Michel Barnier to take on Macron – but the polls are not in ex-Brexit negotiator’s favour

Michel Barnier discusses the state of politics in Europe

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Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has thrown his hat into the ring for next year’s presidential election. In an interview with French broadcaster TV1, he said: “In these grave times, I have taken the decision and have the determination to stand … and be the president of a France that is reconciled, to respect the French, and have France respected.”

Mr Barnier said: “My country is not doing well.

“It is too divided and fractured — between urban and rural areas, between immigrants and non-immigrants, between the young and the less young.

“There’s lots of tension and lots of violence between people, whether it’s in sports stadiums or on the internet.”

Mr Barnier has been largely lauded in France for the way he handled the painstaking negations over the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Less well known on British shores, Mr Barnier is an experienced politician having held positions in French and European parliaments, as well as having held ministerial positions.

However, experience aside, it is still a crowded field to become leader of the centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party.

Others standing include Xavier Bertrand, Valerie Pécresse, and Bruno Retailleau.

Mr Bertrand, who leads the northern region of Hauts-de-France, currently has the highest poll ratings among the mainstream centre-right candidates who have declared their intention to run for leader.

A recent poll by Challenges, a financial weekly, said Mr Bertrand would win 16 percent of the vote if he ran for president while Ms Pécresse would get 13 percent.

Alex Apati of Ladbrokes, which currently has the EU negotiator at 40/1 to win the presidency overall, told Express.co.uk: “Michel Barnier has made his intentions clear and while Emmanuel Macron unsurprisingly leads the way in the French Presidential betting, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Barnier’s odds fall over the next few days.”

Still, the party has not yet decided when a candidate will be chosen for next April’s vote, although a primary will take place if no obvious forerunner emerges.

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Even if Mr Barnier did land himself in the top seat, seeing off Mr Macron and his far-right competitor Marine Le Pen will be tough, although Mr Barnier could make things more difficult for the current leader.

The chances of the centre-right camp qualifying for the second round of the presidential election hinge on it unifying behind one candidate – and Mr Barnier is likely to attract the pro-Europe, centre-right voters from Mr Macron.

However, current polls show that Ms Le Pen is likely to face Mr Macron again in the 2022 presidential final-round vote.

According to Politico Poll of Polls, Ms Le Pen is treading hot on the heels of the current president.

In the 2017 election, Mr Macron earned 24 percent of first-round votes, while Ms Le Pen got 21.3 percent.

In the second round of voting, Mr Macron secured victory with 66.1 percent of the vote, with Ms Le Pen earning 33.9 percent.

But according to the poll, Mr Macron is now polling with 24 percent of the vote in the first round, the same as his previous first-round election performance in 2017.

Ms Le Pen also polled with 24 percent of first-round votes – this is up from the previous 2017 election performance by 2.7 percent.

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