French interior minister tests waters for presidential run
President Emmanuel Macron’s tough-talking Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is testing the waters for a crack at the French presidency in 2027, with a stark warning that far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen risks taking the Elysee if the wrong candidate stands.
France’s politicians will return from holiday later this month and the initial manoeuvring for the 2027 presidential elections is set to mark the new political season.
Centrist Macron, who defeated Le Pen in the previous two editions in 2017 and 2022, cannot stand for another consecutive term and total uncertainty remains over the preferred champion to take on the far right.
Darmanin, only 40 and known for an unrelenting energy reminiscent of his mentor, former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, has thrown his hat into the ring.
“What interests me is no longer to look at what happened in 2017 and 2022. What worries me now is what will happen in 2027,” he told the Le Figaro daily on Sunday.
He warned against “putting our future” in the hands of technocrats and “using words that the French do not always understand”.
“We must speak from the heart, not with statistics,” he said, adding that if the wrong candidate is found “Marine Le Pen will be elected.”
– ‘Top cop’ –
Darmanin, firmly on the right wing of Macron’s ruling faction, has been on the front line of the crises and challenges that have hit the country since his appointment in 2020.
He has consistently challenged the UK over its migration policy, deflected criticism over the chaotic 2022 Champions League final in Paris and above all stood by police amid accusations of institutional racism and violence.
Revelling in his informal title of “premier flic de France” (“France’s top cop”), Darmanin has unstintingly supported police, including during the riots earlier this summer sparked by the point-blank killing of a teen by an officer during a traffic check.
Darmanin will on August 27 host a major rally in his political fiefdom of Tourcoing in gritty northeast France to set out his vision.
His interview with Le Figaro came as he visits the overseas territory of French Polynesia this week, a reminder that since 2021 he heads a super ministry responsible for mainland France and its overseas possessions.
“After six years in government, I am happy to answer the call of my friends who urge me to make a little more clear the popular compass that I am proposing,” he said of the Tourcoing rally.
While still three-and-a-half years off, the sheer importance of an election which analysts see as giving the far right its best ever chance of winning power means early manoeuvring is already intense.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, the longest-standing member of Macron’s cabinet, makes almost no attempt to hide his ambition.
Former prime minister Edouard Philippe, mayor of the northern port of Le Havre, has founded his own party and is clearly sniffing out the ground.
Macron has in public given no indication of who he favours although he said in July “what we have done needs to be continued”, acknowledging Philippe was among those who could “take up the baton”.
– Close to Sarkozy –
The son of a bar owner and a mother who worked as a cleaner at France’s central bank, Darmanin became the country’s youngest interior minister when appointed, taking on a post that helped propel Sarkozy to the presidency.
His rapid rise was shadowed by a complaint filed in 2017 by a woman who alleged he raped her in 2009.
Darmanin denied any wrongdoing and the case was dismissed by a Paris court in 2022. The plaintiff is now appealing this verdict.
Darmanin’s articulate and smooth manner have marked him out as a strong media performer, although his sometimes stubborn put-downs of critics have caused discomfort even among allies.
Darmanin remains close to Sarkozy and late last month visited the former president and his wife Carla Bruni at their Mediterranean holiday hideaway, a source close to him said.
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