Far-right TV pundit-turned-politician Eric Zemmour announced on social media on Tuesday that he is running in the French presidential election in April.
An anti-immigration hardliner who has twice been convicted for inciting hatred, Zemmour surged from nowhere to become a factor in the presidential contest in recent months. He had been widely expected to declare his candidacy after mounting a promotional book tour that doubled as a drive to drum up support for a presidential bid.
But Zemmour, 63, has struggled in recent weeks to keep his campaign on the rails. His poll numbers have dropped, allies have deserted him and he made a disastrous visit to the southern city of Marseille at the weekend, where he was pursued by protesters and pictured making an offensive one-fingered gesture from his car window to an unknown woman.
Zemmour, who will run as an independent candidate, is currently third in the presidential race, according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls. Incumbent centrist Emmanuel Macron is in first place, followed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
In a 10-minute video released on Tuesday, Zemmour said that he took the decision to run for the presidency because “no other politician has the courage to save the country from the tragic destiny that awaits it.”
“I’ve decided to run in the presidential election so that our children and grandchildren don’t suffer barbarity, so that our girls won’t be veiled … so that they can inherit a France as it was known to our ancestors,” he said, reading from a statement at his desk.
But even his video rollout did not go according to plan. French TV channels were forced to pull the video from TV bulletins after it emerged film extracts had not been cleared with rights holders, according to news website Les Jours.
Many accuse Zemmour of stoking divisions and encouraging discrimination against France’s Muslim population. He has repeatedly argued that France is being “submerged” by immigration and is in danger of “losing its identity” under the influence of Islam, which he says is “incompatible” with western values.
Zemmour joins a presidential field that already includes Le Pen and is expected to be formally joined by Macron early next year. The conservative Les Républicains party will choose its presidential candidate in a primary election in the coming days.
The repercussions of Zemmour’s presidential run on the race are unclear at this early stage. But one possible consequence is that he will split the far-right vote, making it more difficult for him or Le Pen to reach a likely second-round run-off.
In his video message, set to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Zemmour sat at a desk speaking into a large microphone, adopting a pose that recalled photographs of Charles de Gaulle broadcasting radio messages to the Free French during World War II.
He offered a dystopian vision of France’s future, playing on French history and on fears among French voters of loss of status.
“You walk in the streets of your town and you don’t recognize them (…), you pick up your daughter from school, you’re queueing for the dole, and you feel that you are no longer in the country that you knew,” he said, accompanied by images of present-day gang violence and past French glories.
To those who feel “exiled at home,” he promised to fight so that “the French would feel at home again” and blamed a decline of civilization, as well as immigration and impoverishment, as the main woes facing the country.
He also took a hit at his political opponents, accusing them of lacking courage.
“Macron presented himself as a new man, but he is like his predecessors, only worse,” he said. “And [all politicians] will only ever make meager reforms, but there is an emergency … it’s time to save France.”
While Zemmour’s message was being broadcast on social media, Macron tweeted a video about the singer Josephine Baker, who is to become the first black woman to enter France’s Pantheon mausoleum of revered French figures on Tuesday. French ministers have said Baker represents a French “universalism” that is color-blind.
Hugues Renson, a lawmaker from Macron’s La République en Marche party, tweeted that his video message was “disturbing” and looked like “bad advertising.”
Speaking on French TV channel CNews, Sébastien Chenu, spokesperson for Le Pen’s National rally criticized Zemmour’s “lack of credibility” and accused him of boosting Macron by drawing voters away from Le Pen.
Zemmour has been compared to Donald Trump due to his anti-establishment message and ability to deliver pithy one-liners that go viral. As with Trump, he also prompted debate about whether the media has helped his rise with blanket coverage.
His convictions for inciting hatred have led many to conclude he is unfit for high office. In 2011, Zemmour was fined for saying on French television that “drug dealers are mostly Blacks and Arabs” and this was why non-whites have their IDs checked “17 times a day.” In 2018, he was fined for inciting religious hatred over comments that all Muslims think jihadists are “good Muslims”.
His announcement on Tuesday was part of an effort re-energize his stuttering campaign and draw a line under recent controversies. Those have included a decision to sue a French magazine over a report that Sarah Knafo, his de facto campaign director, is pregnant with his child.
Zemmour, who is married, is trying to appeal to the traditionalist Catholic electorate ahead of April’s vote.
He is due to hold his first rally as a presidential candidate in Paris on Sunday in what his team hopes will be a show of strength, with several thousand expected to attend.