The French President is the current favourite to win the election next year according to polls but a new rival could significantly change the results. The conservative candidate who has emerged as Emmanuel Macron‘s most serious challenger for next year’s presidential election kicked off her campaign on Saturday by announcing she would resist German calls for a federal European superstate. Valerie Pecresse, who has described herself as “1/3 Thatcher, 2/3 Merkel”, was the surprise winner of the leadership contest of the conservative Les Republicains party and has since got a big bounce in opinion polls.
Speaking to France 24, politics editor Marc Perelman said: “His figures are not huge in terms of percentage. He has around 25 percent.
“It’s not huge but it’s a 10 percent advantage on a whole pack of candidates, a very crowded pack.
“On the far right, you have two candidates, Marine Le Pen who he faced off in 2017 then Valerie Pecresse who got a bump in the polls.
“Then on the left, many candidates but very few votes and that is really historical.”
He added: “As things stand, Emmanuel Macron is the favourite but mostly because all the others are very divided.
“But the polls show that if Valerie Pecresse makes it to the second round, she is a clear danger to him and this is why he is going to focus his attention on her.”
In her first campaign rally as the candidate of a party that traces its roots to Charles de Gaulle, Pecresse said she wanted the EU to preserve the independence of nation-states and not become a federal superstate, like the United States.
Historically, French conservatives have been in favour of European integration in the economic field, such as creating the euro or the single market, but have resisted attempts to shift decision-making to the EU level on sensitive sovereign issues such as foreign policy and defence.
“I would work with him because Germany is a key ally. But for me, friendship doesn’t come without frankness,” she said.
At the rally in central Paris, Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator who lost his bid to be the party leader, said he agreed with Pecresse on Europe.
“We never were federalists, we’re in favour of a community of nations. Nations need to be respected in Europe. We need nations to fight nationalism,” Barnier told Reuters.
Pecresse, who heads the greater Paris region and was a minister in Nicolas Sarkozy’s last conservative government, was cheered by a poll this week that showed she would beat Macron by a 52-48 margin if she reached the presidential run-off in April.
The poll was the first to project Macron losing the April 24 second round since Pecresse won the centre-right ticket on Saturday. She is vying with far-right contenders Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour for a place in the second round, however.