Photo : France24
09 December 2021, Thursday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #68
By Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan
Eric Zemmour and the launch of his presidential campaign
Zemmour launched his Presidential campaign.
On 08 December, the incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron warned against the "manipulation" regarding the history of Vichy in France. His remarks came after the French far-right candidate Eric Zemmour repeatedly said that Vichy protected the French Jews instead of collaborating with the Nazis as historians claimed. Zemmour spoke on the radio: "It's my combat against repentance and guilt. The French people are permanently being made to feel guilty." Macron's trip to Vichy is the first for a French president since 1978.
On 05 December, Zemmour's presidential campaign in Villepinte, a suburb of Paris, was joined by thousands of flag-waving supporters. However, the campaign escalated to chaos as fights broke out between the supporters and the anti-racism campaigners who stood up on chairs to protest. Aline Kremer, an SOS Racisme protest group member, said: "We wanted to do a non-violent protest… People jumped on them and started hitting them."
On 30 November, Zemmour announced his candidacy for President, where he promised to save France from corruption and minorities that "oppress the majority." Zemmour is a former journalist convicted for inciting racial hatred; who has always taken a robust anti-immigrant stance. However, his advancement as a radical right leader undoubtedly shows the rise of the far-right in France. He is also a top contender to the established far-right National Rally candidate Marine Le Pen..
The rise of Zemmour in France
Zemmour's comments highlight the recent trend of the rising far-right in France acquiring more prominence. His quick advancement to political candidacy indicated that the French public had moved further right in a country where policies like social welfare and labour protections have dominated society's backbone. He even named his party "Reconquest," which referred to the period of Reconquista where Christian forces drove out the Muslim rulers of the Iberian peninsula. He mentioned: "If I win this election, it won't be another rotation of power but a reconquest of the greatest country in the world."
Zemmour's campaign rhetoric of zero immigration policy and anti-muslim comments represent France's non-pro-immigration population. Jacques Ohana, a 65-year-old Paris surgeon, said: "Whether he's elected or not, he's already won the campaign." Zemmour also accused Macron of failing to deliver on his promise of change. Nevertheless, people feel aligned to his policies as he has brought back the "glory days" of post-war France.
On 06 December, POLITICO reported an Ipsos poll that stated 64 per cent of the French felt there were too many migrants in France, leading to France's decline as a nation. In comparison, just 25 per cent said that France was not in decline. The poll likewise showed that 79 per cent of the French wanted a strong leader to reestablish the order. However, only 24 per cent of the French population think that Zemmour has the attributes to be the head of state.
The upcoming 2022 elections
On 08 December, Macron's visit to Vichy and his comments on Zemmour's manipulation of history shows how the current government is stepping up against the far-right leaders. Moreover, according to The Guardian, "the polls currently show Macron as the favourite to win," indicating "the outcome of the upcoming elections". Macron has gradually changed his stance on asylum seekers, increased the budget of law enforcement, and expulsions of illegal migrants back to North Africa that has preserved his support from the centre-right. A possibility lies in a political alliance between Le Pen and Zemmour as the latter walked beside National Rally senator Stéphane Ravier on 08 December, discussing the need to build "a broad union". Zemmour further conceded that a "big union was needed to beat Macron". Furthermore, a possible deal between Le Pen and Zemmour could be achieved, but uncertainties still lie.
Angelique Chrisafis, “Macron takes on far-right presidential rival in visit to Vichy," The Guardian, 08 December 2021.
Rym Mumtaz, “How France pivoted to the right," POLITICO, 06 December 2021.
News Wires, “Fighting breaks out as French far-right candidate Zemmour launches 2022 bid with rally,” France24, 05 December 2021.
“Far-right pundit Eric Zemmour launches 2022 bid for French presidency," France24, 30 November 2021.
Gabriela Galindo,“They’re off: Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Eric Zemmour launch French presidential bids," POLITICO, 05 December 2021.
Clea Caulcutt,“Le Pen and Zemmour hate each other. Can they join forces?,” POLITICO, 08 December 2021.
By Joeana Cera Matthews and Padmashree Anandhan
Olaf Scholz: New Chancellor of Germany
On 08 December, the three-party coalition elected Olaf Scholz as German Chancellor following the term end of the long-serving chancellor Angela Merkel. Wishing the new chancellor, Merkel said: “I know from personal experience what a moving moment it is to be elected to this office.” Previously in September, the Social Democrats became the largest party in the election, which later pursued the Greens and the business-focused Free Democratic Party (FDP) to join. At the regional level, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron expressed their wish to work with Scholz in the future. With a new chancellor in place, the new cabinet will comprise 16 ministers, seven from the SPD, five from the Greens, and Four from the FDP. Being a former finance minister, Scholz has signed a few economic policies on short-time working schemes and short-term allowances. But the plans are yet to materialize.(“Olaf Scholz formally sworn in as German chancellor,” Deutsche Welle, 08 December 2021; Faisal Islam, “What Olaf Scholz means for the world economy,” BBC, 09 December 2021)
Baerbock set to kick off duties with trip to Paris
On 09 December, the newly appointed German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock set out on her first official trip. She visited Paris and Brussels and is expected to visit Poland on 10 December. Speaking on the importance of curbing climate change, she said: “I’m going to give international climate policies the space they deserve on the diplomatic agenda from day one… The most important task in diplomacy is preventing, containing and preferably solving crises… And no crisis is a greater threat to the future of humanity than the climate crisis.” Meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, she commented on their discussions regarding ‘shared goals’ along with issues such as the Poland-Belarus border crisis and the tensions along the Ukrainian borders. The possibility of diplomatically boycotting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was also considered. At Brussels, Baerbock met with EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell and the NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg. When asked about the idea behind the trip, she said: “The most important thing for me during this inaugural visit is to listen to our closest partners. We won’t pursue our own ideas and interests over the heads of our neighbours, and definitely not at their cost.” (“Germany's new foreign minister puts climate 'high up' on diplomatic agenda,” Deutsche Welle, 09 December 2021)
Antitrust case: Amazon penalized with EUR 1.1 billion
On 09 December, The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) penalized Amazon with EUR 1.1 billion for misusing its supremacy over the market. This follows a EUR 68.7 million penalty that the company incurred after they were found guilty of breaching EU laws by the AGCM. According to the authority, Amazon had created a harsh environment for service providers as third-party sellers were required to use their own logistics service termed Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA). AGCM stated: “The investigation showed that such benefits are crucial to gain visibility, to boost sales and, in turn, to the success of sellers’ offers on Amazon.it.” The e-commerce giant intends to appeal the verdict and said: “When sellers choose FBA, they do so because it is efficient, convenient and competitive in terms of the price… The proposed fine and remedies are unjustified and disproportionate.” The fine which is accompanied by countermeasures will soon be reviewed by a monitoring trustee. (“Italy fines Amazon €1.1 billion in antitrust case,” Deutsche Welle, 09 December 2021)
THE UNITED KINGDOM
Opposition party asks Johnson to resign over leaked video
On 08 December, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered an investigation into a Christmas party that was said to be hosted by the government at Downing Street against lockdown restrictions. The order comes as a video on the same was leaked. The incident sparked condemnation from various political parties, calling on Johnson’s resignation. Apologizing for the video, Johnson said: “I apologize unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologize for the impression that it gives.” (“UK: Boris Johnson pledges probe amid outrage over lockdown Christmas party,” Deutsche Welle, 08 December 2021)
Europol reports the Pandora Papers reveal the secret offshore accounts of world leaders
The European Union Law enforcement agency Europol has recently reported that it inspected millions of leaked documents of money laundering by using the Pandora Papers. The investigation executed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed many secret offshore accounts of former world leaders, politicians, and public officials. The list includes Jordan's King Abdullah II, former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the leaders of Ukraine, Chile, and Kenya. The Europol's report said: “This is particularly worrying as the Pandora Papers reveal that many of those hiding assets in offshore locations are political decision-makers.” (“Europol identifying leads to target organized crime after Pandora Papers leaks,” Deutsche Welle, 08 December 2021)
France releases the suspect arrested for the murder of Khashoggi
On 08 December, France released a Saudi man who was considered a suspect in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The man was suspected due to the detection of a warrant in the passport that was issued by Turkey. After the arrest, the suspect's identity was investigated for 24 hours, post-investigation the Paris General Prosecutor's office released a statement, which said: “In-depth verifications to determine the identity of this person has enabled us to establish that the [arrest] warrant was not applicable to him, He has been released.” The arrest provoked serious criticisms from the Saudi Arabian embassy. The Saudi Arabian government has so far maintained that the investigations for Khashoggi’s killing stand complete and need no further probing. (“Khashoggi killing: French police nab wrong person in case of mistaken identity,” Deutsche Welle, 08 December 2021; Angelique Chrisafis and Stephanie Kirchgaessner “Man arrested in Paris over Jamal Khashoggi killing is released, The Guardian, 08 December 2021)
Biden-Putin Virtual Summit: the US denies provision of troops to Ukraine; Putin reiterates “right to defend its security”
On 08 December, The Guardian reported US President Joe Biden to have stated the possibility of troops being provided to Ukraine being null. This came a day after Biden’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following the meeting, Biden said: “It was polite, but I made it very clear. If in fact, he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences. Economic consequences like you’ve never seen. I am absolutely confident he got the message.” Biden plans to conduct higher-level talks with Russia that would involve NATO members. Regarding this, he said: “... at least four of our major Nato allies and Russia to discuss the future of Russia’s concerns relative to Nato writ large and… bringing down the temperature along the Eastern Front.” Putin, in the meanwhile, commented on the talks saying: “I want to emphasise once again: the talks were very open, substantive, and I would say constructively. In any case, I hope the US side feels the same way about the results of our meeting… Every country certainly has the right to choose the most acceptable way of ensuring its security, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t infringe on the interests and undermine the security of other countries, in this case, Russia.” Biden will speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on 09 December. (Andrew Roth, “Biden says he won’t send US troops to Ukraine to deter Russian threat,” The Guardian, 08 December 2021; “Russia says it has 'right to defend its security,' as Biden warns of sanctions,” Deutsche Welle, 08 December)