ANALYSIS: Which of the 30 candidates has any chance of winning France’s 2022 presidential election?

There are now more than 30 declared or probable candidates for France's 2022 presidential elections. John Lichfield sorts the contenders from the no-hopers, the serious from the delusional.

ANALYSIS: Which of the 30 candidates has any chance of winning France's 2022 presidential election?
Will any of the candidates defeat Emmanuel Macron? Photo: Sarah Maysonnier/AFP

Jean-Frédéric Poisson is running for President of the Republic. So is Jacline Mouraud. So are Antoine Martinez and Anasse Kazib.

Never heard of any of them? Don’t worry. Neither has the immense majority of French people. With just over seven months to go before the first round of the presidential election, the jostling crowd of would-be heads-of-state is growing larger. Witty, random people have started to post tweets to announce to the French nation that they have decided, after deep and lengthy reflection, NOT to run.

There are over 30 declared or likely-to-declare runners at present. Only a dozen or so of them will gather the 500 endorsements of mayors or other elected officials that they need to make the first-round ballot paper on April 10th. 

READ ALO Five minutes to understand how French presidential elections work

Only four of them, by my reckoning, have any serious chance of reaching the two-candidate second round on April 24th.

They are President Emmanuel Macron (who has not yet declared), the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and two leading, rival and potentially mutually-destroying candidates of the centre-right, Xavier Bertrand and Valérie Pécresse.

What? No one with any chance of reaching the second round from the Left?

According to all opinion polls, the broad Left, including the Greens, will attract 30 percent of the popular vote in the first round – well above the likely 22 percent or so of votes needed to go forward to the two-candidate second round run-off. This vote looks certain, however, to be scattered over eight different candidates: a Green, two Socialists, the hard-left leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a Communist and three rival brands of Trotskyists.

Well done, La Gauche. You can always complain afterwards that the result is undemocratic and does not represent the will of the people.

A brief effort was made to consider ways of choosing a broad candidate of the Left who would have a chance of reaching Round Two. Ideological and egotistical barriers made discussion impossible, let alone agreement.

Only the vain Mélenchon on the Left believes in a victory of the Left in 2022. The others – including most likely Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris for the once-presidentiable Socialists – are running essentially for self-promotion or to keep their party brand alive in the hope of better years to come. I would put Hidalgo in the second, party-serving rather than self-serving, category.

The Green “primary” this month, with five candidates in the field, is a mixture of brand-promotion and self-promotion. The front-runners are the Euro MP Yaddick Jadot and the mayor of Grenoble Eric Piolle. Neither is likely to score more than 8 percent in the first-round proper in April.

Here, then, is the first lesson of French presidential politics. Many of the candidates are either delusional or are running with wider or longer-term political aims in mind.

Into which category should we place Eric Zemmour, the leader of the French Taliban (political non-violent branch)?

Or Michel Barnier, the former EU Brexit negotiator, whose candidature has caused immense excitement? Unfortunately for Barnier, the excitement is not in France but in Britain.

Zemmour, in case you somehow managed to miss him, is a far-right TV pundit, columnist and writer. He, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, wants to return to an older, purer, inward-looking, male-dominated country, unsullied by foreigners or the 21st century (or much of the 20th after the fall of the Vichy regime in 1944).

He believes that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right Rassemblement National, has gone soft and can never be elected. He has not yet declared but seems certain to do so. Polls give him 5 to 7 percent of the first round vote.

I believe that Zemmour’s probable candidature falls into the category of tactical rather than delusional. It’s a dry run for 2027, intended to destroy Le Pen and Lepennism and prepare the ground for a more plausible candidate – possibly Marion Maréchal, Le Pen’s niece – who might unite the Far Right and Centre Right.

Barnier’s run – properly-speaking an entry in a centre-right primary which does not yet exist – is also tactical. He knows he cannot win. The outpouring of bile against him in the right-wing UK media in recent days has not been matched by an outpouring of affection in France. At the age of 70, Mr Barnier is, I believe, running for a senior job in a future centre-right government.

It’s quite possible that President Macron, if re-elected, will have to govern next time in an alliance or co-habitation with the centre-right. I suspect that Barnier fancies himself as foreign minister again.

What of the other centre-right hopefuls? After a flurry of candidatures and withdrawals in recent days, the field has narrowed down to only two serious centre-right runners and a handful of vanity-delusional candidates.

The serious runners are Xavier Bertrand, the president of the northern region, Hauts-de-France, and Valérie Pécresse, president of the greater Paris region, Île-de-France.

Bertrand, like a breakaway cyclist in the Tour de France, declared early six months ago in the hope of shaking off “le peloton” of other centre-right wannabes and avoiding a primary. That strategy has not worked. He is still refusing to go into a primary. 

The main centre-right party, Les Républicains, may or may not have a primary in October or November. If they do, Pécresse, in the absence of Bertrand, will win. In the meantime, the party has just launched a giant opinion poll of 15,000 sympathisers in the hope of avoiding having a primary at all.

Bertrand, unless he comes top, will reject the mega-poll. In other words, there is still a strong chance that the centre-right will have two candidates – Bertrand and Pécresse – in the first round on April 10th. This would be like entering two candidates for a three-legged race in a 100 metres sprint.

If that can be avoided, Bertrand or Pécresse might yet challenge the Macron-Le Pen duopoly. If not, the second round of the 2022 presidential election will be a re-run of the second round of the 2017 election.

Macron would then win again? Probably.

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‘Dangerous for democracy’: French to protest pension reform in new rallies

France braced for new strikes and mass demonstrations against a deeply unpopular pensions overhaul on Tuesday, a day after lawmakers started debating the controversial bill.

'Dangerous for democracy': French to protest pension reform in new rallies

President Emmanuel Macron put the reforms the heart of his re-election campaign last year, and is determined to implement them despite fierce opposition from the political left and unions, but also the wider public.

Tuesday’s protests are the third such nationwide rallies organised since the start of the year.

Last week’s demonstrations brought out 1.3 million people across the country, according to the police, while unions claimed more than 2.5 million people took part.

They were the largest such protests in France since 2010.

Trains and the Paris metro are again expected to see “severe disruptions” on Tuesday, operators said, with around one in five flights at Orly airport south of the capital expected to be cancelled.

“We’re counting on there being rallies so that the country’s elected representatives take into account the opinion of citizens,” Philippe Martinez, leader of the hardline CGT union, told the France 2 broadcaster on Monday.

The union leader blamed the personality of President Emmanuel Macron and his “oversized ego” for wanting “to show that he is capable of passing a reform, no matter what the opinion of French citizens”.

Martinez said it would be “dangerous for democracy” if the French government pushed through with the reform and refused to listen to the people.

More marches are planned for Saturday, although unions for rail operator SNCF said they would not call for a strike at the weekend, a holiday getaway date in some regions.

Macron’s proposal includes hiking the retirement age from 62 to 64 years old – still lower than in many European countries – and increasing the number of years people must make contributions for a full pension.

His ruling party is hoping to pass the bill with the help of allies on the political right, without having to resort to controversial executive powers that dispense with the need for a ballot.

But members of the left-wing opposition are staunchly opposed, and have filed thousands of amendments.

Reform or bankruptcy

Members of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government struggled to defend the overhaul as necessary in parliament on Monday, with many in the lower house booing.

As pressure grew, Borne on Sunday offered a key concession, saying people who started work aged 20 or 21 would be allowed to leave work a year earlier.

But the head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, dismissed the offer as a mere “band aid” – not a response to widespread public criticism.

Macron aims to lift the pensions system out of deficit by 2030 by finding around €18 billion of annual savings – mostly from pushing people to work for longer and abolishing some special retirement schemes.

“It’s reform or bankruptcy,” Public Accounts Minister Gabriel Attal said in parliament on Monday.

But critics say that women will on average have to wait longer for retirement than men, as many have interruptions in their careers from childbearing and care responsibilities.

Opponents also say the reform fails to adequately account for people in physically strenuous jobs like builders and does not deal with companies’ reluctance to hire and retain older workers.

Borne claimed the government would pile pressure on companies to end the practice of letting go older employees, which leaves many struggling to find work in their final years before pension age.