Meet the French MEPs who shape the presidential race

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, it’s become a breeding ground for senior advisers to the candidates in April’s national election.

This isn’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 Mélenchon — both are still candidates if no longer MEPs).

This time there’s one presidential candidate who is an MEP — the Greens’ Yannick Jadot — 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 hasn’t yet officially announced his candidacy; Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris region and candidate of the center-right Les Républicains; right-wing firebrand Eric Zemmour; Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and the Socialist Party’s candidate; as well as Jadot, Le Pen and Mélenchon.

Here’s a look at the French MEPs guiding the race for the Elysée.

TEAM MACRON

Stéphane Séjourné: As a former Macron adviser and leader of the Parliament’s third-largest group, Renew Europe, Séjourné 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 République En Marche, he is also deeply involved in national affairs. This “is the first time that MEPs … are considered as part of the national majority [party],” one Renew Europe official said.

Pascal Canfin: Said to be one of the few MEPs who can speak directly to Macron or to the Elysée’s secretary-general, Alexis Kohler. Canfin has no official role as Macron’s campaign has not yet started, but he is said to be “one of the main suggestion boxes” for the presidential campaign’s environmental platform, one parliament official said. “He is one of the few who can combine a vision on environment issues with an international and European vision,” the official said.

Valérie Hayer: As co-leader of the French delegation of Macron-affiliated MEPs and president of Association pour une Renaissance européenne (Association for a European Renaissance), which organizes European-linked events across France, Hayer is one of Macron’s most active campaigners in the Parliament.

TEAM PÉCRESSE

Geoffroy Didier: Considered one the MEPs closest to Pécresse, 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. “I’ve known her for a long time,” said Didier, who is also a vice chair of the European People’s Party’s Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age committee. “I’ve accompanied her in many campaigns and since then, we never left each other.” Didier said he will be involved in Pécresse’s next visit to the Parliament’s plenary session in mid-February. The conservative politician, he said, considers the Parliament as a “pivot of French politics,” and will be at the plenary session in mid-February. “She is not a federalist … but she is a patriot and a European,” Didier said.

Agnès Evren: Like Didier, Evren’s relationship to Pécresse dates back decades and she is now one of Pécresse’s numerous spokespeople. A Paris councilor as well as an MEP, Evren was Pecresse’s spokesperson when she ran in the 2015 regional elections. When Pécresse 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 Pecresse’s Soyons Libres (Let’s be free) movement.

François-Xavier Bellamy: He may take a generally more conservative line than Pécresse and be less close to her than Didier and Evren, but Bellamy was named Pécresse’s special adviser on the French presidency of the EU, which began on January 1. As head of the French Les Républicains delegation and an EPP vice president, Bellamy is considered one of the more influential conservative MEPs.

Brice Hortefeux: Pécresse 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 Pécresse’s early supporters. She named him “special adviser on institutional reform.”

TEAM LE PEN

Hélène Laporte: A former local councilor and member of the Parliament’s budgets committee, Laporte is one of Le Pen’s most prominent supporters in the European Parliament. One of Le Pen’s campaign spokespeople, Laporte recently became the head of the National Rally delegation of MEPs when her predecessor, Jérôme Rivière, quit to side with Eric Zemmour.

Thierry Mariani: A former minister and local councilor, Mariani is one of Le Pen’s most senior and trusted lieutenants in the Parliament. A member of the foreign affairs committee, he is also part of Le Pen’s cast of campaign spokespeople and appears regularly on French TV to defend her vision.

TEAM JADOT

Mounir Satouri: A former local councilor, Satouri is Jadot’s campaign director and “one of the three or four members of Jadot’s inner circle,” one Green official said. A member of the influential employment committee, Satouri was Jadot’s campaign chief in the 2019 European elections. Satouri was recently described by the magazine Paris Match as an “astute negotiator” and a “subtle connoisseur of the internal forces of a complicated political family.”

Benoît Biteau: A former farmer and engineer, Biteau is said to be instrumental in Jadot’s campaign, particularly on agriculture issues. “There isn’t any meeting with local unions, especially in the agriculture field, that Biteau is not involved in,” the same Green official said. “He knows everything.”

TEAM HIDALGO

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 Benoît 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 Hidalgo’s diplomatic adviser. Two other French MEPs who are members of Hidalgo’s campaign team are Eric Andrieu and Nora Mebarek.

TEAM MÉLENCHON

Manuel Bompard: Bompard was Mélenchon’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 Melenchon’s rise in the polls.

Younous Omarjee: The chairman of the parliament’s regional development committee has no specific role in Mélenchon’s presidential campaign but describes himself as a longtime friend and adviser on EU matters. “We’ve known each other for more than 20 years, and we’ve been colleagues in the Parliament,” Omarjee said. “There is a permanent exchange of analysis between us,” he said, adding: “For Mélenchon, it is important to have the MEPs’ perception on things, because they have a decentralized vision.”

TEAM ZEMMOUR

Jérôme Rivière: A former campaign spokesperson and chair of Le Pen’s National Rally in the European Parliament, Rivière recently quit the party, arguing in the daily Le Monde newspaper that the party’s inability to win regional elections in June 2021 is a “flagrant demonstration that Marine Le Pen is not in a situation to win the presidential election.” He is now the vice president and spokesperson of Reconquête!, Zemmour’s party. Rivière is the second MEP, after Gilbert Collard, to swap Le Pen for Zemmour.



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