Valerie Pecresse: France's first female president?

This is the woman who could become France's first female president:

Valerie Pecresse.

[Valerie Pecresse]

"I'd say I am one-third Thatcher, two-thirds Merkel, meaning I'm a woman who reforms, I'm a woman who directs, I'm a benevolent woman, who respects the French people, who is used to social dialogue."

In December 2021, she was chosen to run for election by members of the conservative Les Republicains party.

Voter surveys show she could beat President Emmanuel Macron in April's election.

So who is she?

[Valerie Pecresse]

"I want to restore order, both in our streets and in our national accounts. I want a very powerful France, and I want to bring back hope."

54-year-old Pecresse was born in Paris suburb and educated at France's elite ENA school for politicians and civil servants.

During Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency, she was a minister for higher education and then the budget.

In 2020, she won a second mandate to run the greater Paris region.

Fast forward to 2022 and we find ourselves here at her campaign headquarters in an up-market district of Paris.

Walls adorned with framed cinema posters, including one of Yoda.

[Valerie Pecresse]

"Yoda is my good luck charm. It was a poster that was given to me at my first victorious regional elections campaign in 2015. And it was to say that I will be the 'great jedi' in this hive, which is the headquarters, and that this is the office of the 'great Jedi', and the force is with us. So the force was with us, Star Wars was with us."

Pecresse is critical of Macron for - quote - "burning a hole in the state coffers" during the pandemic.

She promises to reform France's generous pension system and cut a bloated public wage bill.

Pecresse is a moderate in a conservative party that has lurched rightwards in recent years

as the far-right fuels anti-immigrant sentiment and a desire among many voters to get tough on law and order.

Opinion polls show her in a close-fought race with Marine Le Pen, leader of the traditional far-right.

To neutralize the threat Pecresse has toughened her language on immigration and identity.

[Valerie Pecresse]

"Today, we have a France that's experiencing a serious crisis of authority. We have real problems related to controlling our borders, in law and order, in the streets, in schools."

She says she would end the automatic right to French citizenship for people born in France

and stiffen judicial sentences in places where police have lost control.

[Valerie Pecresse]

"I am a woman who consults, decides and acts. But I am also a woman who keeps control. The one-part Thatcher is to say, 'I'm not for turning'."

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