Could a French electoral rule stop Zemmour from running for president?

Far-right polemicist, Éric Zemmour, may be scoring well the polls and gaining endless publicity with anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric but there is a chance he may not be allowed to stand for president due to the 'parrainage' rule.

Far-right presidential hopeful, Éric Zemmour, may struggle to attract the required number of signatures of support to run for the French presidency.
Far-right presidential hopeful, Éric Zemmour, may struggle to attract the required number of signatures of support to run for the French presidency. (Photo by Karen MINASYAN / AFP)

In video posted on his YouTube page earlier this month, far-right presidential hopeful Éric Zemmour made his fears known. 

“The last hope of my enemies is that I do not obtain my parrainages,” he said. “It is even possible that I do not receive these parrainages.” 

In France, to stand as a presidential candidate, you need to gather at least 500 signatures of support (or parrainages) from elected representatives like councillors, mayors, MPs and senators. 

READ MORE How can you run for the presidency in France?

A similar parrainage system exists in former French colonies like Ivory Coast and other European countries such as Austria, Slovakia and Portugal – the key difference being that in France, these signatures must come from elected officials rather than ordinary members of the public. 

“The system is made to protect big parties,” said Zemmour in his video. 

Antoine Diers, a spokesperson for Zemmour’s party, told The Local that close to 300 elected representatives have already promised to lend their signatures to the candidate. 

“I am very positive that we can get the 500. But elected representatives need to have the courage. If he [Zemmour] cannot run, it would be a democratic accident,” he said. 

But things might not be so straightforward. 

Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers who has promised his parrainage to Marine Le Pen, told French broadcaster LCI on Sunday that Zemmour will struggle to attract support even from those who have pledged it already. 

READ MORE Why has there never been a female president of France?

“I know people who promised him their signatures and who will not give them. Today he will really struggle to have the 500 parrainages because of the harshness of his speeches. That will be very complicated for certain mayors,” he said. 

After launching his campaign earlier this month, Zemmour became a newcomer to the far-right field of potential candidates. Marine Le Pen often struggles to attract enough signatures support, managing 627 in 2017. This time around, far-right minded officials will have to decide between her and Zemmour – and they can only vote for one. 

The purpose of the parrainages system is to ensure that candidates have at least some level of support across the country before entering the race. In the French system, these signatures must be drawn from at least 30 different départements, with no more than 50 signatures coming from the same one.

Some critics say it is undemocratic because it limits opportunities for people outside of the established political class. Candidates from big parties that already have lots of elected representatives can generally rely on those officials to get them over the 500 mark.  

READ MORE We can expect more violence during French presidential campaign

A law passed in 2016 meant that the Constitutional Council is obliged to publish a complete list detailing who elected officials give their signature to. This means that many local officials are afraid to offer signatures of support out of fear of alienating their own voter base. In 2017, only 34 percent of elected officials offered their signature to hopeful candidates. 

The Zemmour video, which was plugged as an address to the mayors of France, warned: “You have the power to give a voice to millions of French people. Use it. Help me. Do not allow yourselves to steal this election.”

Potential candidates have up until March 4th to collect the required signatures and submit proof to the Constitutional Council. The final list of presidential candidates is published on March 8th. 

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French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

France's interior minister said on Tuesday that he would seek to overturn a rule change in the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear burkinis in state-run swimming pools.

French government aims to block 'burkinis' in swimming pools

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

The Alpine city of Grenoble changed its swimming pool rules on Monday to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men which were mandated before.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the change an “unacceptable provocation” that was “contrary to our values”, adding that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

Under a new law to counter “Islamist separatism” passed by parliament last year, the government can challenge decisions it suspects of undermining France’s strict secular traditions that are meant to separate religions from the state.

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC on Monday.

The head of the EELV party, Julien Bayou, argued that the decision had nothing to do with secularism laws, which oblige state officials to be neutral in religious matters but guarantee the rights of citizens to practice their faith freely.

Burkinis are not banned in French state-run pools on religious grounds, but for hygiene reasons, while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

“I want Muslim women to be able to practice their religion, or change it, or not believe, and I would like them to be able to go swimming,” he added. “I want them also to suffer less demands to dress in one way or another.”

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.