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27 Aug, 2021 09:56

EU’s Brexit negotiator challenges French President Macron from the right in upcoming election

EU’s Brexit negotiator challenges French President Macron from the right in upcoming election

Michel Barnier has officially joined the race for the French presidency in next year’s election, entering an already packed tent of center-right politicians seeking to elbow out the candidacy of Marine Le Pen.

The 70-year-old announced his presidential ambitions on Thursday during the evening news show on TF1. He touted his political experience and international clout, and said he seeks to lead “a reconciled France” that is respected by other nations and respects its citizens.

Barnier received a lot of attention from the international press thanks to his role as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and released a memoir about the experience earlier this year. However, he remains a relatively obscure political figure domestically, and even his supporters acknowledge his lack of charisma compared to President Emmanuel Macron.

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The veteran politician wants to run as the candidate for the center-right Republicans (LR). The party is expected to pick its nominee for the election in November. Barnier is competing for the spot against candidates such as Valerie Pecresse, who heads the Ile-de-France region around Paris, and Xavier Bertrand, who presides over the northern Hauts-de-France region.

It remains unclear if the Republicans’ leadership will run a primary to select the nominee or will appoint one based on polling data. LR – which was known as the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) until 2015 and was a towering political force in France for decades – is still recovering from the historic failure of its candidate to secure a place in the second round of the previous election. Macron’s then-newly-created party, En Marche! subsequently cannibalized LR for talent, raising doubts that it can present a viable challenge in 2022.

Barnier has entered an increasingly crowded field. Right-wing MP Eric Ciotti announced his bid for the presidency hours before Barnier. More than 10 politicians have launched campaigns for the election, which will take place next April. Macron is yet to formally join the race.

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Opinion polls indicate a likely rematch between the incumbent president and far-right politician Marine Le Pen, who faced each other in a run-off in 2017. Le Pen kept a tight grip on party leadership despite a disappointing performance in the summer regional elections, in which candidates from her National Rally (RN) faced opposition from some unusual left-right political alliances.

Macron’s party also had some setbacks in the regional elections, while the Republicans enjoyed a resurgence, bolstering the chances of whoever runs as the candidate next year.

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