Does Michel Barnier dream of the Elysée?
ERIC PIERMONT / AFP
Michel Barnier is preparing his return to the French political arena, after more than four years spent negotiating the terms of Brexit in Brussels.
At 70, he says he wants to put his experience in international negotiations and his long career as an elected representative and minister at the service of LR, which does not yet have a nominated candidate for the 2022 presidential election.
Among Les Républicains, the Barnier hypothesis seduces some, who are preparing to participate in his micro-party, the launch of which is scheduled for March.
Others do not believe in his candidacy for the Elysee.
In 2016, he was the pride of the French right, flattered that one of his own was chosen to carry out the Brexit negotiations.
Five years later, Michel Barnier is back in Paris, arousing nuanced enthusiasm within his political family.
His mission to the European Union will end in March, but, since January, the former minister has been increasing the number of meetings and preparing for the launch, in March, of a micro-party.
One year before the presidential election, the Savoyard is, for some LR officials, the ideal candidate, while others would prefer him to put his experience at the service of another headliner.
Political teasing phase
For the past few weeks, Michel Barnier has not stopped.
A meeting with LR senators took place on February 2, another with deputies on Tuesday, then an exchange with the CFDT union on Wednesday before a meeting with the Medef bosses.
He will also publish in April a book of about 600 pages, "journal" of his years of Brexit negotiations, which could give him the opportunity to make a Tour de France for autographs.
“There is teasing!
“, Summarizes the LR deputy of Manche Philippe Gosselin.
If he has not officially declared himself a candidate for the primary of the right, provided for in the statutes of the party, Michel Barnier does not, however, hide his desire to influence the presidential campaign.
"The risk for the country of being fractured has never been so serious" and "this is one of the reasons why I want to take my part in this public debate," he told
Tuesday, in front of the LR deputies, he announced that he would take the head of a working group of the party on the theme “patriot and European”, recommending in passing to his peers “to listen to social anger”.
"He will work around sovereignty, whether health or digital, a major theme of the presidential election," said the vice-president of the party, Damien Abad.
"Soporific" or interesting?
Around him revolves a handful of LR executives for the moment, attending meetings in his Parisian apartment, and praising the experience and seriousness of Michel Barnier.
"His return creates a new deal for the presidential election on the right," assures the deputy for Paris, Brigitte Kuster, close to the former European commissioner.
His coming to the weekly meeting of LR deputies in any case aroused interest, with 80 elected officials present in video or in the Palais-Bourbon room.
“It was soporific!
», Loose the deputy of Bouches-du-Rhône Eric Diard.
“Colleagues picked up, some were looking at their phones or chatting.
Those who thought his candidacy possible were definitely showered, ”he blows.
"But he can be a very good asset, he is an excellent technician on European affairs, he is experienced in negotiation", underlines this close friend of Xavier Bertrand, another presidential candidate.
“It sometimes lacked momentum, but it can be worked on,” concedes another elected official.
"He passed his passing exam, he arouses interest", judge on the other hand Philippe Gosselin, close to Valérie Pécresse.
"He takes the temperature," he observes.
An anti-Macron for some
At LR, we are already weighing the strengths and weaknesses of this newcomer to the countryside.
For Damien Abad, Michel Barnier "has the stature of a head of state, he discussed on an equal footing with European leaders for several years".
Rigor, experience and "man on the ground" are words that often come up in discussions.
The age of this seasoned politician, who has just celebrated his 70th birthday, is sometimes perceived as an asset - to differentiate himself from the current president - or as a weakness.
"With his profile not very sexy techno and close to the territories, it is a bit our Jean-Marc Ayrault to us ...", slips an LR.
The return of Michel Barnier does not simplify the presidential equation on the right either.
The party must solve a puzzle: should or should not organize a primary, registered in the statutes but denigrated by many elected right?
And in case of cancellation, how to decide between the more or less declared candidates?
According to an Ifop survey published on February 10, 15% of French people believe that the former Minister of Agriculture and the Environment would be a "good candidate" for the right in the second round, behind Xavier Bertrand (27%) and Valérie Pécresse (17%), but ahead of Bruno Retailleau (6%).
A political space to find
For those around the latter, the return of "Mr. Brexit" is a new argument in favor of a rapid organization of a primary.
“I doubt he has much political space.
The Eurocriticism niche can be credible, but is it differentiating enough from Macron?
“Asks a relative of the senator from Vendée.
"He is the opposite of Emmanuel Macron," Brigitte Kuster retorts.
“He was the youngest elected in France, he is a man of the field.
We need this kind of profile now, with fewer short sentences, no sleeve effects… And he brings together beyond his political family, ”she adds.
A little too much, perhaps, since according to an Elabe poll published in early February, he has a better image with supporters of Modem and La République en Marche (60% positive opinions), than right-wing voters (39% ).
The launch of his political association and the publication of his book should allow him to clarify his ideas for 2022 and, perhaps, to rally more support on the right.
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