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Zemmour Rises in French Polls

The far-right pundit has jumped to second place in polls ahead of April’s French presidential election.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
French far-right media pundit Éric Zemmour sits on a set.
French far-right media pundit Éric Zemmour sits on a set prior to taking part in a televised debate in Paris on Sept. 23. BERTRAND GUAY/POOL/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Journalist Éric Zemmour rises in polls ahead of France’s presidential election, European Union ambassadors meet to discuss Belarus, and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator arrives in Berlin.

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Why the Amour for Zemmour?

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Journalist Éric Zemmour rises in polls ahead of France’s presidential election, European Union ambassadors meet to discuss Belarus, and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator arrives in Berlin.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Why the Amour for Zemmour?

French President Emmanuel Macron’s main challenger in next year’s presidential election may not be lawyer Marine Le Pen, as firebrand political pundit Éric Zemmour cements his position just behind the current president in recent polls.

Despite not having formally declared his candidacy, Zemmour is the choice of roughly 18 percent of French voters, according to the latest Harris Interactive poll, at least three percentage points ahead of Le Pen but behind Macron at 23 percent. In polling matchups for a second runoff, Macron still beats all challengers.

Zemmour, an author and columnist for French newspaper Le Figaro, is part Tucker Carlson, a media figure lamenting the West’s supposed decline, and part British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, invoking history when it suits while possessing a well-honed understanding of where the media’s power begins and ends. Zemmour has kept voters in suspense on whether he will run while his latest book has become a bestseller.

Benjamin Haddad, senior director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council, notes that although Zemmour has embraced modern techniques to keep hold of the spotlight—constantly stoking outrage by publicly indulging his grievances over race, immigration, homosexuality, and Islam—his position on the French political spectrum is more traditional.

“He is a far-right nationalist. There’s no sugar coating it with words like populism or anything of the sort,” Haddad said. “He is a direct continuation of a far-right tradition in France.”

Zemmour’s ability to overtake Le Pen in the right-wing pecking order is partially due to his fame, Haddad said, but also a reflection of Le Pen’s transformation to a less radical form of politics as her National Rally party tries to rebrand, detoxify its image, and build power at a local level.

Whether Zemmour’s rise can continue alongside his status as the right’s front-runner remains to be seen. During this same period in the 2017 race, Alain Juppé of Les Républicains was a favorite before his primary loss to party colleague François Fillon. Fillon then became an object of fascination before a fake jobs scandal dented his chances.

Although times have changed since the last presidential election, one fact from that period should give Zemmour and his supporters hope: In November 2016, Macron was polling even lower than Zemmour is now.

Regardless of Zemmour’s intentions, his popularity indicates a divergence between Europe’s two powerhouses. While Germany embraces left-leaning vice chancellor Olaf Scholz, Frances political battles are being fought on terrain that is friendly to the far right.


What We’re Following Today

Belarus sanctions. European Council President Charles Michel visits Poland today to meet with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The meeting comes amid a recent increase in migrants along Poland’s border with Belarus as well as an ongoing dispute between Poland and the European Union over recent changes in the country’s legal system.

In Brussels, the European Union’s 27 ambassadors are expected to approve a resolution describing Belarus’s actions in escorting migrants to its EU borders as “hybrid warfare,” paving the way for further sanctions against Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s government. The scope of sanctions have not yet been agreed on, but some leaders, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, have called for new sanctions to include the airlines bringing migrants into Belarus.

Iran’s negotiator in Europe. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani meets with German officials today in Berlin ahead of the next round of international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program set for Nov. 29. Bagheri Kani, who will serve as Iran’s chief negotiator, heads to the United Kingdom the following day. Writing in Foreign Policy last week, Sina Toossi explained why, despite its rhetoric, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s government needs a deal.


Keep an Eye On

U.N. staff detained in Ethiopia. The United Nations is working to free 16 of its Ethiopian staff members after they were detained by police in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The U.N. staff appear to have been swept up in raids on ethnic Tigrayans in the capital. Local police have maintained they have only rounded up “followers” of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and any arrests are “not ethnically motivated at all.”

The Three Amigos unite. U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as soon as next week in the first so-called three amigos meeting in the past five years. The planned Washington gathering comes amid tensions over migration at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as Canadian concerns over U.S. electric vehicle subsidies.


Odds and Ends

Tensions between Italian and Croatian winemakers threaten to pop off over an impending EU decision on whether to bestow a protected designation of origin label to a Croatian dessert wine. The disagreement is over branding, with Croatian wine Prosek considered too close to the Italian Prosecco. Luca Zaia, governor of Prosecco-producing Veneto in Italy, has called the EU decision “shameful” and said it risked destroying the “history and identity of a territory.”

Zaia should take heart from the experience of Prosecco’s rival sparkling wine: champagne. Neither Brexit bureaucracy nor a Russian law forcing producers to add a “sparkling wine” label were able to stop sales hitting a four-year high in 2021.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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