Fifteen years ago, Valérie Pecresse quelled a student uprising against her university reforms with the same mixture of consensus politics and reformist courage that she says will now propel her to the French presidency.
Chosen to be led last month by members of the grassroots conservative Republicans party, voter polls show Pecresse could beat President Emmanuel Macron in the April election. If she succeeds, she would become France’s first female head of state.
In a desk adorned with framed movie posters, Pecresse, 54, drew up a list of woes facing France that speak of its social and fiscal conservatism: poor national border control, violent urban ghettos and growing indebtedness. “We need to restore order, both in our streets and in our national accounts,” she told Reuters.
Minister of Higher Education and then of the Budget under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, Pecresse declared last week that she would take out “the supply pipe” to clean up the districts in difficulty where the State had lost its authority and where the anarchy reigned.
Criticizing Macron for “burning a hole in state coffers” during the pandemic, Pecresse pledged to reform France’s generous pension system and cut a swollen public wage bill – two commitments she says Macron doesn’t did not keep.
Her style, she says, is “two-thirds (Angela) Merkel and one-third (Margaret) Thatcher.” “I am a woman who consults, decides and acts,” she said. “The Thatcher in one part is to say ‘I’m not to turn around’,” referring to a phrase in a 1980 speech when the British Conservative leader refused to back down on liberalization reforms.
Pecresse pointed to the cutting of hundreds of jobs at its head office to make way for more staff in high schools, reduced spending and higher investments as proof that it is getting things done. In 2020, she won a second term at the head of Île-de-France. Opponents who nicknamed her “the blonde” paid the price, she said.
When asked if France was ready for a female president, she replied: “Right-wing voters have shown they are ready, and they may be the most reluctant to trust a woman.
Pecresse’s party, which has its origins in Charles de Gaulle, dominated French politics for much of the postwar period. But after Macron redesigned the landscape in 2017, he struggled to unite his center-right and staunchly conservative factions. The defection of a top conservative lawmaker to the election candidacy of far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour on Sunday underscored the challenge she faces in keeping a warring party together.
Opinion polls show her in a close race with Marine Le Pen, a traditional far-right leader, for second place in the second round of the election. Zemmour follows closely. If she succeeds, she would be Macron’s most dangerous opponent, polls suggest.
Born in a posh suburb of Paris and educated at the elite French ENA school for politicians and civil servants, Pecresse is a moderate in a conservative party who has swung to the right as the far right fuels anti-immigrant sentiment and the desire of many voters to be tough. on law and order.
Pecresse has toughened his language on immigration and identity, seeking to neutralize the threat from Le Pen and Zemmour, whose promise to “save France” from Islam has polarized France.
She says she would end the automatic right to French nationality for people born in France and toughen justice
sentences in places where the police have lost control.
On a table in Pecresse’s office is a photograph of Samuel Paty, the teacher beheaded by a teenage boy of Chechen descent in a Paris suburb in 2020 because he used caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a lesson on freedom of ‘expression.
Pecresse said the teacher’s portrait would follow her to the Elysee Palace if she wins the election. “We must be inflexible in respecting our values,” said Pécresse. “In the public sphere, the law takes precedence over faith.
These are the same rights, the same duties for all.