France elections: Expert says ‘anything is possible in 2022’
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Mr Barnier, 70, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator, is among those vying to become French President. The veteran Frenchman has thrown his hat in the ring to be the candidate representing the centre-right Republicains (LR) party at the election in April. If he receives the mainstream-right nomination, Mr Barnier would face the tough task of going up against the incumbent, Mr Macron.
The French President has been at the helm since 2017 when he was elected as the figurehead of new centrist party, La Republique en Marche.
Mr Barnier must first outrun his main LR rivals for the right-wing ticket, Valerie Pecresse and Xavier Bertrand.
The ex-EU politician’s campaign was initially disregarded, but new data from LR members published by French newspaper L’Opinion puts Mr Barnier on top among the party faithful.
According to political expert Paul Smith, if Mr Barnier did receive the nomination, he would be able to use his decades of experience to his advantage against Mr Macron.
The Associate Professor in French History and Politics at the University of Nottingham spoke to Express.co.uk about the ex-EU negotiator’s presidential bid.
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He said: “He has enormous experience, and he will also play on that in terms of the campaign.
“That’s what France needs after Macron – actually this relatively inexperienced figure who has learned how to be President on the job or not learned – is somebody who knows how government runs, knows what it’s all about and has been around the block.
“We only think of him in our context as the EU’s Brexit negotiator, but he has enormous experience.
“He’s had various ministerial posts long before he decided to go and be part of the senior EU team.
“He’s been involved in politics since the year dot.”
By the time of his EU team’s prolonged Brexit negotiations with the UK, Mr Barnier already had 40 years of political experience under his belt.
He was first elected to France’s National Assembly to represent Savoie in 1978 at the age of 27.
He was later made co-president of France’s Olympic organising committee and helped stage the 1992 Winter Gamnes in Albertville.
Mr Barnier cut his teeth at the top table of French power when he joined Jacques Chirac’s Cabinet in the mid-Nineties.
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After a steady career, the politician has shocked the political world with some of his comments during the run-up to the first round of the election, which some have chalked up as U-turns to remarks he made during his time as a Brexit negotiator for Brussels.
He said at a rally in September: “We must regain our legal sovereignty so that we are no longer subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights.”
During the Brexit talks, Mr Barnier said the EU’s European Court of Justice should continue to have jurisdiction in Britain after it left the bloc.
He also got the UK Government to agree to stay part of the European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the EU.
Mr Barnier has also taken a tough line on immigration, calling for a ban on non-EU immigration into France for three to five years.
Professor Smith said: “He’s not the candidate that any of us would have expected a year ago.
“But if he were to win the right-wing nomination then he would certainly try to play up this idea he is experienced, he is a statesman, who understands foreign policy.
“It is that idea of a moderate conservative statesman who you’re voting for, that will be his shtick if you like.”
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