Earlier this year, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he was setting up a political faction under the name ‘Patriot and European’, fuelling claims he was considering a possible bid in next year’s presidential election. Mr Barnier, who has played one of the most important role in shaping the future relationship between the EU and Britain, told centre-right lawmakers in a closed-door meeting: “I am available to work with all those who want it under the banner of ‘Patriot and European’.” The faction was presented as a “working group” within the centre-right Les Republicains party.
Just over a year before the first round of the 2022 presidential election, none of the former mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties, who were shut out by centrist Emmanuel Macron’s victory in 2017, have chosen a candidate.
Each camp is abuzz with speculation, and sources on the right cite Mr Barnier, alongside ex-ministers Xavier Bertrand and Valerie Pecresse, as potential candidates.
A possible bid by the Brexit negotiator is being closely watched by Mr Macron’s camp, as he would eat at the pro-European, centre-right electorate the President is targeting.
A minister said: “There’s a Biden moment. Grey hair could become fashionable.”
According to Professor of French History John Keiger, the EU could suddenly become very French if Mr Barnier does win the presidency – as Mr Macron could then decide to replace Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission President.
He wrote in a recent report for Briefings for Britain: “Imagine Michel Barnier defeating Macron in 2022 to become French President and a defeated Macron taking the traditional route of failed national politicians to Brussels to replace Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission.”
Appreciating the irony of making such a comment in the year of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death, he added: “Perhaps that is too pessimistic a thought even in this bicentenary year of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death.”
Napoleon died on May 5, 1821, at age 51.
According to French MEP Philippe Olivier, who also serves as special adviser to National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, Mr Barnier does not stand a chance to win the elections.
He explained: “Michel Barnier is not even French.
“He is a Europeanist, but not French.
“He is all the more ridiculous because he thinks that maybe because he has achieved something on a European level this would qualify him to represent something for France.
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The barrier was based on the longstanding assumption that an absolute majority of voters would never back a far-right candidate.
If the next year’s election was staged now, Ms Le Pen would have 48 percent of the vote, with Mr Macron on 52 percent, according to the poll carried out online between January 19 and 20.
The four-point difference, which is within the margin of error, is compared with a June 2020 Ifop poll that put Mr Macron at 55 percent and Ms Le Pen at 45.
In 2017, Mr Macron, who at the time was a debutante politician running as an independent candidate, crushed Ms Le Pen with 66 percent to her 34 percent.