French right-wing heavyweight to challenge Macron

·2-min read
Former health minister Xavier Bertrand was once closely associated with ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, and is one of the most prominent active politicians on the French right

Former minister Xavier Bertrand, one of France's leading right-wing politicians, on Wednesday announced he planned to stand against centrist President Emmanuel Macron in 2022 elections.

Bertrand, 56, currently the head of the northern Hauts-de-France region, said he did not intend to represent an existing political party after he left the main right-wing faction The Republicans (LR) in 2017.

"Yes, I'll be a candidate," he told the Le Point weekly magazine.

“I am completely determined. Given the current situation in France, I believe it to be my duty," he added.

Macron has yet to officially confirm he will stand for a second mandate but is widely expected to bid for a new five-year-term.

Many analysts expect the race will turn into a duel between Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen although a strong candidacy from a right-wing figure could upend predictions.

Bertrand, a former minister of health and once closely associated with ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, is seen as one of the most prominent active politicians on the French right which is currently short of charismatic figures.

With Sarkozy ruling himself out of the race and also shadowed by his conviction for graft, attention on the right has also focused on former EU commissioner Michel Barnier who negotiated Britain's exit from the bloc.

In an interview with the Ebra press group on Wednesday, Barnier did not rule out running, saying "yes" when asked if he could lead a campaign.

He said the right "must speak to all citizens including those who have the temptation to vote for the extreme right or the extreme left."

Bertrand said he wanted to "restore state authority, turn the page on Parisian centralism and make work the keystone of our national project."

He said his proposals would include lowering the age of full criminal liability to 15 and regaining control over immigration.

"My duty is to beat Marine Le Pen and do everything to bring the French together," he said.

Macron, now 43, came to power on amid hopes he would be a transformational reformer of France but his bids for radical change have been held up by protests and the pandemic.

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