Éric Zemmour, the anti-immigration polemicist, has declared his bid for the French presidency with an appeal to those he said were scorned by elites and felt like strangers in their own country.
“You feel dispossessed . . . you have the impression of no longer living in the country you know,” he said on Tuesday in a YouTube video that included clips showing black residents of France and scenes of violent street demonstrations. “It’s no longer time to reform France, but to save it.”
Reading from a script at a desk in front of shelves of leather-bound books, Zemmour said: “This country you cherish is in the process of disappearing . . . Immigration is not the source of all our problems, but it worsens them all.” He lamented the “thirdworldisation” of France as well as “Islamo-leftism”, “decline” and “decadence”.
France will hold a presidential election next April, when President Emmanuel Macron will seek a second term. The 63-year-old Zemmour was at one point in the autumn second in the polls only to Macron without having declared himself a candidate.
The formal launch of his campaign comes as his popularity appears to be declining and after a disastrous visit last weekend to the Mediterranean port of Marseille.
He failed to attract supporters on the streets there and returned the gesture when a woman raised her middle finger at him, prompting his political rivals to dismiss him as unworthy of the presidency. Zemmour said his reaction was “very inelegant”.
Although his antagonism towards non-European immigrants and Muslims put him to the right even of his far-right rival Marine Le Pen and her Rassemblement National party, Zemmour has also attracted support from conservative voters who would normally vote for the centre-right.
His relentless focus on immigration has helped to set the French political agenda and move debate sharply to the right, as candidates jostle for position ahead of the presidential vote and the legislative election to follow in June.
Members of the centre-right Les Républicains party are due to vote for their own candidate this week, and even previously moderate LR hopefuls such as Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, have hardened their rhetoric against migration.
The leftwing parties once prominent in French politics have almost disappeared from view in the early weeks of the campaign, with the Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, gaining barely 5 per cent of first-round voting intentions. That leaves her below Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, and below Yannick Jadot of the Greens.
Zemmour’s declaration was drenched in nostalgia for the France of the past. The French, he said, recalled “the land of Joan of Arc and of Louis XIV, the land of Bonaparte and General de Gaulle, the land of knights and noblewomen, the land of Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand, the land of Pascal and Descartes”.
Jean-François Mbaye, an MP for Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party, accused Zemmour of “aping de Gaulle, who must be turning in his grave, with a mediocre and pitiful appeal” while France wanted to look to the future.
Fabien Roussel, the Communist party candidate, said “hate is his profession and polemic his aim” while Mélenchon’s campaign chief Manuel Bompard mocked Zemmour’s nostalgia and asked on Twitter: “It seems that Zemmour has just declared himself a candidate for the presidential election of 1965?”