With politics mostly on hiatus given the summer holidays, September is expected to trigger the unofficial start of the campaign for next year’s presidential election. Below we provide an overview of the key issues to watch in the coming weeks.
– ” Anti-pass ” movement: The number of people demonstrating against the government’s health pass and President Emmanuel Macron’s tough approach to vaccination increased to more than 200,000 over the weekend (compared to around 100,000 the previous week). However, the protests are unlikely to make a difference for Macron’s political standing. According to opinion polls (see below), most centrist voters oppose the protests. Moreover, far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen must tread carefully on the issue. Not only is her electorate divided on supporting the protestors, but also rallying behind the anti-pass movement could make her look “anti-vax”. A bigger challenge for Macron would come from any new significant restrictions to contain a potential surge in cases after the summer, which could lead to larger protests against the government.
– Is it the economy, stupid? Macron is likely to focus his campaign heavily on the economy in the coming months. For instance, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire will meet with representatives from the sectors affected by the introduction of the mandatory health pass on 30 August, signaling the government might be mulling an extension of some of the existing Covid-19 support schemes. Moreover, the government is expected to give more details after the summer about the new public investment plan announced by the president in July. Overall, Macron’s plan is to show that his administration has continued to protect jobs during the pandemic and that he is strongly committed to the re-industrialization of France via a stronger state role. However, internal security issues have gained prominence in recent months, which Le Pen will surely exploit to divert as much attention as possible from economic issues, her main weakness.
– Center-right’s game of thrones: On 20 July, five figures from The Republicans (LR) party (Michel Barnier, Philippe Juvin, Valerie Pecresse, Bruno Retailleau, and Laurent Wauquiez) agreed that if no clear presidential candidate emerged before 25 September, a primary vote would ensue. However, former Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand refuses to participate in the compromise, and Pecresse has already launched her bid in an effort to gain momentum ahead of a potential primary. All in all, the key variable to watch is whether Bertrand and whoever is selected by LR can cut a deal to run on a joint platform. In the absence of such a deal, the likelihood of a second round between Macron and Le Pen in next year’s presidential vote would increase considerably.
– Unexpected candidates : The last weeks have seen speculation about a potential presidential bid by the controversial far-right writer Eric Zemmour. Known for his legal convictions and incendiary rhetoric on migration issues, it is unlikely that Zemmour would pose a serious threat for Le Pen were he to run. He would probably perform poorly among working-class voters, half of which tend to support the leader of the National Rally. Rather, a Zemmour bid would be a headache for the center-right, as he would be able to attract conservative voters in large cities.