The conservative contender who has emerged as Emmanuel Macron’s most serious adversary in next year’s presidential election launched her campaign on Saturday by stating her opposition to German aspirations for a federal European superstate.
Valerie Pecresse, who has characterized herself as “1/3 Thatcher, 2/3 Merkel,” was the unexpected victor of the conservative Les Republicains party’s leadership election last weekend, and has since seen a significant surge in opinion surveys.
Pecresse remarked in her first campaign rally as the candidate of a party founded by Charles de Gaulle that she wants the EU to protect the freedom of nation states rather than becoming a federal superstate like the United States.
Historically, French conservatives have been in favor of European integration in the economic field, such as creating the euro or the single market, but have resisted attempts to shift decision-making to the EU level on sensitive sovereign issues such as foreign policy and defense.
“I hear some of our German partners suggest that the European Union should evolve into a federal state,” she said. “Politely, but firmly, I will say “no”,” she added.
The agreement forming Germany’s new governing coalition under Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the EU should aim to move toward a “federal European state” after a constitutional convention within the EU.
Pecresse also said she did not want France to be what she called a vassal of the United States, did not want to see another country exit the EU as Britain did and would work with Scholz despite his left-wing majority.
“I would work with him because Germany is a key ally. But for me, friendship doesn’t come without frankness,” she said.
At the rally in central Paris, Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator who lost his bid to be the party leader, said he agreed with Pecresse on Europe.
“We never were federalists, we’re in favor of a community of nations. Nations need to be respected in Europe. We need nations to fight nationalism,” Barnier told Reuters.
Pecresse, who heads the greater Paris region and was a minister in Nicolas Sarkozy’s last conservative government, was cheered by a poll this week that showed she would beat Macron by a 52-48 margin if she reached the presidential run-off in April.
The poll was the first to project Macron losing the April 24 second round since Pecresse won the centre-right ticket on Saturday. She is vying with far-right contenders Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour for a place in the second round, however. Macron has yet to officially declare his candidacy.