Macron gets a new opponent in the race for french presidency

Victor Warhem from the Centre de Politique Européenne | Paris analyses the chances of Valérie Pécresse becoming the next French president:

1. Who is Valérie Pécresse ?

1.1. Pécresse's election in the LR primaries

Valérie Pécresse led a campaign for the LR primaries, in which luck played a role. The results of the first round separated the four relevant contenders (Bertrand, Barnier, Ciotti and her) at most by about 3500 votes, and Pécresse's access to the second round was a surprise to most of observants. Since Ciotti was the far-right-winger of the crew, the second round on Saturday was easier for her.

Nevertheless, she has some merits. She has well led her campaign so far, she is well organised, has a good team, and she is a proud feminist, which is kind of refreshing for the "old right" that LR represents. Her surprise-election in the primary could act as a booster for her campaign - she currently reaches about 10% in the surveys - and make her catch up with the leading trio: Macron (about 24% in the surveys), Le Pen (about 20%) and Zemmour (about 14%).

1.2 Pécresse's questionable merkellian and thatcherian sides

"2/3rd Merkel, 1/3rd Thatcher" - a formula she used to describe herself back in September - is quite different from how she has been perceived and described so far by the French press. For a long time, there was no perceivable Thatcher in Pécresse: she was a political heir of Chirac, who was not well known for his appetite for change. In 2017, she left LR and was qualified as a "Macron-compatible" centre-right figure. She came back in the party only a few weeks before the primaries.

Furthermore, comparing her to Merkel is also a bit far-fetched as she has not proven to have the qualities that best describe the former German chancellor: no recognized sagacity, no proven serenity in front of the coming challenges, nor real sense of consensus.

She is rather known for her sense of formula: during her successful campaign for the Île de France region, she distinguished herself with another powerful sentence: "rien de tel qu'une femme pour faire le ménage" that we can translate with "there is nothing better than a lady to clean up the mess". That's maybe when her Thatcher side was born, at least in words.

2. Pécresse's perilous way to the presidency

2.1 Pécresse's unity challenge

On Sunday, Ciotti, her contender for the LR primary second round, started to complain about Pécresse's communication: Pécresse said she would not change her program despite Ciotti's 39% score on Saturday, and he said out loud it was not the right move. Maybe as a reaction, he announced today the creation of a new faction in the LR party called "À DROITE !" (To the right !) to defend his ideas. This is a worrying signal, illustrating the fact LR is barely united behind her.

Furthermore, Pécresse also needs to confront the newly established centre-right party of Macron's former prime minister Edouard Philippe, "Horizons", which was recently joined by a LR historical figure, Christian Estrosi. This new party is fated to support Macron during the coming presidential elections, in April 2022, and to help him form a majority in the subsequent legislative elections, in June 2022. Edouard Philippe is currently the most popular political figure in France, and Pécresse may have many difficulties to attract further centre-right or centrist votes because of him. He might even be a reason for historical LR voters to finally choose Macron in the polls.

Therefore, Valérie Pécresse is in a delicate position.

2.2 Campaign scenarios for Pécresse

In this context, we can expect two scenarios: (1) either Pécresse does not succeed in reaching out to centrist and far right voters and confirms the marginalisation of LR in a France where the new relevant political divide is between nationalists and globalists, (2) or she unites her party thanks to a nascent dynamic around her, reaches out to new voters, and goes to the second round. The path for the second option seems narrow but real. The campaign only starts, lines are expected to move in the electorate and she might benefit from it.

There is an X factor: scandals

Eventually, it should not be forgotten that the 2017 presidential scenario was totally unexpected due to scandals. Hence, the "scandal component" regarding many candidates, including Pécresse who has already been 20 years in politics, can't be excluded. This could widely modify the current dynamics.