The French politician Xavier Bertrand is fighting for his re-election as President of the Hauts-de-France region.
Jean Catuffe | Getty Images News | Getty Images
There is a new face in French politics that could seriously question President Emmanuel Macron and his re-election ambitions.
Xavier Bertrand, a politician from the center-right Les Republicans, won the regional election on Sunday with around 52% support in the northern region of Hauts-de-France. He beat the candidate from the right, who received around 26% of the vote, according to polls by the French Interior Ministry.
“The Front National was stopped and we pushed it back a lot,” Bertrand said on Sunday in a victory speech to the far-right party, which was renamed the National Rally in 2018.
In the regional election on Sunday, which was marked by very high abstentions, Bertrand’s party received strong national support. On the other hand, the National Rally of Marine Le Pen and La Republique en Marche of incumbent Macron could not win in any of the regions.
Bertrand also said Sunday that the outcome would give him the strength to meet the needs of all French people and hinted at his desire to become president in next year’s elections.
Les Republicans has yet to decide who will lead their presidential campaign, but after Sunday’s vote, Bertrand is well placed to win the nomination.
“He is currently the best-placed potential right-wing candidate in the first round of the presidential election,” Eric Mengus, associate professor at HEC Paris Business School, said via email.
“Still, the nomination (within the Republicans) is still open and won’t take place until the fall,” added Mengus.
Bertrand has seen a surge in popularity over the past few weeks and currently ranks 16% of the main candidates for next year’s presidential election. Le Pen ranks first in the same poll with 26% of support, followed by Macron with 25%, according to a poll.
“This regional election is definitely bad news for both Ms. Le Pen and President Macron and could generate positive momentum for right-wing candidates,” Mengus said.
Bertrand was Minister of Labor and later Minister of Health between 2007 and 2012 during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. He started his career in insurance, using his provincial roots to show that he is not an elite member of society.
On Sunday, Bertrand said his priority was helping the middle class.
If Bertrand is chosen by his party, he will have enough support until April 2022 to fight in the second round of the presidential election.
“Le Pen’s poor performance is bittersweet for Macron. It takes the momentum ahead of next year’s presidential election and will rekindle criticism of her within her own movement. But Macron also knows he would beat Le Pen easier than next April “a candidate of a revived traditional or center-right [party]like Xavier Bertrand, “said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of the consulting firm Eurasia Group, in a statement on Sunday evening.
Recent polls predict that Macron would win a second ballot against Le Pen, as it did in his first election in 2017.
Some policy experts believe the second round next year will be another battle between Le Pen and Macron.
“In the presidential elections, these two candidates, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, are actually the front runners in my opinion,” Emmanuelle Auriol, professor of economics at the University of Toulouse, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe”.