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Art Goldhammer

Arthur Goldhammer

Writer, translator, scholar, blogger on French Politics, affiliate of Harvard's Center for European Studies, writes for The American Prospect, The Nation, etc.

Articles by Arthur Goldhammer

A Calculated Vulgarity

19 days ago

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The jaws of French talking heads have been flapping wildly since Emmanuel Macron vented his sentiments about the unvaccinated: “J’ai très envie de les emmerder.” The English-speaking media have chosen by and large to translate this as “I’d really like to piss them off,” but this misses the somewhat more vulgar tone of the French, which is closer to “I’d really like to shit on them.” It’s the vulgarity that has so many in France clutching their pearls.
But the pearl-clutchers miss the strategic calculation behind Macron’s outburst–which was anything but a slip. A glance at the Third Wave of the IPSOS/Cevipof survey of French political sentiments shows that there was cold, calculating reason in Macron’s mischief. Scroll down to

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Le Régalien et Le Sacre

December 23, 2021

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Valérie Pécresse reportedly intends to devote the beginning of her campaign to “le régalien“: “Il ne faut pas lâcher cette thématique, au moins jusqu’à fin janvier, insiste le député Eric Pauget. Son électorat a de fortes attentes sur le régalien, et cela reste un des points de faiblesse de Macron.” The dictionary tells us what this means: “Qui concerne, qui appartient en propre au roi, au souverain.” Poor Emmanuel Macron: his opponents assail him for concentrating all the powers of government in his person and even mock him for his “Jupiterian” pretensions yet en même temps deride him for his weakness en ce qui concerne le régalien.
This obsession with le régalien is peculiarly French; the word has no English equivalent. As

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Who Is Voting for Pécresse?

December 20, 2021

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A new poll sheds light on the Pécresse electorate. It is essentially the Fillon electorate–older, more likely to be retired, more Catholic, and wealthier than the average voter–augmented by a post-primary influx of somewhat younger voters somewhat less favorable to cutting state sector employment and somewhat more favorable to redistribution of income (for numbers, see the article at the link). It is a somewhat unstable electorate: only 51% say they are “certain” to vote for Pécresse, compared with 65% of Macron voters and 68% of Le Pen voters. If Pécresse doesn’t make the second round, 44% of her voters say they would vote for Macron compared with only 28% who would defect to one of the two far-right candidates.
In short,

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Taubira “Envisages” a Presidential Run

December 18, 2021

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Just what the left needs: another presidential candidate. “Squabble among yourselves; leave me out of it,” said Jean-Luc Mélenchon. One can understand his frustration. Meanwhile, the Macroniste camp called attention to the fact that Taubira is not merely an icon, the eloquent justice minister responsible for passing the Mariage pour Tous law; she also has a less well-known history as a political operator: in 1994 she joined Bernard Tapie on a centrist list that undermined the Socialist list led by Michel Rocard in the European elections; in 2002 she was, again with support from Tapie, the PRG candidate for president, taking enough votes from Lionel Jospin to allow Jean-Marie Le Pen to squeak by him into the

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Macron Takes The Bully Pulpit

December 16, 2021

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Emmanuel Macron’s second presidential campaign will be nothing like his first. In 2016-17 he enjoyed the advantage of enigma: no one knew who he was or what he represented (though many guessed accurately enough), and he exploited the ambiguities to the full with his slogans “en même temps, ni droite ni gauche,” etc. He would bring the spirit of Silicon Valley to France, create a “startup society,” infuse moribund state structures with the energies of youth and innovation, etc. What yesterday’s two-hour campaign telethon revealed more than anything else was the shadow that has fallen between the ambition and the realization.
For a good long time it appeared that the prophecy of “ni droite ni gauche” would be realized by

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New Polls Indicate Yet Another New Race

December 7, 2021

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As I predicted in my previous post, Valérie Pécresse has obtained a significant “post-convention bounce,” while Éric Zemmour has slumped. A new IFOP poll has Macron at 25% and Pécresse even with Le Pen at 17, while Zemmour has fallen to 13 and Mélenchon to 9. Jadot is at 6 and Hidalgo at 5.
In the second round, IFOP has Macron beating Pécresse by only 52 to 48, compared with 56 to 44 against Le Pen and 63 to 37 against Zemmour. Left-wing voters are much more likely to vote for Macron in the second round if either Le Pen or Zemmour is his opponent; Pécresse, despite having a platform a far to the right as Fillon’s in 2017, is much more palatable to voters who identify as left-wing.
Harris Interactive has Macron

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Spot On!

December 4, 2021

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On Thursday (look it up!) I predicted that Pécresse would win the LR runoff 60-40. It was just announced that she got 60.95% of the final vote. You heard it here first, folks!
The field for 2022 is now set. I suspect that the next round of polling will show a significant post-convention bounce for Pécresse and a slight sag in support for Zemmour, now that he has ended his fan dance and declared himself a candidate in a widely mocked YouTube video. Pécresse will pick up support from former Bertrand and Barnier supporters, while Zemmour and Le Pen are likely to gain smaller amounts from disappointed Ciotti backers. If the Pécresse bounce is enough to put her ahead of Zemmour or Le Pen, expect a significant amount of chatter touting her as the

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Paxton Refutes Zemmour

December 2, 2021

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In an interview with Le Monde, historian Robert Paxton refutes Éric Zemmour’s contention that Vichy sacrificed “foreign” Jews to save “French” Jews. One hopes that this admirably concise statement of Paxton’s lifetime of work on Vichy France will circulate widely.

Tags: History, Zemmour
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The LR Finalists

December 2, 2021

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Ciotti 25.59% and Pécresse 25%, a perfect picture of the LR today. Ciotti is of course the most Zemmour-compatible of Les Républicains, while Pécresse, like Bertrand, was for a while a renegade who tried to remind the party that it once separated itself from the far right on principle. But, caught between Zemmour and Le Pen on one side and Macron on the other, principle ceased to be a viable strategy. Once Bertrand and Pécresse saw that their only chance was to return to the fold and sacrifice principle to the passions of the party base (more than 80% of the members participated in the first round vote), the die was cast. The contest would pit the right wing of the party, headed by Ciotti, against the survivor of the contest for the

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Two Media Events: Josephine Baker and Eric Zemmour

November 30, 2021

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Today, Josephine Baker entered the Pantheon, and Éric Zemmour declared his candidacy for the presidency. The contrast between the two events could not have been greater. The Baker pantheonization was a grand state spectacle of the sort that the French do better than anyone else. President Macron used it to emphasize the values that he would like the French to believe are their own: universalism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, and not merely tolerance of the foreign but full-blooded acceptance. Josephine Baker was Black, American, and female; in her day some of the French reviled her music as barbarous and her performances as obscene. But here she is in the Pantheon, honored as une résistante de la

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The Second Movement of La Symphonie Zemmour

November 27, 2021

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Anyone who follows French presidential elections knows that there is a regular pattern to insurgent candidacies. The first movement is triumphal and allegro. The crescendos build as the novel candidate is borne aloft on a whirlwind of publicity. Barriers fall as if made of gossamer. But then, just as suddenly as it began, the music slows and turns somber. The establishment regroups. The barriers suddenly reconstitute themselves out of the dust.
The candidacy of Eric Zemmour has now entered this second phase. Instead of pointing automatic weapons at journalists, the still undeclared candidate is now leaving his train 30 kilometers short of his destination for fear of encountering Antifa demonstrators

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The New German Government

November 24, 2021

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The new German government will be announced in a few minutes. There will be no surprises: Olaf Scholz of the SPD will be chancellor, Robert Habeck of the Greens will be vice-chancellor with a wide-ranging portfolio of responsibilities, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens will be foreign minister, and Christian Lindner of the FDP will be finance minister. To the victors have gone the spoils.
What is surprising, on the other hand, is that the negotiations have reached a culmination so quickly. Immediately after the election, no one expected to see a new government before Christmas. Despite reports of some frictions in the talks, the parties managed to reach an agreement despite real differences in their outlooks. In an era of

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The Republican Right Vanishes

November 24, 2021

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Renaud Muselier, the president of PACA, has quit Les Républicains. The reason: he believes that the party he helped to found has erased the line that used to divide it from the far right. His ire is directed in particular at Eric Ciotti, his longtime rival in the PACA region. Interestingly, Muselier invokes his family’s history of resistance to fascism as justification for his departure:
« Mon grand-père a donné la croix de Lorraine à la France Libre, mon père a été déporté à Dachau, l’ensemble de ma famille a été déporté et torturé. » « J’ai grandi dans le RPR sous Jacques Chirac, puis dans LR, j’ai été membre fondateur de l’UMP et de LR, mais je ne m’y retrouve pas aujourd’hui »,
It is hardly a surprise that Muselier

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Bolloré vs. Macron

November 18, 2021

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Raphaëlle Bacqué and Ariane Chemin, Le Monde‘s indefatigable political profilers, published today a profile of Billionaire Vincent Bolloré, whom they credit with having established “un pôle réactionnaire” in the media, which extends from CNews, the would-be French Fox, to Europe1, the Journal du Dimanche, Paris Match, several publishing houses, and–most intriguingly–a YouTube channel named Padreblog, where you can find unctuous homilies on such fascinating subjects as “Three Keys to Understanding Purgatory.” (Watch–you won’t be disappointed!)
Although the piece goes on at considerable length, you may come away as disappointed as I did if you want to know what Bolloré’s game really is. The premise of the piece is that he despises

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The Economic Consequences of Macron

November 16, 2021

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As it does every year, the Institut des Politiques Publiques has published an assessment of the distributive consequences of the government’s economic and social policies. Macron haters will be disappointed to find that this study confirms the results of previous studies: Macron’s policies since 2017 have increased the after-tax disposable income of the French by an average of 1.6%. And the gains are broadly distributed: all groups from the 6th to the 99th percentile benefit. It’s true that the poorest have retrogressed slightly and that the richest–the top 1 percent–have benefited disproportionately, almost entirely because of the suppression of the ISF. But on the whole this is a result that a social-democratic

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The Coming Clash over Nuclear Power

November 11, 2021

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France and Germany are headed for a major clash over the development of nuclear power. On Tuesday, President Macron announced that France would begin building new nuclear power plants for the first time in many years. He argues that more nuclear generating is necessary if France is to keep its promises to work toward carbon neutrality. The day before, all the LR candidates also pledged to develop France’s nuclear generating capacity, Xavier Bertrand first and foremost. But today, the Süddeutsche Zeitung leaked news of the ongoing coalition talks in Germany, and clearly the Germans are not going to see eye to eye with the French:
Im Zusammenhang mit der Nachhaltigkeit von Unternehmen wenden sich die Ampel-Partner

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Europe Has Disappeared

November 8, 2021

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Anyone watching the debate among the five LR candidates for the party’s presidential nomination must be wondering whatever happened to Europe. The first questions asked of each candidate were 1) What will your first decisions be? and 2) Where will you go for your first official journey? Traditionally, the answer to 2) would have been “Berlin.” Not this year. Ciotti and Bertrand will head straight for “the northern suburbs of Marseille,” one of those territories allegedly “lost to the Republic,” to reclaim their territory from “the gangs, the dealers, and les barbus.” Juvin would go to Corsica, Pécresse (helmed in gold like a medieval warrior under her rigid blonde coif) to a center for the handicapped. Crime, security, and

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Sovereignty versus Europe

October 29, 2021

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The Polish supreme court has raised a direct challenge to the supremacy of the Treaty of the European Union over the laws of member states. The Polish court grants the supremacy of European laws over national statutory law but denies supremacy over national constitutions on the ground that no member state agreed to forfeit its “sovereignty” by joining the EU. The Polish action drew an immediate rebuke from the European Commission, but reactions from politicians in member states have been anything but concordant.
In France, in particular, several of the Les Républicains contenders for the presidential nomination have been unable to resist the temptation to issue resonant paeans to French “sovereignty,” perhaps hoping to

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Europe Shifts to the Right

October 28, 2021

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In a poll conducted in February 2021, Fondapol asked voters in France, Germany, Italy, and the UK to place themselves on a left-right spectrum. In all four countries, self-described right-wing voters predominated. The average result was 39% on the right, 27% on the left, with the remainder placing themselves in the center. Even more concerning, younger voters 18-34 were even more likely to describe themselves as right-wing, suggesting that things are going to get even worse for the left in years to come. Immigration is viewed negatively: “On average, six out of ten citizens (60%) agree with the statement that “there are too many immigrants in our country” (compared to 36% who disagree and 4% who did not respond).”
Left-wing

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What Is Vincent Bolloré Up To?

October 23, 2021

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The Financial Times has an article today on the replacement of Hervé Gattegno as editor of the Journal du Dimanche and Paris Match, allegedly at the behest of the owner of both outlets, billionaire Vincent Bolloré, who also owns CNews, the TV network that is bidding to become the French Fox and until recently hosted Eric Zemmour as a regular commentator. So what is Bolloré up to?
The FT concludes that Bolloré “wanted his [Gattegno’s] head” because he had approved a cover photo of the 63-year-old Zemmour standing in shallow water embracing his 28-year-old campaign advisor. (The paper displays this image alongside images of two presidential couples, Sarkozy-Bruni and Emmanuel/Brigitte Macron emerging from the ocean–I

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An Uncertain Electorate

October 22, 2021

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Ipsos, CEVIPOF, the Fondation Jean Jaurès, and Le Monde have combined to produce the clearest snapshot to date of the state of the French electorate in advance of the 2022 presidential election. The results are unambiguous: no matter which center-right candidate is eventually chosen by Les Républicains (Bertrand, Pécresse, or Barnier), both potential candidates of the extreme right, Le Pen and Zemmour, will eclipse the LR standard-bearer in the first round by a statistically significant margin.
Although there are no polling data given for the second round, it seems likely that, given the substantial disapproval of both Zemmour and Le Pen, Macron would defeat either of them and will easily be re-elected.
Of the several

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Le Traître et le Néant

October 18, 2021

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The title, with its nod to Sartre’s L’Être et le Néant, is probably all that one needs to read, but Davet and Lhomme, the duo who put the final nails in the coffin of François Hollande’s failing presidency, are back with another pre-campaign summa, this one aimed squarely at Emmanuel Macron, whom they helped put in office in 2017. Le Traître et le Néant is an archly concise encapsulation of the two main charges against Macron: first, that he is two-faced and untrustworthy, and second that at his core he stands for nothing, that for all his charm and surface brilliance, so seductive at times to some, he is ultimately an empty suit.
The book is not yet available in the US (it arrives on my birthday, Nov. 17), but you can hear its

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Clouds in the Crystal Ball

September 29, 2021

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The French party system, already fractured beyond recognition, has disintegrated even more in recent weeks. True, the Greens now have a candidate, Yannick Jadot, behind whom they have nominally united after a very narrow (51-49) primary victory. But on the right, the quasi-candidacy of Eric Zemmour, who has suddenly become the cynosure of the media, has all but erased the certitude of a renewed Macron-Le Pen faceoff. A recent Harris poll puts Zemmour at 13%, just behind Xavier Bertrand (14) and Le Pen (16). Macron, who remains in the mid-20s, thus seems assured of a place in the second round, but the identity of his opponent is now anybody’s guess–assuming that this poll is meaningful, which it may not be, since the

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High Diplomatic Dudgeon

September 18, 2021

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France is angry. She has recalled her ambassadors from the US and Australia. Yesterday, not one but two major news organizations contacted me for comment. “I can’t help you,” I said, and was surprised when one of them reacted indignantly, saying “We were told you that you had encyclopedic knowledge of French politics. How can it be that you have nothing to say about this?” Well, I’m as susceptible to flattery as the next fellow, but no encyclopedic knowledge is required to figure this one out: France got cut out of negotiations that led to the scuttling of a lucrative submarine deal. Notice was also served that the “pivot to Asia” announced by Obama has now inflicted an insult on an old ally. For some reason, France chose to

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Two More In, One Out

August 26, 2021

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The Republican presidential field took on a new complexion today. Michel Barnier announced that he is in, as did Eric Ciotti, but Laurent Wauquiez took himself out of the running. Barnier is a centrist, while Ciotti and Wauquiez both belong to the LR’s right wing. Le Monde informs us that Barnier, despite his vast experience, lacks charisma, tends toward rigidity, and is irritable, qualities which have earned him the unflattering epithet “le crétin des Alpes.” Ciotti is well-known for his aggressiveness as a partisan attack dog, not usually counted as a qualification for the presidency. But we shall see. If the Republicans have a primary–it’s not yet a certainty that they will–it’s shaping up to be a free-for-all more confused

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Zozo dans le métro

August 22, 2021

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It seems that Éric Zemmour may be on the verge of throwing his hat in the ring for 2022 and that a fair number of ex-Lepenist politicians may be prepared to back him. He has asked at least one ex-RN mayor for his parrainage. So the question arises, How would the race be affected if Zemmour gets in?
At first sight, the answer might seem to be that no news could be sweeter for Emmanuel Macron. Zemmour will split the far right vote, severely cut into Marine Le Pen’s total, and thus assure Macron of easy victory. But to reason thus is to forget that Macron’s support is for the most part quite soft and depends crucially on voters who, while they may not like him, see him as the only realistic alternative to Le Pen, or at least as no

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The Morning After

June 28, 2021

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The 2021 regionals are history. What to make of the results? First, the vast majority of voters continued to abstain. Second, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National suffered a severe setback. The RN list in PACA, led by Thierry Mariani, did not merely lose; it was crushed, tallying 14 points less than the Republican-LREM coalition led by Renaud Muselier. In Hauts-de-France, moreover, Sébastien Chenu lost by 24 points. In short, a terrible day for the Le Penist forces. And if, as Marine Le Pen contends, a large pool of RN voters remains untapped, her entreaties after Round 1 that they should show themselves to send a message to the powers-that-be fell on deaf ears. Clearly she will have to rethink her strategy for the presidential

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Has Le Pen Peaked?

June 23, 2021

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The Guardian asked me to comment on last Sunday’s election. You can read the article here. Of course, the RN could still take PACA next Sunday, but the idea that a repeat of the 2017 Macron-Le Pen confrontation is inevitable has been called into question.

Tags: Emmanuel Macron, Elections, Rassemblement National
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A Hot Take on a Very Cool Electorate

June 20, 2021

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The headline that emerges from the first round of this year’s regional elections is that, once again, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National did not achieve the gains anticipated by many commentators. On the other hand, abstainers outnumbered voters by 2-1, so one can’t really say what this implies for next year’s presidential election. What is clear is that two potential contenders, Xavier Bertrand and Valérie Pécresse, received a small boost, while a third less-discussed candidate, Laurent Wauquiez, has come back from the embarrassing defeat he suffered in the European elections to a point where he, too, might credibly join the race to choose a center-right contender for the honor of challenging the center-right

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The Right Fractures

June 1, 2021

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The warning signs have been present for some time. Les Républicains are on the verge of a crackup. Caught between Macron’s LRM and Le Pen’s RN, the party’s electoral space has been shrinking. Without a strong leader to hold together its authoritarian nationalist and technocratic-managerial wings, it finds itself rudderless as its erstwhile supporters and cadre jump overboard one after another.
Petty chieftains out to save their own skins are heading in opposite directions: first Renaud Muselier, president of the PACA regional council, entered into a pact with LRM, and now Guillaume Peltier, the party’s no. 2, who began his career in politics in the youth wing of the FN, has shocked his comrades with a proposal for a “court of

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