Want to get a handle on the French presidential election? Then get yourself down to the European Parliament.
The EU Parliament is no longer a retirement home for fading/disgraced French politicians, itâ€™s become a breeding ground for senior advisers to the candidates in Aprilâ€™s national election.
This isnâ€™t new, of course, as presidential candidates have come from the ranks of MEPs in past elections (including far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her far-left rival, Jean-Luc MÃ©lenchon â€” both are still candidates if no longer MEPs).
This time thereâ€™s one presidential candidate who is an MEP â€” the Greensâ€™ Yannick Jadot â€”Â and almost every other contender in the first round of the election on April 10 has picked a campaign director and/or senior adviser from the Parliament. That includes President Emmanuel Macron, who hasnâ€™t yet officially announced his candidacy; ValÃ©rie PÃ©cresse, the head of the Paris region and candidate of the center-right Les RÃ©publicains; right-wing firebrand Eric Zemmour; Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and the Socialist Partyâ€™s candidate; as well as Jadot, Le Pen and MÃ©lenchon.
Hereâ€™s a look at the French MEPs guiding the race for the ElysÃ©e.
StÃ©phane SÃ©journÃ©: As a former Macron adviser and leader of the Parliamentâ€™s third-largest group, Renew Europe, SÃ©journÃ© can lay claim to being one of the most influential European lawmakers. But, as a participant in the regular coordination meetings of MPs, senators and leaders of La RÃ©publique En Marche, he is also deeply involved in national affairs. This â€œis the first time that MEPs â€¦ are considered as part of the national majority [party],â€ one Renew Europe official said.
Pascal Canfin: Said to be one of the few MEPs who can speak directly to Macron or to the ElysÃ©eâ€™s secretary-general, Alexis Kohler. Canfin has no official role as Macronâ€™s campaign has not yet started, but he is said to be â€œone of the main suggestion boxesâ€ for the presidential campaignâ€™s environmental platform, one parliament official said. â€œHe is one of the few who can combine a vision on environment issues with an international and European vision,â€ the official said.
ValÃ©rie Hayer: As co-leader of the French delegation of Macron-affiliated MEPs and president of Association pour une Renaissance europÃ©enne (Association for a European Renaissance), which organizes European-linked events across France, Hayer is one of Macronâ€™s most active campaigners in the Parliament.
Geoffroy Didier: Considered one the MEPs closest to PÃ©cresse, Didier was elected as an MEP in 2019 and has played a prominent role in many of her previous political campaigns, including when she became the head of the Paris region in 2015. â€œIâ€™ve known her for a long time,â€ said Didier, who is also a vice chair of the European Peopleâ€™s Partyâ€™s Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age committee. â€œIâ€™ve accompanied her in many campaigns and since then, we never left each other.â€ Didier said he will be involved in PÃ©cresseâ€™s next visit to the Parliamentâ€™s plenary session in mid-February. The conservative politician, he said, considers the Parliament as a â€œpivot of French politics,â€ and will be at the plenary session in mid-February. â€œShe is not a federalist â€¦ but she is a patriot and a European,â€ Didier said.
AgnÃ¨s Evren: Like Didier, Evrenâ€™s relationship to PÃ©cresse dates back decades and she is now one of PÃ©cresseâ€™s numerous spokespeople. A Paris councilor as well as an MEP, Evren was Pecresseâ€™s spokesperson when she ran in the 2015 regional elections. When PÃ©cresse became head of the Paris regional council, Evren was one of its vice presidents, in charge of education and culture. In 2018, she was named spokesperson for Pecresseâ€™s SoyonsÂ Libres (Letâ€™s be free) movement.
FranÃ§ois-Xavier Bellamy: He may take a generally more conservative line than PÃ©cresse and be less close to her than Didier and Evren, but Bellamy was named PÃ©cresseâ€™s special adviser on the French presidency of the EU, which began on January 1. As head of the French Les RÃ©publicains delegation and an EPP vice president, Bellamy is considered one of the more influential conservative MEPs.
Brice Hortefeux: PÃ©cresse and Hortefeux were both ministers under former President Nicolas Sarkozy. First elected as an MEP in 1999, Hortefeux is often dismissed in the Parliament as someone who moved to the EU assembly after the end of his national political career but he remains a close Sarkozy ally and was one of PÃ©cresseâ€™s early supporters. She named him â€œspecial adviser on institutional reform.â€
TEAM LE PEN
HÃ©lÃ¨ne Laporte: A former local councilor and member of the Parliamentâ€™s budgets committee, Laporte is one of Le Penâ€™s most prominent supporters in the European Parliament. One of Le Penâ€™s campaign spokespeople, Laporte recently became the head of the National Rally delegation of MEPs when her predecessor, JÃ©rÃ´me RiviÃ¨re, quit to side with Eric Zemmour.
Thierry Mariani: A former minister and local councilor, Mariani is one of Le Penâ€™s most senior and trusted lieutenants in the Parliament. A member of the foreign affairs committee, he is also part of Le Penâ€™s cast of campaign spokespeople and appears regularly on French TV to defend her vision.
Mounir Satouri: A former local councilor, Satouri is Jadotâ€™s campaign director and â€œone of the three or four members of Jadotâ€™s inner circle,â€ one Green official said. A member of the influential employment committee, Satouri was Jadotâ€™s campaign chief in the 2019 European elections. Satouri was recently described by the magazine Paris Match as an â€œastute negotiatorâ€ and a â€œsubtle connoisseur of the internal forces of a complicated political family.â€
BenoÃ®t Biteau: A former farmer and engineer, Biteau is said to be instrumental in Jadotâ€™s campaign, particularly on agriculture issues. â€œThere isnâ€™t any meeting with local unions, especially in the agriculture field, that Biteau is not involved in,â€ the same Green official said. â€œHe knows everything.â€
Sylvie Guillaume: A former vice president of the European Parliament, Guillaume is one of the most senior French Socialist MEPs and was part of the campaign teams of previous Socialist candidates, including BenoÃ®t Hamon in 2017. As head of the French Socialist delegation and a member of the justice and civil liberties committee, which oversees migration issues, Guillaume has been appointed Hidalgoâ€™s diplomatic adviser. Two other French MEPs who are members of Hidalgoâ€™s campaign team are Eric Andrieu and Nora Mebarek.
Manuel Bompard: Bompard was MÃ©lenchonâ€™s campaign director in the 2017 presidential election and has been given the job again. The MEP, who joined the Parliament in 2019, has been very active on Twitter, promoting Melenchonâ€™s rise in the polls.
Younous Omarjee: The chairman of the parliamentâ€™s regional development committee has no specific role in MÃ©lenchonâ€™s presidential campaign but describes himself as a longtime friend and adviser on EU matters. â€œWeâ€™ve known each other for more than 20 years, and weâ€™ve been colleagues in the Parliament,â€ Omarjee said. â€œThere is a permanent exchange of analysis between us,â€ he said, adding: â€œFor MÃ©lenchon, it is important to have the MEPsâ€™ perception on things, because they have a decentralized vision.â€
JÃ©rÃ´me RiviÃ¨re: A former campaign spokesperson and chair of Le Penâ€™s National Rally in the European Parliament, RiviÃ¨re recently quit the party, arguing in the daily Le Monde newspaper that the partyâ€™s inability to win regional elections in June 2021 is a â€œflagrant demonstration that Marine Le Pen is not in a situation to win the presidential election.â€ He is now the vice president and spokesperson of ReconquÃªte!, Zemmourâ€™s party. RiviÃ¨re is the second MEP, after Gilbert Collard, to swap Le Pen for Zemmour.