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.
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.
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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.
“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.
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.