Dec 21, 2021 - World

Macron's new challenger complicates his re-election bid

Emmanuel Macron (right), with Valérie Pécresse in 2017. Photo: Ludivic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

April’s presidential election in France was supposed to pit Emmanuel Macron against the far-right, with the fairly unpopular incumbent facing his 2021 challenger Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour, the insurgent TV pundit whose rhetoric is even more radical.

State of play: With Le Pen and Zemmour splitting the far-right vote, a much trickier scenario looms for Macron, with Valérie Pécresse of the center-right Republicans now the favorite to break through to the second-round runoff.

Leading candidates in France's 2022 presidential election
Data: Harris Interactive; Chart: Axios Visuals
  • While polls show Macron beating Le Pen and Zemmour in hypothetical second-round matchups by around 10 and 20 points, respectively, Pécresse is just a few points behind. One recent poll actually showed her 4 points ahead.

Pécresse, who has governed France’s most populous region since 2015, has described herself as “two-thirds Angela Merkel and one-third Margaret Thatcher.”

  • Like Macron, she passed through elite Paris schools and circles before entering politics. She hails from the moderate wing of her party and, like Macron, wants to shrink the government, protect the environment and strengthen the EU.
  • But as public opinion has swung hard to the right on issues of immigration, crime and French identity (which are increasingly intertwined in the French political discourse), so has Pécresse.
  • Most controversially, she has promised to double punishments for crimes committed in certain areas that are dangerous to police.

What to watch: While she's already making Macron's life far more difficult, it won’t be easy to challenge him for the political center ground while keeping the right flank of her own party happy.

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