Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator who is seeking the nomination of France’s Les Républicains (Republican) party for next April’s presidential elections, has said that the right-wing polemicist Eric Zemmour should not be permitted to similarly seek the nomination of the centre-right party.
Asked in an interview with the New Statesman whether Zemmour’s politics are compatible with the Republican Party’s, Barnier said: “I have nothing to do with Zemmour. We do not have the same feelings, convictions or history.” Pressed on whether Zemmour should be permitted to run for the Republican nomination, Barnier answered: “no way”.
Zemmour, who was convicted by French courts in 2011 and 2018 for incitement to racial and religious hatred for comments about black people, Arabs and Muslims, is widely perceived to be on the cusp of declaring that he will run for president. The polemicist, who is profiled in this week’s edition of the New Statesman, has flirted with the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which holds that “indigenous” Europeans are being “replaced” with immigration from the Middle East and Africa. In August, he told Nice-Matin: “There is a process of replacement of the population if there are too many immigrants who do not integrate. It is inevitable,” adding that he favours stopping all immigration.
Zemmour has left open the possibility of running for the nomination of the Republicans on a platform of economic liberalism and his signature draconian line on immigration.
The Republican party will choose its candidate for president at a party congress in December. Three main candidates have so far declared their intention to seek the party’s nomination: Barnier, Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Île-de-France region, and Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Hauts-de-France region.
Christian Jacob, the president of the Republican party, this week said that Zemmour is “neither racist nor far-right”, in remarks viewed as conciliatory towards the former journalist.
Barnier himself is running on a hard-line anti-immigration programme. He has pledged to hold a referendum on immigration quotas if elected and has called for what he calls a “constitutional shield” against rulings of the European Court of Justice on migration.
In the same interview with the New Statesman, Barnier said that the fuel shortages the UK is experiencing are, in part, a result of Brexit. “One of the mechanical consequences of leaving the [European] single market is to end freedom of movement.”
“There are many problems linked to the Covid crisis, everywhere. There is no [dispute] on that point. We have many problems of raw materials everywhere. But, in addition to this problem, [the UK is seeing] the consequences of Brexit. This is the truth,” Barnier added.
Michel Barnier is in the UK promoting his book My Secret Brexit Diary, an account of his time as the EU’s chief negotiator with the UK during the Brexit talks.