Bayrou Throws Support Behind Fellow Centrist in France

If François Bayrou’s supporters all switch to Emmanuel Macron, the latter would almost certainly qualify for the runoff.

François Bayrou, a former French presidential candidate and mayor of Pau, answers questions from reporters in the commune of Evry, February 10, 2010
François Bayrou, a former French presidential candidate and mayor of Pau, answers questions from reporters in the commune of Evry, February 10, 2010 (Alain Dolium)

The good news just keeps coming for Emmanuel Macron.

Perennial French presidential candidate François Bayrou endorsed his fellow centrist on Wednesday and announced he would not run this year.

Bayrou, a self-described third-way centrist, was a candidate in 2002, 2007 and 2012. Each time, he failed to qualify for the second-round runoff.

For the elections in April and May, Bayrou had been polling at 5-6 percent support. If all his voters switch to Macron, the former economy minister would easily best the right-wing candidate, François Fillon, and qualify for the crucial second voting round against the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.

The mistakes of others

The fact that Macron is now the favorite is largely due to factors that have been outside his control.

Put that another way: he’s been lucky so far.

First, the Republicans picked the hard-right Fillon over the elder statesman Alain Juppé, an urbane centrist with cross-party appeal.

Fillon subsequently found himself mired in an expenses scandal. It was revealed he had paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros over the years for seemingly non-existent work as a parliamentary aid.

Fillon, a former prime minister, dismissed the accusations as a left-wing conspiracy, but they have hurt his credibility. Center-right voters are now listening carefully to Macron. He and Fillon both advocate liberal economic reforms.

Then the mainstream Socialists threw in the towel by nominating not Macron’s former boss, the social democrat Manuel Valls, but the far-left Benoît Hamon.

Hamon tried to do a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a perennial far-left presidential candidate — which would have given the left a fighting chance — but it doesn’t look like either man is prepared to play second fiddle.

As a result of which center-left voters are eying Macron as well.

Mess up

Macron can still mess up. He occasionally does. The other week, he rubbed conservatives the wrong way by saying French colonialism in Algeria had involved “crimes against humanity”. Best not to wake those sleeping dogs.

He has also yet to formulate a concrete and comprehensive policy program, although that will matter more to political insiders who shape public opinion than it does to the average voter.

For now, Macron has the wind at his back.

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