French conservatives tap Catholic hardliner to headline European elections bid
French conservative Les Républicains leader Laurent Wauquiez is set to name hardliner François-Xavier Bellamy to lead his party’s list for May European elections. The nod has been criticised within the party for pushing LR yet further to the right.
Unknown to the general public, the 33-year-old Bellamy is an unabashed conservative and a rising star in French conservative circles. A deputy mayor of Versailles since 2008, the young philosophy professor has authored two remarked-upon book-length essays. He notably also took part in the inception of Sens Commun, a political movement that grew out of the Manif Pour Tous anti-gay-marriage rallies and which has sometimes been likened to US hardline conservatives’ Tea Party movement. Bellamy is known to be opposed to abortion “personally”, although he has said he is not willing to call into question the law that allows it in France.
Touted as a representative of traditionalist Catholic conservatives in France, he has become a popular guest for media seeking comment on societal issues like the family and bioethics. As such, the conservative Les Républicains’ objective in designating Bellamy as its list-topping candidate in the May 26th European Parliament elections is clear: Relegated to a third-place finish in the 2017 French presidential election behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front (now National Rally), the wounded conservative party is looking to attract an electorate split between backing LR and supporting a revamped NR.
“France is the eldest daughter of the Church: on societal issues, a part of the right-wing remains within that traditional vision,” Harris Interactive pollster Jean-Daniel Lévy observed to Agence France-Presse.
For his part, Wauquiez’s wager is undisguised. After all, back in November, it was before a crowd of Sens Commun activists that the 43-year-old conservative leader took on the battle against expanding the right to medically assisted reproduction to all French women. Speaking to a rapt crowd, Wauquiez’s warned then of a slippery slope towards surrogacy and evoked eugenics and Nazism to make his point. The choice of Bellamy to represent the party in May is clearly aimed at satisfying that same nucleus of voters, whose hold within the party grew considerably during François Fillon’s fateful 2017 presidential campaign.
“[Bellamy] is a high-quality young man who incarnates this new right-wing that we are hoping for and who will rebuild the right through ideas,” LR General Secretary and lawmaker Annie Genevard told France 24. “He is someone who gets involved in public debate and not only on the societal issues, as people too often say. He also talks about education, ecology, economics.”
Support for Bellamy is, however, far from unanimous within what’s left of the struggling Républicains. Last week, speaking to the conservative daily Le Figaro, former cabinet minister Eric Woerth lamented what he saw as a “strategy of the shrinking of a party that is more and more conservative”. The LR lawmaker appealed for the four names atop of the list to be representative of the entirety of the party’s attitudes.
Wauquiez responded, telling Le Figaro on Monday: “I am surprised by some people’s remarks. The right doesn’t rebuild by hanging its head. It doesn’t go forward when it apologises for its ideas.”
Nevertheless, the underlying message appears to have been received; on Tuesday, LR is due to tap moderates Agnès Evren and Arnaud Danjean for the second and third spots on the candidates’ list ahead of the European elections.
“It’s good I said what I needed to say because it has evidently contributed to modifying a list that must represent all of our schools of thought,” Woerth told France 24.
Apparently aware of the risk of being slapped with a staunch-conservative label, it will therefore be a trio that the party will seek to tout in the weeks to come, and not Bellamy alone.
This trio is “representative of our diversity and of the balance between renewal and experience”, party VP and former European Affairs minister Jean Leonetti tweeted on Monday. “The rest of the list should hold that course,” he added.
Will it be enough, when the vote rolls around on May 26, to enable Wauquiez’s party to elbow in on the duel for European Parliament seats that observers expect to see between Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche and Le Pen’s National Rally? European issues have been among the most divisive topics among conservatives in the wake of Macron’s election as president. And yet Wauquiez -- whose conservative outfit has oscillated between a miserly eight and 13 percent in polls ahead of the European ballot -- has taken the party in a decidedly Eurosceptic direction in recent months. Indeed, Bellamy personifies that change, too: As a 19-year-old in 2005, he voted “no” in the referendum on the European Constitution.
This article has been translated from the original in French.