Barnier’s nationalist turn

  • The former European commissioner aspires to become the Republican candidate in the 2022 French presidential elections

  • He is committed to righting his speech to prevail in the internal vote on December 4

In politics, pirouettes or waist movements are common. The leaders say one thing and some time later, quite the opposite. In France, Michel Barnier has opted for this typical exercise to become the Republican candidate (LR, partners of the PP in France) in the presidential elections of April 2022. This former minister and former commissioner European He has kept his suit in the back of the closet technocrat from Brussels and now he wears one again resplendent, but that feels a bit strange: that of a supporter of a right with nationalist overtones and tough positions on security and immigration.

It is the recipe of Barnier, 70, a former European Brexit negotiator, to win the sympathy of LR militants, who tend to comb gray hair and defend very conservative ideas. The 150,000 subscribers of this formation heir to the Gaullist right -although little remains of General de Gaulle’s legacy- they will choose their presidential candidate in a few closed primaries, between December 1 and 4. In this uncertain vote, three candidates start with serious options to be elected: the president of the Hauts-de-France (north) region, Xavier Bertrand; that of the Parisian region, Valerie Pecresse; and the same Barnier.

The condition of serious aspirant already supposes a triumph for this historic leader of Gallic conservatism. When he hinted at his willingness to introduce himself last winter, many didn’t give a penny for him. They considered it not very charismatic and too Europhile. “He is an unexpected candidate, being a leader of the old guard who made a good part of his political career in France during the years of Jacques Chirac,” he explains to The newspaper political analyst Emilien Houard-Vial, professor at Sciences Po Paris, on the experienced Barnier, who practiced four times as minister, From What european commissioner and in recent years he defended the interests of the EU in the convoluted Brexit negotiations.

A right-wing speech

However, his candidacy has gained relevance by obtaining the support of a part of the LR apparatus, especially the sarcastic Laurent Wauquiez – the former secretary general who resigned after the debacle in the 2019 European Championships – and his entourage. He has also seduced a part of the rank and file by right-winging his speech and defending measures more typical of the Polish PiS than of a technocrat from Brussels.

One of the star proposals of Barnier is the creation of a “constitutional shield”, that allows French legislation to prevail over European legislation on immigration. To do this, he wants to reform the Magna Carta through a referendum. It also proposes expel foreigners sentenced to a prison sentence or toughen the conditions of family reunification for migrants. Even defends abolish the “right to the ground” -the possibility of the children of foreigners in France to obtain nationality when they turn 18 years old- in Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean with a significant presence of migrants.

These measures are the opposite of what Barnier himself defended a few years ago. In 2014, when he aspired to the presidency of the European Commission, he published the book Rest or be free in which he advocated a discourse hostile to xenophobia: “Let’s stop playing with fear, let’s put aside the collective hysteria that surrounds the immigration issue “. To justify his current ideological mutation, the candidate recalls that “the situation has deteriorated. (& Mldr;) There are a million more foreigners since then” in France.

A rival to consider for Macron?

Related news

“It is evident the opportunistic and circumstantial nature of these proposals “, points out the political scientist Jean Petaux about a Barnier who wants to” give himself a sovereignist aurea & rdquor ;, and thus avoid being branded as too Europeanist and moderate, as happened to Alain Juppé who failed in the LR primaries of 2016 The former minister counts as props his long experience and the fact that he embody a “statesman”. Not inconsiderable qualities for a party immersed in a clear national decline – despite this, it retains a great local and regional presence – and in which powerful figures are scarce.

Instead, he sins for his lack of charisma and boring, monotonous oratory. This has been evident in the television debates of these primaries. Nor is he a leader well known to most French people. The polls give better prospects to some of their rivals internal, such as Bertrand or Pécresse, and “this may favor a more instrumental choice by the LR militants against the interests of Barnier & rdquor;” argues Houard-Vial, an expert on the Republican right. only 9%, some observers predict a greater electoral potential. They defend that it can compete directly with the president Emmanuel Macron by the voters of the moderate right. According to Petaux, “his candidacy has the merit of obstructing the bleeding of the Republicans”, threatened for years by an aggressive pincer between the macronism and the extreme right.

Leave a Comment