Macron ‘worried’ about Michel Barnier in French presidential race: ‘Will he steal votes?’

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A new poll has marked out the French President as the frontrunner in the race for France’s presidential election next year. Mr Macron was tipped to lead the first round of voting next year with a share of 24-28 percent. The survey of 16,000 people was conducted from October 7 to 13 by Ipsos Sopra Steria and published on Friday by French newspaper Le Monde. Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator, is among those hoping to take on Mr Macron for the presidency.

Mr Barnier is seeking the nomination for the right-wing ticket, representing the conservative Les Republicains (LR) party.

The ex-Brussels negotiator will take part in a televised debate with his fellow LR presidential hopefuls on November 8.

French politics expert Dr Paul Smith told Express.co.uk that Mr Macron will be “worried” about Mr Barnier.

The academic is Associate Professor in French History and Politics at the University of Nottingham.

He said: “I think he might be worried about Barnier if he thinks that Barnier can occupy the same terrain.”

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Mr Barnier has surprised commentators and his fellow politicians with some of the comments he has made during his presidential bid.

The former negotiator has been dubbed a Eurosceptic by some after he said France must regain its sovereignty from the European judicial systems.

Mr Barnier has also taken a hard line on immigration, calling for a referendum on a five-year moratorium on non-EU immigration into France.

Dr Smith said Mr Barnier’s comments could win over those in his own party and right-wing portions of the French electorate.

However, he also said that, despite his comments, Mr Barnier was not far away from the centrism of Mr Macron.

He said Mr Macron may have a “big concern” if the race to replace him as president “becomes a crowded field”.

He added: “If you have a lot of candidates, then some of them are going to steal votes from others.

“We saw this in 2002 when it didn’t become a left-right second round.

“Essentially, there were four candidates who, at the end of the first round, were within two to three percentage points of each other, essentially the electorate was split four ways.”

In his bid to win the right-wing nomination, Dr Smith claimed Mr Barnier would use his 40 years of political experience as part of his campaign.

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He said: “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.”

Dr Smith added that Mr Barnier could take votes from Mr Macron but warned that, if the two men appeared too similar, it could harm both their chances.

He said: “So, the big question for Macron is, ‘if I want to get through to the second round, who might steal votes from me?’

“And I think that there’s some scope for thinking that Michel Barnier might look like a ‘Macron two’, which is also something that, of course, Barnier needs to worry about.

“Because he needs to present himself as not being Macron.

“But it’s really the question of, from Macron’s point of view, if it’s Barnier, ‘can this candidate steal a lot of votes from me?’

“But Macron has the enormous advantage of being in power and that can do a great deal of good behind the scenes.”
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