Presidential race in France:

Presidential race in France: "Ukraine issue" and Macron's strategy

Ukrinform
Why has the incumbent president not yet formally applied to run for re-election?

As the first round of the presidential election is set to kick off in France on April 10, the incumbent leader, Emmanuel Macron has not yet officially announced his participation in the campaign. At the same time, his pro-active stance over the recent months leaves no doubt that he won’t be an easy game for his rivals. In an exclusive interview with La Voix du Nord, Macron explained that, besides a decline in pandemic figures, he expects the "peak of the crisis" between Moscow and Kyiv to end in order to officially announce own presidential candidacy.

FRENCH EXPERTS ASSESSING MACRON'S STRATEGY

Local experts acknowledge that this maneuver has the advantage of unquestionably turning the president, who is so active in trying to de-escalate Russo-Ukrainian tensions into a global player. However, many note that the pace of conflict settlement remains extremely uncertain, and consequently so is Macron's long-awaited registration as a candidate for presidency.

Emmanuel Macron / Photo: PASCAL BONNIERE

According to BFMTV, Macron's statement of the will to overcome the "peak of the geopolitical crisis" before officially starting the electoral battle, show his willingness to rise above the entire campaign battle with other candidates. Meanwhile, the efforts of his main rivals, such as Valérie Pécresse, Eric Zemmour, and Marin Le Pen, in criticizing the incumbent leader, have reached their highest point.

Macron says he has promised his citizens "to be president to the end" and that his efforts are now aimed at de-escalating "the crisis on the Ukrainian border, which threatens our collective security."

Photo: AA

Of course, the French media are actively commenting on this situation against the background of the election campaign, including by challenging Macron’s settlement efforts.

For example, journalist and foreign relations expert Pierre Haski told BFMTV: "We understand why the president is trying to use this strategy. You can look at it this way: ‘I deal with peace and war in the world, while Valérie Pécresse and Eric Zemmour are having fun meetings,’ especially since his meeting with his Russian counterpart will be on the front pages of all newspapers,” he said.

Pierre Haski / Photo: DR

For his part, geopolitical scholar Frédéric Encel commented on the president's focus on external challenges, especially Russia's threat to Ukraine, as follows: We wouldn’t have understood this had the president of the EU’s most influential nation and NATO’s strongest ally on this continent not put forward any initiatives in this regard.”

Frédéric Encel / Photo: marckogel

At the same time, French magazines pay close attention to growing tension between Russia and Western powers over Ukraine, which has remained at its peak in recent weeks. Journalists note that war fears are growing, especially after the West refused to accept Russia's "security proposals" regarding Europe. France, however, intends to "play a key role" in easing these tensions. Therefore, the topic of contacts between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin - both over the phone and during Macron's trip to Moscow and Kyiv – remains in the focus.

However, in the context of the presidential race in France, experts note the following: if this external geopolitical maneuver allows Macron to take a stronger position than that of his rivals in the first round, the rapid pace of settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis remains questionable. Also, the question remains, whether this crisis will really settle in the coming weeks, "allowing" Macron to finally officially announce his participation in the presidential election…

Experts' opinions in this regard vary, as do their assessments of the timing of the eventual de-escalation. Thus, the president of the Institute of Applied Geopolitics, Alexandre Negrus, spoke with France 24, expressing doubts that would launch another invasion of Ukraine. "Today, Russia could lose a lot should it invade Ukraine, it will be too costly an operation for them," said the expert.

Alexandre Negrus / Photo: Facebook

Geopolitician Frédéric Encel shares the same opinion: "We have already reached the peak of the crisis and we will probably observe de-escalation in the coming days," he said.

Instead, Pierre Haski is not that optimistic: "No one knows this, not even Russia's foreign minister. Only Vladimir Putin does. This crisis can last quite a long time. The only thing we can say for sure is that if the attack does take place, this will be no earlier than February 20. After all, the Chinese have asked the Russians to clear the information space for the Winter Olympics in Beijing,” said the foreign affairs expert.

In general, however, local political observers have no objection to the idea that the threat of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine is an opportunity for the incumbent to stand out among his rivals in the race for the Elysee Palace.

CHANCES AND CAMPAIGNS OF MACRON’S MAIN COMPETITORS

Macron confidently ranks in public opinion polls, currently enjoying support of about 25% voters, which guarantees him a place in the runoff. His main rivals represent the right wing - both moderate and not so much.

The main competitor is Valerie Pécresse (Republicans) with about 16%. Seen as the incumbent’s most serious rival, she has twice been a minister, while her election program is very similar to that promoted by Macron. Pécresse has benefited off her extensive political and managerial experience, and for many years she has been President of the Council of the Paris Region of Ile-de-France, known as the "core of the French state."

Valérie Pécresse / Photo: POOL - BERTRAND GUAY

Pécresse is a conservative politician, and her presidential program focuses on strengthening law and order, as well as restricting migration.

According to opinion polls, it is she who has the best chance to complicate Macron's path through the second round. By the way, the presidents representing the Republicans were Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Another competitor of the incumbent is the participant in the last three presidential races, nationalist Marine Le Pen (National Assembly Party), which today has nearly 17% support. The leader of the far-right party holds populist views, opposes France's membership in NATO, the EU, and the eurozone, while advocating rapprochement with Russia. Le Pen supports the policy pursued by the Russian leader, considers Ukraine's accession to NATO unacceptable, and claims there was “nothing illegal” in the annexation of Crimea. In the 2017 presidential election, Le Pen advanced to the second round and lost to Macron.

Marine Le Pen / Photo: Nathan Laine / Bloomberg

The third contender is a polemicist and journalist Eric Zemmour, an even harsher right-winger than Le Pen. The creator of the Reconquista Party, Zemmour has about 13% at the moment. Zemmour's nomination for president was the main political sensation of this election. He is referred to as a "French Trump," occupying a prominent spot in France’s information space.

Eric Zemmour / Photo: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

This candidate has no experience in politics. He is known as a publicist and sometimes a provocateur. Zemmour opposes migrants, Islam, demographic substitution, feminists, and so on. As he himself emphasizes, he is for "saving France," for making sure that “the French remain French."

Left-wing candidates have no chance to advance to the runoff, as none of them are now gaining 10%, according to polls.

The Socialist Party, which has been at the heart of French politics for decades, the ones that conceived Presidents Francois Mitterrand and Francois Hollande, has failed to remain a powerful force in the 2022 election since its latest defeat in 2017.

Many experts are convinced that Macron will win the second round in any case. Today's figures testify precisely to this suggestion. In particular, Macron would gain 56% against Marine Le Pen, 55.5% against Valérie Pécresse, and 64.5% against Eric Zemmour, the survey says.

Much has been said about Emmanuel Macron's peacekeeping efforts on the external front in the context of the presidential election. For example, Le Figaro quotes an unnamed "influential government official" as saying that the president's "military suit against Covid has gone tattered", so "the Ukrainian crisis comes timely."

"And now this allows him to put on the armor of a commander, this time a real one, who is walking toward the gates of Europe amid the threat of Russian military incursion into Ukraine – that’s to return to the electoral battle while being above it. The election campaign is suffocating from France fatigue due to the Covid crisis. And the geopolitical crisis will erase everything, "said an anonymous official.

In his conversation with journalists, Macron never tires of repeating over and over again that his main priority today is the "Ukrainian issue," de-escalation of tensions, demanding dialogue with Russia, and making every effort to find political ways out of the crisis.

It is also difficult to overestimate Ukraine's interest in this issue.

Olena Myloserdova, Strasbourg

First photo: Ludovic Marin / Pool

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