So it’s official: Eric Zemmour will stand as a candidate in next year’s French presidential election. It was hardly a shock when he launched his campaign this morning with a video that was the visual equivalent of a Michel Houellebecq novel. Nearly seven years ago, Houellebecq’s novel, Submission, depicted an incipient civil war in France as the 2022 election approached. Zemmour believes that fiction is now a reality. It seems that whether or not people agree, there is widespread interest in Zemmour’s message: in the three hours since he launched the video on YouTube, it’s been viewed 430,000 times.
France is going to pot, was the gist of his ten minute address, and unless I’m elected president forget about a rosy future. To underline his message, Zemmour interspersed the video with clips of police stations being attacked by gangs of youths, nurses being set upon by thugs in hospitals and drug-dealers plying their trade on busy streets in broad daylight.
To the soft strains of the second movement of Beethoven’s symphony no.7, Zemmour told France:
‘You no longer have the impression to be in a country you know. You recall a country of Joan of Arc, Louis XIV, Boneparte and Charles de Gaulle…a country of Gabin, Bardot, Belmondo, Johnny, Aznavour.’
These names and others were accompanied by black and white footage from the 50s and 60s, of Frenchmen and women going about their peaceful everyday lives.
He attacked, too, the progressive culture that has arrived in France from America and is spreading rapidly in sport, film and music, and even ‘the schoolbooks of your children’. There was a clip of PSG footballers taking the knee and of a woman in a headscarf, taken from the recent Council of Europe campaign that claimed ‘Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in the Hijab’.
Zemmour, looking more lugubrious than ever, intoned that: ‘You haven’t left your country but it is as if your country has left you.’
The presidential announcement caps a turbulent few days for Zemmour, who is no stranger to controversy, having been convicted for inciting racial hatred. On Friday, a celebrity magazine ran a front page expose in which it alleged he and his 28-year-old advisor, Sarah Knafo, are expecting a baby; and on Saturday, he received a hostile reception on a visit to Marseille. Tempers frayed on both sides and the 63-year-old was photographed exchanging one-fingered salutes with a protestor, a gesture he later acknowledged was ‘inelegant’.
Now that he has officially declared his candidature, Zemmour can expect the hostility to intensify. There have already been violent demonstrations at his presence in some cities. His political and media opponents will doubtless harden their rhetoric, starting this evening when he appears live on the primetime news. Already the attacks have begun: Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman, called Zemmour a ‘cut-price Donald Trump’.
So far Zemmour’s political rise has been meteoric, overtaking in polling intentions Marine Le Pen of the National Rally – who, in a radio interview this morning, dismissed him as ‘as a polemicist, not a presidential candidate – but now he will come under far greater scrutiny. What exactly has he to offer France other than a bleak vision of the future?’.
But does Zemmour need to offer anything else? If his presidential message was bleak this morning then so was the news that a female mathematics teacher in Paris was badly beaten up in front of her class yesterday by a teenage pupil, as was another female teacher last month. This latest incident made the headlines because of its location: not some deprived inner-city school but in the posh 6th arrondissement, at a school close to the Jardin du Luxembourg.
France has become a violent, disorderly and fractured society in the last thirty years, and neither the left or the right, or Macron’s centrist vision, has been able to find a solution. Zemmour will campaign on a simple manifesto: why worry about the economy, education or the environment when the country’s survival is at stake: ‘It’s therefore no longer time to reform France,’ he said in his address, ‘but to save it.’
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