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France’s Pécresse comes under fire for reference to far-right conspiracy theory

France’s Pécresse comes under fire for reference to far-right conspiracy theory

by host

PARIS — France’s conservative presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse was slammed on Monday for using far-right rhetoric and referring to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory at her first big campaign rally.

Speaking to thousands of supporters in Paris on Sunday, Pécresse asked “in ten years time … will we be a sovereign nation, a U.S. satellite or a Chinese trading post? Will we be unified or divided?”

“Nothing is written, whether it’s loss of economic status, or the Great Replacement,” she said.

It was the first time that Pécresse has openly referred to “Great Replacement,” a French conspiracy theory that native French people of Christian heritage are deliberately being replaced by Muslim immigrants with the complicity of French elites. It was an inspiration for the white supremacist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.  

Pécresse, the Les Républicains candidate, is struggling to make headway in the polls. She is battling two far-right candidates, Marine Le Pen and former TV pundit Eric Zemmour, for a spot in the run-off vote against President Emmanuel Macron, who is still leading the field of candidates ahead of April’s presidential election. Pécresse’s rally on Sunday had been trailed as a potential turning point in the race.

As the current head of the Paris region and a former minister, Pécresse has been under pressure to tilt further to the right, in order to shake up her image as technocratic career politician and retain hard-line voters.

Commentators noted that her speech was full of nationalist overtones with references to “the France of cathedrals” and citizens who were “French in name only.”

The “Great Replacement” theory specifically has become a divisive far-right shibboleth, with some conservative politicians saying it describes a demographic reality and others saying it’s inflammatory. National Rally leader Marine Le Pen herself has avoided using the term, while Zemmour repeatedly refers to it.

“Valérie Pécresse shamelessly recalls … the Great Replacement,” wrote François Patriat, a senator for Macron’s La République en Marche party, on Twitter. “For the republican right, this is the great disenchantment.”

Jabs from her rivals came amid more general criticism that Pécresse’s performance on Sunday was wooden and affected.

On Monday, Pécresse appeared to row back on her earlier comments.

“I said this ‘I will not resign myself to the theories of [the far-right candidate] Eric Zemmour and to the theories of the far right,’ because I know another direction is possible,” she said on French radio RTL.

“That’s what I said yesterday and everybody is telling me I said the contrary,” she said, adding however that there were areas in France that were “non-French.”

The clarification was not enough to put out the political firestorm that was still raging Monday.

“Valérie Pécresse’s comments are undignified for a key candidate for the presidential election,” said Dominique Sopo, president of the French anti-discrimination NGO SOS-Racisme.

“[She] is wrong to send signals to radicalized voters, because they’ve never had enough when it comes to hatred,” he is quoted as saying in a press release.

According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, Le Pen is at 17 percent, Pécresse at 15 percent and Zemmour at 14 percent in the race to face Macron.

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