs and financial stability. One worrying example comes from a recent poll by Harris Interactive which showed that what was thought to be the fringe conspiracy theory of a “great replacement” of white, Christian Europeans by Muslim immigrants worried 67% of French citizens polls.
The majority of his campaign appears to be aimed at highlighting and expanding the gap between the various segments of society, attempting to separate our Muslim concitoyens through repeat statements on the failure of integration.
What does he want?
Zemmour has previously argued that laws against racial discrimination should be abolished, the ability for anti-racist organisations to seek prosecution of certain personalities, as well as an abolition of subsidies to these anti-racist organisations. He has even called for a ban on foreign first names, demanding that the French have French names, and that a halt to foreign influence be stopped.
However, his electoral programme is still as uncertain as his actual candidacy. What he would do to curb or battle immigration is unknown, just as his platform for combating crime, or for combatting extremism. This is all lost in the exceedingly skilled wrapping up of all of his political positions in a neat, viral packaging, carried by his fans, « Génération Z », across social media as well as by traditional media who are rushing to report on Le Pen’s potential successor.
He is also fighting an aggressive position of leaving the European Union, and if he follows the extremes of Gaullist tradition, potentially even leaving NATO.
The caveat to all of the hype is that this could prove to be a positive for Emmanuel Macron and other candidates such as Xavier Bertrand, Michel Barnier or Valérie Pécresse, should they be selected as the candidate for Les Républicains and manage to carry support with them..
While worrying in terms of the total support we can see, as well as the clear evidence of more work being necessary to build national cohesion and assist the left behind, the reality is that the two far-right candidates are potentially damaging their own prospects as they fight not only over not only the extremes of society, but for the Presidency.
Le Pen and Zemmour may indeed actually be doing the job of the Front Republicain for it, lowering the threshold required for anybody to come in first or second place in the April 2022 election. This could lead to a situation where Macron, if he maintains his lead, could find himself in the second round against a candidate from Les Républicains or even from a potential ‘left bloc’, should the Socialists, Greens and other left wing parties manage to unite and agree on a presidential candidate.
Regardless, the effect the ascendant upstart has on this election will not be known for a while. For all we know, this may just be media buzz a-la Donald Trump, and may just be an attempt to build his profile, either for media attention or to set the scene for a second run in 2027.
On the other-hand, while many do view this as unlikely, we could have a far-right President in the Elysée in six months.