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Valerie Pecresse: France's 'Iron Lady' chosen to take on Macron

·4-min read
Valerie Pecresse celebrates after winning the nomination ahead of candidates including Michel Barnier (right) - Getty Images
Valerie Pecresse celebrates after winning the nomination ahead of candidates including Michel Barnier (right) - Getty Images

Valérie Pécresse, who has likened herself to Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, won the primary race to become the French Republicain party’s candidate, making her the first woman to represent the party at a presidential election.

Ms Pécresse, 54, won 61 per cent of the vote in the second round of the primary race on Saturday, beating the hard-right candidate Éric Ciotti, who said he “shares” most of the polemicist Eric Zemmour’s views.

Ms Pécresse, head of the Île-de-France regional council that includes Paris, presented herself as the voice of moderation and billed herself as the only one who could unite the party, in a primary race that was dominated by the issues of security and immigration.

She was widely seen as the favourite to win, after Xavier Bertrand and Michel Barnier, who were both eliminated on Wednesday, said they would support her over Mr Ciotti, the MP who had pledged a referendum to “stop mass immigration” and set up “a French Guantánamo Bay” to combat terrorism.

Mr Ciotti accepted defeat and immediately pledged to support Ms Pécresse.

The Républicains was the last of France’s main parties yet to choose a candidate, and Ms Pécresse is now the third woman representing one of France’s traditional parties in the presidential election, along with Marine Le Pen of the hard-Right National Rally and the socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.

“The party of General de Gaulle... our political family, will have a female candidate in the presidential election,” Ms Pécresse said in her victory speech.

“I am thinking of all the women in France today. I will give everything to triumph,” she said.

Ms Pécresse, a former higher education and budget minister in the Sarkozy administration, has described herself as “two-thirds Angela Merkel and one-third Margaret Thatcher”, and as “La Dame de faire”, a play on words with “Iron Lady” and the “Lady who gets things done.”

Valerie Pecresse - GETTY IMAGES
Valerie Pecresse - GETTY IMAGES

She vowed to “restore French pride” and “protect the French” with a programme that focuses on economic rigour and security. It includes harsher rules on nationality and welfare and sending the army into no-go zones in the banlieues, or suburbs.

She has also insisted on bureaucratic reforms: one of her priorities is to cut 200,000 state sector jobs while raising the wage of the remainder.

Ms Pécresse will compete in the field of candidates looking to take on the incumbent centrist Mr Macron, who is still to announce his re-election bid but is expected to do so soon.

Polls show Mr Macron is currently the favourite to win, but analysts said this could change now that the Républicains have chosen their candidate, a crucial moment in the campaign.

The stakes are high for France’s traditional right-wing party, which failed to make the run-off in 2017 after its candidate François Fillon was felled by a graft scandal for which he was later convicted.

“The Republican right-wing is back. It will fight with implacable will. France cannot wait any longer,” said Ms Pécresse, promising to make France “respected around the world.”

The Republican primary race was marked by all candidates, including Pécresse, hardening their stance to the right, with the debate centering on issues of immigration and identity.

Zemmour on the campaign trail - NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images
Zemmour on the campaign trail - NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images

“In understand the anger of a people who feel powerless against violence, Islamist separatism and uncontrolled immigration,” she said.

“I will not have a wavering hand against the enemies of the Republic,” she added.

Mr Ciotti, who came out with the most votes in the first round of the primary vote on Wednesday, reflected a section of the party that has shifted toward the Right.

Initially seen as a rank outsider, Mr Ciotti stood out for his views that echoed those of the hard-Right pundit Éric Zemmour, who launched his own outsider bid for president on Tuesday. Mr Ciotti said he would vote for Mr Zemmour in the event of a run-off against Mr Macron.

Ms Pécresse therefore faces an uphill struggle beating the Right-wing rivals Mr Zemmour and Marine Le Pen. Polls currently predict a repeat of the 2017 election with Marine Le Pen in the second round against Macron.

Meanwhile, the Left remains mired in disunity and are struggling to present a candidate that has a chance of getting to the second round. Anne Hidalgo and Yannick Jadot of the Greens are polling at 5 and 7.6 per cent respectively, while the far-Left Jean-Luc Mélenchon is polling at around 9 per cent.

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