Far-right pundit Eric Zemmour enters race for French presidency

Firebrand's campaign launch sets up unpredictable contest with Emmanuel Macron

Eric Zemmour spoke from behind an old-fashioned microphone in a nostalgia-filled campaign launch video. AFP
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Far-right pundit Eric Zemmour entered the race for the French presidency on Tuesday after shaking up the campaign with his tirades against Islam and immigration.

In a nostalgia-filled campaign video in which he lamented that “France is no longer France”, Mr Zemmour promised to recover its national identity from political elites, multiculturalism and liberal social norms.

“You walk in the streets of your towns, and you no longer recognise them,” he said over footage of violence and multiculturalism in French cities. “You feel like you’re no longer in the country that you know.

“For a long time I was happy with the role of journalist … but I no longer trust that a politician will have the courage to save the country from the tragic fate that awaits it.”

It opens the door to an unpredictable four-month campaign which will culminate in two rounds of polling in April.

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to seek a second term against challenges from Mr Zemmour, nationalist rival Marine Le Pen and other candidates from the left and right.

Mr Zemmour formally announced his candidacy on Tuesday after months of speculation in which he enjoyed a sharp rise in the polls.

But his momentum has stalled after a number of controversies, and he faces a tug-of-war with Ms Le Pen for the nationalist voter base which her National Rally party has long dominated.

A journalist and author often compared to former US president Donald Trump, Mr Zemmour has multiple convictions for hate speech and has attracted particular controversy for questioning France's role in the Holocaust.

In his launch video, set to classical music, he promised to protect France’s heritage, improve its schools, restore its industries, reduce public debts, cut unemployment and reclaim sovereignty from the EU.

He spoke into an old-fashioned microphone in an echo of General Charles de Gaulle’s appeal to French resistance fighters during the Second World War.

His video paid tribute to a litany of figures from France's past, from King Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte to Brigitte Bardot and Johnny Hallyday.

Mr Zemmour's provocative language about the disappearance of French civilisation has drawn support from Ms Le Pen's voter base, but also alienated some voters she had sought to reassure.

"Our opponent is Emmanuel Macron," said National Rally spokesman Sebastien Chenu after Mr Zemmour's announcement. "We don't see him [Zemmour] bringing anything new."

Polls suggest that either candidate could make it into a second-round run-off against Mr Macron, who has not formally entered the race but is widely expected to stand.

Alternatively, the two far-right candidates could split the hardline vote and open the door to a candidate from the centre-right Republicans, who have yet to choose a nominee.

Mr Macron led his centrist En Marche (On The Move) party to victory in 2017, defeating Ms Le Pen in the second round. The president's party is already fund-raising for his campaign.

On the left, the Socialist Party is fielding Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo after it was routed at the 2017 election. Yannick Jadot is standing for the environmentalist Greens.

Updated: November 30, 2021, 2:31 PM