Opinion: Valerie Pecresse: France’s new Challenger for the Elysée

2022 is a significant year for France. France starts the year with the Council of the European Union presidency. France’s agenda for the next six months is ambitious and could begin a new era in Europe if successful. But, more critically, France is holding it’s presidential election. Current President, Emmanuel Macron, faces stiff competition in this year’s presidential election. Two far-right candidates, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour have been close to Macron in polls over the past year. Yet, the nominee from Les Republicains, Valerie Pecresse, the current president of Ile-de-France and former French Minister of the Budget, has overtaken Le Pen and Zemmour and zeroed in on Macron.

Valerie Pecresse: Can she win?

The biggest question facing Valerie Pecresse is whether or not she can defeat Macron. Since being elected by Les Republicains, Valerie Pecresse has placed second in 20 of 22 presidential election polls. However, the Les Republicains candidate still only manages to poll, on average, 2 points ahead of Le Pen and Zemmour. Yet, she meets the requirements to make it to the second round. Polls pitted Pecresse in a second-round showdown against Macron, in which she has recently scored 2 points behind Macron.

Further, history sheds some insight into Valerie Pecresse’s chances. Since World War Two, the centre-right has been the most popular faction. Eight out of the last 13 presidents have been centre-right and ruled for 60% of the time since the war’s end. Much of this is due to Charles de Gaulle, building off of his image as a war hero. De Gaulle founded the basis of Gaullism, a combination of French exceptionalism, strong central government, national sovereignty and centrist pragmatism. All of this led to a platform that emphasized the will of the people and strengthened France’s social conscience, a popular combination repeated by successive Gaullist candidates.

Today Pecresse and her party, Les Republicains, have taken up the centre-right mantle. History suggests they can be just as successful as past centre-right candidates. With pressure mounting upon the incumbent and polls showing a non-existent centre-left competitor, the centre-right has every reason to be optimistic about returning to power.

Finally, Pecresse herself has had significant electoral success leading up to this moment. Pecresse is currently the president of Ile-de-France, France’s most populous region and includes the city of Paris. Winning this region is noteworthy, as it is relatively left-leaning. If Pecresse can win this region, she should have a fighting chance to win the rest of France. Further, being president of Ile-de-France allows Pecresse a better stage to show her accomplishments and demonstrate how effective she is at governing.

Pecresse is not just another challenger to Macron. There is every reason that she can win the presidency of France. But how would a Pecresse presidency operate on the international stage towards allies and foes alike?

How might France change on the global stage?

If Valerie Pecresse wins the presidency, how might she seek to shape France’s global role and relationships with other nations? Pecresse’s manifesto is central in understanding her philosophy and how she may steer France in international affairs.

The first thing to understand is how Pecresse views France’s place in the world order. The initial paragraph of the manifesto asserts that France is the only nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council among members of the EU, which is true. But the language is aimed to assert France’s primacy in the EU. France, in this view, is the leading military force on the continent and has a special duty to lead the continental bloc.

Pecresse’s view of France’s role in European affairs is consistent with the country’s view of itself throughout history. France’s belief in its continental primacy started in 508, as Clovis King of the Franks was the first to be baptised as Roman Catholic, setting the polity on course to lead the conversion of the rest of the continent. French kings led crusades, Paris was one of the first universities and absolutism was perfected by French kings. Some credit even the enlightenment to have started in France, though the country undoubtedly drove revolution and republicanism in Europe. 

Thus, if Pecresse is elected president, there could be a shift in rhetoric and action in reasserting France’s role in Europe. With Germany traditionally being more passive in security and foreign affairs and the absence of the United Kingdom, no other EU nation has the military power, diplomacy or historical conviction of a France under Pecresse’s leadership. Though coalitions of states could push back at French attempts to shape the EU, it historically is unlikely, and the French may further shape the EU in their image.

Other than immigration and utilizing EU economic power as an arm of French foreign policy, Pecresse has stated her support for the EU’s Green Deal, but where nuclear power is recognised as a pillar of a sustainable future. EU industry could be reshaped, as Pecresse is an advocate for supporting “national champions” to better compete in the global economy: that is, she wishes to reverse anti-competition rules that weaken Europe’s largest companies, while also adding a “European preference” to the public procurement code.

On the subject of Europe, Pecresse differs from Macron’s approach. Madame Pecresse takes the view that Europe should be more of an intergovernmental union, rather than a supranational body with powers that may be seen as interfering with France’s sovereignty. Macron on the other hand has continually pushed for more EU integration and even expressed support for federalising projects such as a European Army. For Macron, the goal is to supplement or supplant national military capabilities with a united European force. 

In security matters, Pecresse advocates for strengthening the French Army, as a part of NATO, rather than calling for a European Army. The manifesto asserts that the French navy is second only to the US, though the burgeoning Chinese navy would have a say in the matter. The inclusion of this language is to remind people of France’s global reach and that it is one of a few who can assert such power. In this view, France is seen as part of a quad of countries that dominate global affairs.

Pecresse, however, is explicit in the notion that France must utilize the EU to achieve its goals. The manifesto explicitly states: “The European Union: A Vehicle for Exerting our Power and Defending our Interests.” For instance, France is faced with large flows of migrants into its country from the Middle East and North Africa. Under Pecresse, France would lead the EU in recruiting 10,000 Frontex guards to help ease the flows, primarily out of the nation’s self-interest. The position has had some impact on the current President, who has begun pushing for more solidarity amongst EU members in defending the bloc’s borders, while suggesting there needs to be a plan to recruit more Frontex guards.

Utilising the EU’s magnifying power would not stop at immigration either. Another fundamental interest is to reassert influence in Africa and over la Francophonie. To do this, France would utilise the EU’s trade and economic levers while also directing the bloc’s aid budget into former colonies. Now that the UK is out of the EU, France’s former colonies can take precedence. This would also serve France’s global ambitions, as it attempts to respond to China’s growing influence in Africa, a region France sees crucial to maintaining its international stature.

Finally, Pecresse aims to maintain France’s globally capable military by investing in personnel training and the arms industry. Specifically, Pecresse would reinvest in shoring up France’s domestic ability to supply their armed forces, as she sees military equipment produced by other nations, including allies, as a threat to national security. In doing so, she would support the French economy while insulating the nation from supply chain threats, espionage and limiting the general influence of other countries over France’s armed forces. Investing in the military would allow French armed forces to continue their operations in North Africa while also inserting themselves into potential developments in Asia, where there are French territories.

Pecresse’s position on French interventionism is opposed to how Macron views France’s overseas operations. Recently, Macron has announced plans to draw down French forces in the Sahel, though not completely exiting the region. France has spent nearly a decade in the region and Macron sees the opportunity to shift the French strategic focus, exemplified by his actions and rhetoric towards the Pacific theatre and contributing to countering Chinese threats.

Overall, a Pecresse presidency would mean a more assertive France. It is telling that the quote used under the title of the election manifesto is from Charles de Gaulle. However, much of this depends on winning the election and potentially governing without a majority in the National Assembly.

Categories: Europe, Politics

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