Controversial political commentator Éric Zemmour joined the race for the 2022 presidential elections by confirming his candidacy in a Youtube video yesterday (November 30).
However, in order to stand, candidates must receive the backing of 500 elected representatives, which could be a challenge for Mr Zemmour due to his polemic views.
The 63-year-old portrays himself as a saviour of what, in his own view, France traditionally represents, and is opposed to foreign influences on the country, primarily Islamic influences.
He is currently the subject of a court case regarding incitement of racial hatred, following comments he made about unaccompanied child migrants during a September 2020 debate on CNews.
During the show, he said that unaccompanied child migrants have “no reason being here: they are thieves, they are killers, they are rapists, that’s all they do, they should be sent back,” comments for which France’s broadcast regulator Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel fined CNews €200,000.
Mr Zemmour has already been twice convicted of inciting racial hatred in the past.
It is this type of controversy that may make gathering 500 signatures of elected representatives a challenge for the candidate.
Why 500 signatures?
The system began in 1962 under President Charles de Gaulle, with the intention of limiting the number of fringe candidates. At the time, candidates only required 100 backers. This was increased to 500 in 1976.
These 500 signatures, known as parrainages in French, must come from officials in at least 30 different departments, with no more than a tenth of them from one single department.
All candidates have until at the latest six weeks before the first round of voting, meaning they require the 500 names before March 16, 2022.
In the last elections in 2017, 42,000 elected representatives were entitled to present a candidate for the presidential election. However, only 14,296 signatures were given. This number has steadily been decreasing over time.
For the last presidential elections in France in 2017, 11 candidates successfully gathered 500 signatures. This was out of a total of 61 names.
François Fillon, who was candidate for Les Républicains (LR), received the most signatures, with 3,635.
Benoît Hamon, who stood for the Parti socialiste, came second with 2,039 signatures. Emmanuel Macron received 1,829 and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise) got 805.
Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement national), who went on to face Emmanuel Macron in a second round of voting in the 2017 elections, received 627.
You can read more about the system of parrainages in our article here: France’s 2022 presidential election hopefuls race to find 500 backers
Why might Zemmour struggle?
Mr Zemmour’s popularity among the public has been steadily decreasing since mid-November, according to political polls.
In the most recent poll by Harris Interactive published yesterday (before Mr Zemmour’s video announcing his candidacy), 13% of people asked stated they would vote for him.
This is between three to four percentage points fewer than a similar poll published last week, and five to six percentage points fewer than he got in mid-November.
This poll puts Zemmour behind Rassemblement National candidate Marine Le Pen, with 19% to 20% declaring their intention to vote for her, and current president Emmanuel Macron, who received backing by 23% of people polled.
Mr Zemmour also found himself behind Xavier Bertrand of Les Républicains, who was backed by 14% of people. Les Républicains will vote on their presidential candidate this week, with Mr Bertrand up against Michel Barnier, Valérie Pécresse, Eric Ciotti and Philippe Juvin.
Even with the polls suggesting his support is waning, Mr Zemmour still remains popular among a fair share of the public. But elected representatives pose a different problem.
The officials with the right to give a signature include MPs, senators, representatives of the European Parliament, mayors and presidents of local authorities, councillors of Paris and the Metropolis of Lyon, as well as departmental and regional councillors.
If they chose to back a presidential candidate, the information is made public, which could work against Mr Zemmour due to his controversial views.
The transparency of the system could explain why only 34% of elected representatives with the right to give a signature chose to do so in the run up to the 2017 elections.
A good example of a popular candidate struggling to get enough signatures is Ms Le Pen. Even though she made it to the second round of the presidential elections to face off against Mr Macron in 2017, she only managed to get 627 signatures.
She has also been established in politics for far longer than Mr Zemmour, who has not up to this point been a representative in any capacity, be it local or national. This means he is less likely to have connections to elected representatives than Ms Le Pen.
A support group for Mr Zemmour called Les Amis d'Éric Zemmour (friends of Éric Zemmour), claims that around 200 officials have already declared their support for Mr Zemmour, right-wing news channel CNEWS reported.
Some mayors have already officially declared their support, such as Loup Bommier, mayor of Gurgy-le-Château (Côte d'Or), or Spike Groen, the LR mayor of Saint-Gilles (Indre).
However, it remains to be seen whether Mr Zemmour will be able to convince several hundred others to publicly back him for the presidency before March 16 next year.