Plan Z: the rise of Eric Zemmour
The fact that Eric Zemmour has not yet declared himself a candidate for the French presidential election next year is a bit of a joke. A Harris poll last week placed him at 17%, ahead of all of President Emmanuel Macron’s other rivals. And he organizes rallies across France during which adoring fans in “Zemmour 2022” t-shirts chant: “Zemmour! President!”
He always claims to be a TV personality on a major book promotion tour. But Mr Z is running and everyone knows it. It has behind it a dedicated and surprisingly professional campaign, the core of a political party, designed with a clear mission: to restore the glory of france. His new book has the slightly ridiculous title France has not said its last word (France has not said its last word) and has already sold more than 150,000 copies. He’s incredibly popular.
The Parisian establishment, and most foreign correspondents in France, are quick to dismiss him as a rowdy and a show-off. He is described as “extreme right” and fascist. Cécile Alduy of Stanford University, that the Guardian calls “an expert in French political semantics”, asserts that “Zemmour uses a very old-fashioned French far-right discourse … But what is new is the reception and acceptance of this discourse in the public conversation. What drives the media really mad is their inability to stop talking about Zemmour.
Bernard-Henri Lévy, another flamboyant public intellectual, accused him of being a Jewish anti-Semite. The truth is that Zemmour, the son of Algerian immigrants, says a lot of things that Lévy has said about Islam over the years, with a little more force. He also says what many French people know to be right: France has failed to assimilate a large part of its Muslim population and that is a problem.
Zemmour has often been compared to Trump and he wants to make France even better. “We want to protect our language,” he says, “the most beautiful in the world, the clearest, we want to protect it from American and North African influence and inclusive writing. “
A better comparison, however, might be with Boris Johnson. Like the British Prime Minister, Zemmour has a first-rate mind and is often mistaken for a clown. He is a patriotic thinker who writes his own books and has a catalog of offensive remarks and articles for critics to ponder. It is also someone who seems to fail at the top.
Zemmour (the name derives from the Berber word for olive tree) is less of a classic liberal than Johnson. He calls himself a Gaullist, dislikes what he calls “the gay lobby” and has spoken gloomily of an impending war between the races. He thinks that if immigration is not controlled, France will become “an Islamic Republic”. He was even convicted of inciting racial hatred after saying on television that most of the drug traffickers were “blacks and Arabs”.
For his fans, however, Zemmour’s more provocative rhetoric is proof of sincerity. Zemmour will be announcing a new political party soon (let’s hope a funny name). A 200-page manifesto is almost finalized, and its advisers are quick to tell you that it focuses on much more than immigration. He wants to lower taxes, especially on estates and small businesses. Although sensitive to the essential statism of the French system, he has ambitious plans to reduce France’s monstrous deficit by tackling widespread social fraud. As president, he would keep France in NATO, but would withdraw his country from the integrated command of the organization. It may seem like a small gesture, involving only a few hundred French soldiers, but Zemmour intends to signal that under his leadership, France’s role in the world will not be decided in Washington, Brussels or Berlin. He also intends to reset France’s relations with Russia and move away from the reflexive anti-Putinism of America and Britain.
Zemmour is not a “Frexiteer”. “We need to have economic credibility,” says one of his advisers. “This therefore excludes adventures such as leaving the euro or [European] Union. ”However, his team speaks of“ taking back control ”of Europe and he proposes a new referendum in order to put French law above that of the EU.
What Zemmour threatens to do – and what makes it so terrifying for the existing political class – is to unite the right in a predominantly conservative country. For decades, the French socialists held on to power by dividing their opposition, separating the centrist and socially acceptable Union Pour Un Mouvement Populaire (renamed Les Républicains in 2015) from the proletarian and quasi-fascist National Front (renamed Rassemblement National in 2015). 2018). . Marine Le Pen, who picked up on her father’s truly extreme movement, has spent years trying to detoxify the family brand. She embraced homosexuals and gave up on Holocaust denial, which was nice of her. Her efforts culminated in 2017, when she reached the final round of the presidential election. Yet she lost generously to Macron and now her base of support is crumbling.
Zemmour is better placed to sweep the central field. With his culture war magic and his Trump / Johnson-style ability to make the media apoplectic, he can always annoy the snobs enough to please the plebs. But it can also appeal to the French from the middle and upper middle classes, Catholics as well as small business owners and secular liberals.
Zemmour appeals to an older French conservatism, a nostalgia for France before the incestuous Sixty-Huitards arrive and destroy everything. He often speaks of the Great French, among whom he is probably counted. He likes to quote Jacques Bainville’s overture History of France: “France is neither an empire nor a race. It is preferable. It is a nation. His campaign believes his enthusiastic calls for the rejuvenation of France, mixed with his anger at an out of control immigration system, will mobilize voters with low propensity.
At the same time, Zemmour 2022’s playbook may look nothing like Macron 2017. By founding En Marche, President Macron was able to excite put-off voters and repackage his Eurocentric center-left as something radical. and again. In doing so, he assassinated the old French left, just as Tony Blair destroyed the former Labor in the 1990s. The Socialist Party is now dying: its candidate Anne Hidalgo is in the polls at 5%. Meanwhile, twilight radical Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Frenchman Bernie Sanders, is at 11%.
Zemmour is also an existential threat to The Republicans, who can’t seem to make up their minds on their best candidate for next year. Michel Barnier is the choice of the establishment, but he is not much more loved in France than in Britain after the Brexit negotiations. Xavier Bertrand is rather the type to party, and he does 14% of the polls. Valérie Pécresse is admired in political circles but has so far not made a big impression as a presidential candidate. The problem for all of these characters is that Zemmour is absorbing all the airtime they could normally absorb. The Rise of Z – a nickname he mischievously cultivates – is just a much better story.
Zemmour is smart. He spies on an opportunity to offer a new “third way” for the right. He can mix populist immigration rhetoric and Macron’s horrific vaccine passports with detailed plans for healthcare reform and a new corporate tax system.
He remains a savage insurgent and a very long shot for the presidency. He just might end up being another right voice divider. His campaign could have difficulty financing. Even if he manages to tweet Le Pen, eviscerate Les Républicains and finish in the top two in the first round of the election on April 10, he will have a hard time coming to grips with Macron, who despite his unpopularity still has the strengths of the outgoing president. But the prospect of seeing these two dynamic, combative and eloquent politicians face off in televised debates is thrilling. In the big discussion of what this means, Essential element, to be French, Mr. Z can have the last word.
This article originally appeared in The spectatorthe British magazine. Subscribe to the global edition here.